St Jude may become my favourite disciple – simply because in the Roman Catholic Church he is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes – a name which was frequently applied to me during my art degree course at Farnham (-Ah yes, I was very bad at painting, but also very bad at picking suitable boyfriends!!)
– but mainly and more seriously he is interesting because his very existence -and that of Jesus’s other “brothers” is so controversial in the light of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary – which expresses the Virgin Mary‘s “real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to Jesus! My Catholic friends tell me that James and Jude are in fact sons of Joseph by his previous, deceased, wife or sons of a brother of Joseph and the term “brethren” means simply cousins.
So how to we recognise Jude from the other disciples – and why does he have the attribute of a staff and a pretty funky sized medallion?
The Medallion represents the legend of the Image of Edessa, the story being that King Abgar of Edessa sent a letter to Jesus seeking a cure for an illness that seemed to be incurable. Edessa is now known as Sanliurfa, which is in south-east Turkey so news of Jesus’ miracles had already travelled a fair distance. Obviously the sense that Jesus was at risk was well known too, as with his request he also sent his envoy Hannan, bearing the message that Edessa would be open to Jesus as a safe dwelling place.
Two stories emerge from this legend as to how the image was made – first suggestion is that the multi-talented envoy then painted a likeness of Jesus to take back – the second is that Jesus, impressed with Abgar’s faith, pressed his face into a cloth where it left a lasting impression like the Turin Shroud and gave it to Hannan to take back to Abgar with his answer. Seeing Jesus’ image, whether painted – or marks on a towel, the king gave it a place of honor in one of his palaces.
How it got converted into Jude’s gold medallion attribute I don’t know – but the staff Jude carries suggests that he walked a long way to cure the King and spread the faith as after Christ’s execution, According to the Gospels Thomas the Apostle sent Jude to travel to Turkey to meet with King Abgar and the king was cured – and was sufficiently impressed to convert to Christianity, followed by many of his people.
Like all the disciples St. Jude is often shown with a flame coming from his head. This tells us he was in the group at Pentecost, when he was said to have received the Holy Spirit with the other apostles – but of course this doesn’t help us distinguish him from the others!
St Jude is most famous for his letter – known as The Letter of St. Jude which has become one of the seven letters of the Catholic faith.
He is quite direct if the translation is accurate – he baldly warns Christians against the sins of licentiousness, perversion, sexual immorality, unnatural lust, slanderers of holy men, rejection of authority “those who cultivate people for the sake of gain” and denial of Jesus Christ.
Straight talking St. Jude seems to have lost control of his audience one day as he was beaten to death by the clubs of angry pagan mob in Beirut, Lebanon in 65 A.D. This is why he is sometimes also pictured with a club, he was then beheaded with an axe.
His body was taken to Rome and his relics are now kept in Saint Peter’s Basilica – and much visited -presumably by other fervent believers in Lost Causes!