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Saint James, the apostle

Saint James, unknown author. Saint James church. Jerez de la Frontera.

The name

Saint James in spanish is Santiago, that comes from “Sant Iacob”, Jacob in hebrew. When Christians proclamed the apostle’s name, it sounds like “Santiago”, and so has been until today.

The apostle

James lived in Bethsaida. He was the brother of Saint John the Evangelist and the son of Salome and Zebedee. The brothers were fishermen and worked alongside their father in the Sea of Galilee, until they were called by Jesus. After the miracle of fishing, Jesus told them that they would be men’s fishermen. The brothers instantly left the nets aside to follow him. Since then, James was one of the twelve closest to Jesus, accompanying him in some of the most important moments of his life. James and his brother were nicknamed by the great master “the sons of thunder.”

There is evidence that James came to preach the gospel in Spain, named Hispania in Roman times. Starting from Galicia, he walked through several cities of the peninsula and afterwards, he returned to Jerusalem where according to “The Acts of the Apostles”, he was imprisoned by command of Herod Agrippa and martyred by decapitation on Mount Calvary around the year 43 of our era.

As usual by then, they tried to get rid of the body by throwing it outside the city walls to be devoured by the beasts, but his disciples managed to rescue it and buried it in Galicia, where it remained in oblivion.

It was already in medieval times, by 813 when the tradition say that an hermit named Pelayo, who lived in the area of Santiago de Compostela, observed astonished during one of his walks a glowing light, similar to a rain of stars, coming from a mound in the forest. Pelayo went in search of Bishop Teodomiro and gathering a retinue, they returned to the mound. There they discovered the tomb in stone where the body of the apostle James layed beside two more bodies, two disciples of his.

This legend explains why many people think that Compostela comes from the Latin “campus stellae” meaning field of stars.

The way of Saint James

The discovery of the apostle’s body was notified to King Alphonse the second, known as “the Chaste” (791-842), who became the first pilgrim because he walked to the tomb following the route marked in the sky by the Milky Way, this was the origine of Saint James’ way.

From then on, the journey became a tradition that spread throughout Europe, being an important pilgrimage centre for Christianity alongside Rome and Jerusalem. Its popularity made it necessary to erect a majestic temple, the famous Compostela Cathedral.

The feast of James was a special day, where the apostle was remembered in the liturgy of all the Christian churches and privileges or indulgences were granted, as it is possible to obtain the forgiveness of sins for the pilgrims or faithful ones who attended the Mass in Santiago or the churches under their name.

The festivity

The celebration of Saint James is a very ancient rite. It was established in Rome and it is known to be celebrated in the Roman Basilica of Saint Peter in the XI century.

It isn’t certain why his feast falls on July 25th, truth is that it was instituted as a date on which pilgrims who went to Compostela could obtain the forgiveness of their sins. This forgiveness could be extended throughout the year if the date fell on Sunday, known as the Holy Year of Compostela, which began to be celebrated at the end of the XIV century, inspired by the Jubilee of Rome, which celebrates the “Great Forgiveness” instituted in 1300.

Today, Santiago is patron saint of Spain, Galicia and its cavalry. He is also patron of tanners, veterinarians, horse riders and several cities that bear his name scattered around the world.

His image

The art usually represents him as a pilgrim or as extraordinary warrior who gallops on a solemn white horse, representation given in the medieval chronicles that tell the miracle of his intervention during the Battle of Clavijo in 844.


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