Saint Jude was born into a Jewish family in Paneas, a town in the Galilee portion of ancient Palestine, the same region that Jesus grew up in. He speaks Greek and Aramaic, like many of his contemporaries in that area, and he was a farmer. He was a brother of St. James the Less, also one of the Apostles. His father was Clopas, brother of St. Joseph, and his mother Mary was a cousin of the Virgin Mary. This fact allows the conclusion that St. Jude was a contemporary of Jesus and most likely in roughly the same age group.
His own first name, “Jude”, means giver of joy, while the name “Thaddaeus” means sweetness and gentleness of character. He is not the traitor Judas Iscariot, and he faithfully followed Jesus until his crucifixion, and then later set out to evangelize. There are some biblical scholars that have stated St. Jude was the bridegroom at the Cana wedding, though this is not a proven fact.
Saint Jude had at least one child, and there are references to his grandchildren living as late as 95 A.D. He was then called to be one of Jesus 12 Apostles, and began preaching the Good News of Jesus to Jews throughout Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
Around the year 60 A.D., St. Jude wrote a Gospel letter to recent Christian converts in Eastern churches who were under persecution. In it, he warned them against the pseudo-teachers of the day who were spreading false ideas about the early Christian faith. He encouraged them to persevere in the face of the harsh, difficult circumstances they were in, just as their forefathers had done before them. He exhorted them to keep their faith and to stay in the love of God as they had been taught. His inspirational support of these early believers led to him becoming the patron saint of desperate cases.
St. Jude is traditionally depicted carrying the image of Jesus in his hand or close to his chest. This idea comes from a Biblical story in which King Abgar of Edessa (a city located in what is now southeast Turkey) asked Jesus to cure him of leprosy and sent an artist to bring him a drawing of Jesus. Impressed with Abgar’s great faith, Jesus pressed his face into a cloth and gave it to St. Jude to take to Abgar. Upon seeing Jesus’ image, The King was cured and he converted to Christianity along with most of the people under his rule. This cloth is believed to be the famous Shroud of Jesus which is currently on display in Turin, Italy.
St. Jude is often shown in paintings with a flame around his head. This represents his presence at Pentecost, when he received the Holy Spirit with the other apostles.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, St. Jude traveled with St. Simon the Zealot preaching and building up the foundations of the early Church. He was a true internationalist, traveling throughout Mesopotamia, Libya, Turkey, and Persia, preaching and converting many people to Christianity. He was credited with helping the early creation of the Armenian church, and other places beyond the borders of the Roman Empire.
He is believed to have been martyred by an angry pagan mob in Beirut, Lebanon, around 65 A.D. The axe or club that he is often shown holding in pictures symbolizes the way in which he was killed. Sometime after his death, Saint Jude’s body was brought from Beirut to Rome and placed in a crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica which was visited by many devotees. Now his bones are in the left transept of St. Peter’s Basilica under the main altar of St. Joseph in one tomb with the remains of the apostle Simon the Zealot.