St. 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. His mother, Mary, was referred to as a cousin of Jesus’ mother Mary, while his father, Cleophas, was the brother of St. Joseph. His own first name, “Jude”, means giver of joy, while “Thaddeus”, another name he was called, means generous and kind.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, St. Jude travelled throughout Mesopotamia, Libya, Turkey, and Persia with St. Simon, 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.
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.
He is believed to have been martyred in Persia or Syria around 65 A.D. The axe or club that he is often shown holding in pictures symbolizes the way in which he was killed. Truly, he paid the ultimate price for his faith. After his death his body was brought back to Rome and was placed in a crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, which people visit to this day.
After his death, many turned to St. Jude for his intercession in prayer. Jesus inspired the devotion to St. Jude for St. Bridget of Sweden when he directed her in a vision to turn to St. Jude with great faith and confidence. In a vision, Christ told St. Bridget, “In accordance with his surname, Thaddeus, the amiable or loving, he will show himself most willing to give help.”