Franciscan priest and preacher. Born at Montebrandone (Marches of Ancona) of a poor family, he joined the Franciscans at Assisi, studied under Bernardino at Fiesole, and later read law at Perugia. He was ordained priest in 1423. He adopted a very penitential life-style and became a most effective preacher in and outside his homeland. His frequent fasting, denial of sleep, and wearing a threadbare habit were joined with an extreme zeal for souls.
His life was controversial. He was involved in disputes between branches of the Franciscan Order, exacerbated by the addition of heretical elements to the Fraticelli who had already been condemned by the papacy. Some criticized James for being too severe and ruthless against them. Later he preached against the Bogomils in Bosnia and the Hussites in Hungary. To the latter, however, now less intransigent, he offered the practice of communion under both kinds at the council of Basle (1431), while at that of Florence (1438) he took part in the reunion with the Greeks. In several of these controversies he had assisted John of Capistrano, whom he succeeded as papal legate in Hungary in 1456. Four years later he was offered but refused the see of Milan: itinerant preaching was essential to his way of life. Among other enterprises to help the poor, he set up montes pietatis (embryo pawnshops) to enable them to avoid financial disaster through loans at reasonable rates.
His later years were clouded by his being denounced to the Inquisition at Brescia in 1462 for holding unorthodox views on the precious blood of Christ. Controversies between Dominicans and Franciscans followed, until the Holy See, after an inconclusive disputation, imposed silence on both parties. In 1473 James was moved to Naples. Here he died, and was buried in the church of S. Maria Nuova. Crivelli's fine portrait of him in the Louvre depicts him as austere, emaciated, and ethereal. James was canonized in 1726. Feast: 28 November.
Life by his travelling companion V. de Fabriano (ed. T. Somigli) in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, xvii (1924), 378–414; more recent Lives by S. Candela (1962) and G. Caselli (2 vols., 1926). For his writings see D. Paccetti in Studia Franciscana, 1942–4. See also B.L.S., xi. 216–17; Bibl. SS, vi. 388–402; N.C.E., vii. 811–12.