Saint James the Great

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For people and places called Saint James, see the diambiguation page.

Saint James the Great
Missing image
Saint James the Moor-slayer.
Note the pilgrim hat.
Apostle and Martyr
Born ?
Died AD 44, Judea
Venerated in All Christianity
Major shrine Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Feast July 25
Attributes Scallop, traveller's hat
Patronage Veterinarians, equestrians, furriers, tanners, pharmacists; Guatemala, Nicaragua, Spain

Saint James the Great, also called Saint James of Compostela (d. AD 44; יעקב "Holder of the heel; supplanter"; Standard Hebrew Yaʿaqov, Tiberian Hebrew Yaʿăqōḇ), the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother to St. John, was one of the disciples of Jesus. He is called Saint James the Great to distinguish him from the other apostles named James (St. James the Less & James the Just). Saint James is described as one of the first disciples to join Jesus. The version of the Synoptic Gospels states he was a fisherman with John when called by Jesus; the Gospel of John differs, claiming the two brothers had been followers of John the Baptist. According to Matthew (4:21-22), he and John were called Boanerges, or the "sons of Thunder".

Saint James and Spain

Saint James the Greater, the apostle, is not to be confused with the author of the Epistle of James. St James is the brother of John, the sons of Zebedee. Though the Acts of the Apostles gives no hint of it, and though no work of the Patristic literature mentions it, many people believe that James went to Spain and preached Christianity there, establishing an Apostolic see. Upon having an apparition of Saint Mary on a pillar at Caesaraugusta, he returned to Judea to meet her, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44. The translation of his relics to Galicia in the northwest of Iberia was effected, in legend, by a series of miraculous happenings: decapitated in Jerusalem with a sword by Herod Agrippa himself, his body was taken up by angels, and sailed in a rudderless, unattended boat to Iria Flavia in Spain, where a massive rock closed around his relics at Compostela. The Historia Compostellana provides a summary of the legend of St. James as it was believed at Compostela in the . Two propositions are central to it: first, that St. James preached the gospel in Spain as well as in the Holy Land; second, that after his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Agrippa I his disciples carried his body by sea to Spain, where they landed at Padrn on the coast of Galicia, and took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.

An even later tradition states that he miraculously appeared to fight for the Christian army during the battle of Clavijo during the Reconquista, and was henceforth called Matamoros (Moor-slayer). Santiago y cierra Espaa ("St James and enclose Spain") has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

St. James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection.
— Cervantes, Don Quixote.

A similar miracle is related about Saint Emilianus (san Milln).

The possibility that a cult of James was instituted to supplant the Galician cult of Priscillian (executed in 385) who was widely venerated across the north of Spain as a martyr to the bishops rather than as a heretic should not be overlooked. This was cautiously raised by Henry Chadwick in his book on Priscillian (Chadwick 1976); it is not the official Roman Catholic view. The Catholic Encyclopedia 1908, however, records "Although the tradition that James founded an apostolic see in Spain was current in the year 700, no certain mention of such tradition is to be found in the genuine writings of early writers nor in the early councils; the first certain mention we find in the ninth century, in Notker, a monk of St. Gall (Martyrologia, 25 July), Walafrid Strabo (Poema de XII Apostoli), and others." (The Blessed Notker died in 912.)

Missing image
17th century interpretation of saint James as the Moor-killer from the Peruvian school of Cuzco. The pilgrim hat has become a Panama hat and his mantle is that of his military order.

The tradition was not unanimously admitted afterwards, while numerous modern scholars, following L. Duchesne, reject it. The Bollandists however defended it (their Acta Sanctorum, July, VI and VII, gives further sources). The suggestion began to be made from the 9th century that, as well as evangelizing in Spain, his body may have been brought to Compostela. No earlier tradition places the burial of St James in Hispania. A rival tradition, places the relics of the Apostle in the church of St-Saturnin at Toulouse, but it is not improbable that such sacred relics should have been divided between two churches.

The authenticity of the sacred relics of Compostela was asserted in the Bull of Pope Leo XIII, "Omnipotens Deus," of November 1, 1884. Thus the possibility that the relics at Santiago de Compostela predate the cult there of St James is no longer open to discussion for believing Roman Catholics.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) registered several "difficulties" or bases for doubts of this tradition beyond the late appearance of the legend:

  • St James suffered martyrdom A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2), and, according to the tradition of the early Church, he had not yet left Jerusalem at this time (see Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, VI; Apollonius, quoted by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. VI.xviii).
  • St Paul in his Epistle to the Romans written after AD 44, expressed the intention to visit Spain (15:24) having just mentioned (15:20) that he did not "build upon another man's foundation."

The official tradition at Compostela placed the discovery of the relics of the saint in the time of king Alfonso II (791-842) and of bishop Theodemir of Iria. These traditions were the basis for the pilgrimage route that began to be established in the 9th century, and the shrine dedicated to James at Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia in Spain, became the most famous pilgrimage site in the Christian world. St James's Way is a tree of routes that cross Western Europe and arrive at Santiago through Northern Spain. Eventually James became the patron saint of Spain.

The military Order of Santiago or caballeros santiaguistas was founded to fight the Moors and later membership became a precious honour. People like Diego Velzquez longed for the royal favour that allowed to put on their clothes the red cross of St. James (a cross fleury fitchy).

The name "James" in English comes from "Iacobus" (Jacob) in Latin. In eastern Spain, Jacobus became "Jacome" or "Jaime"; in western Spain it became "Iago". "Saint James" ("Sanctus Jacobus") became "Sant' Iago", which was abbreviated to Santiago. This has sometimes been confused with San Diego, which is the Spanish name of Saint Didacus of Alcal. James's emblem was the scallop shell (or "cockle shell"), and pilgrims to his shrine often wore that symbol on their hats or clothes. The French for a scallop is coquille St. Jacques, which means "cockle (or mollusk) of St. James", and that term also refers to a method of cooking and serving them, on a shell (real or ceramic) in a creamy wine sauce.

External links


es:Santiago el Mayor fr:Jacques de Zbde (aptre) it:San Giacomo ja:ヤコブ (ゼベダイの子) pt:Santiago Maior sv:Aposteln Jakob ru:Иаков (апостол)


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