Feast Day : December 27 (September 26 in Eastern Church; May 8 in Greek Orthodox)
Patronage: art dealers; bookbinders; booksellers; against burns; compositors; engravers; lithographers; painters; against poison; printers; publishers; papermakers; sculptors; tanners; theologians; writers; Asiatic Turkey; Taos, New Mexico
Name meaning: God is gracious
Also known as: Apostle of Charity; Beloved Apostle; Beloved Disciple; Fourth Apostle; John Boanerges; John the Evangelist
John was born in Galilee about the year 6 to Zebedee and Salome. He was the younger brother of St. James the Greater. The brothers earned their livelihood as fishermen on Lake Genesareth and, like many of those who became disciples of Jesus, were first followers of St. John the Baptist. Jesus gave them the surname “Boanerges,” meaning “Sons of Thunder,” apparently in recognition of their passionate natures. John held a prominent position among the disciples, and was present for several important events. Only John and Peter were sent into the city to prepare for the Last Supper, at which John was seated next to Jesus. After Jesus’ arrest, John and Peter followed Christ into the palace of the high priest, and of the apostles only John remained near Christ on the cross, and took Mary into his care. After the Resurrection, John and Peter were the first apostles to go to his tomb, and John was the first to accept that Christ had risen. Later, when Jesus appeared at Lake Genesareth, John was the first to recognize him standing on the shore. There Jesus apparently prophesied that John would outlive the other apostles, and it was believed by many that he was immune to death. After Christ’s Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, John took a leading role in the founding of the Christian Church. He often acted together with Peter, whom he accompanied on an evangelizing expedition to Samaria, and with whom he was briefly imprisoned by Herod Agrippa I sometime between 42 and 44. After their miraculous escape, he and Peter were forced to flee Jerusalem. By tradition, John began his apostolic work among the Jews in the provinces of Parthia. He may also have gone to Ephaseus (Ephesus) in what is now Turkey, where he founded the Christian community. In any event, he was back in Jerusalem about the year 51 to join the other disciples for the first Apostolic Council. He also attended the Council of 62, after which he definitely went to Ephesus, where he established churches and governed the congregation. In the year 95, during the second general persecution under Emperor Domitian (r. 81–96), John was arrested and carried to Rome as a prisoner. He was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Porta Latina, but emerged unharmed. His persecutors attributed this miracle to sorcery and exiled him to the island of Patmos. According to legend, John also escaped death when he drank from a chalice of wine poisoned by the high priest of Diana. At his blessing, the poison is said to have risen from the chalice in the form of a serpent. This event is taken by some as fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy as given in Mark 16 that his apostles who drank poisoned drinks would not be harmed by them. On Patmos, John reputedly experienced the vision that inspired his Book of Revelation, written at that time. After Domitian’s death in 96, he was released and returned to Ephesus, where he is believed to have written his gospel. The book of Revelation and the Gospel of John are so different in tone that some scholars have questioned whether John could have authored both, but the present consensus is that he did. John died at Ephesus around 100, when he was well into his 90s. He is the only apostle who did not die a martyr. A church, later converted into a mosque, was built over his tomb. John originally shared his December 27 feast day with St. James the Greater, though at an early date it became his alone. He was venerated also at the Feast of St. John Before the Latin Gate, supposed to honor his experience in the cauldron, and marking the dedication of the church near the Porta Latina, first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Adrian I (r. 772–785). John’s symbols are an eagle; a book; a chalice, sometimes in association with a serpent. Generally he is portrayed as a young and handsome man in various scenes from his life. When he is portrayed in later life, he is usually reading, writing or holding his epistle.