Saint James, Son of Zebedee’s Story
The story of Saint James the Greater, who was named so because he was taller than Saint James the Less. He was Saint John the Evangelist’s brother and the son of Saint Mary Salome. The Jews beheaded St James in Jerusalem and by doing so, James was the first of the Apostles to perish. The account of his beheading is recorded in Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 12.
The Great Apostle of Spain
In the year 36, Our Lady came to him on a pillar in the town of Saragossa, bearing her Divine Child in her arms and telling Saint James what a magnificent nation for the Catholic Faith Spain would one day be. Saint James was martyred while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After the death of St James, His body was returned to Spain. It was buried in Compostella, where it still stands today.
Story of St. James the Greater
The historical story of James the Greater continued in Acts 12:1-2 when it was recorded that King Herod had James, John’s brother, killed with a sword and then arrested Peter, who was saved when an angel broke his chains in prison. Saint James was, therefore, the earliest martyr, except for St. Stephen.
There are also St. James stories, which might be miraculous or strange depending on your religious beliefs.
The first legend has it that the disciples placed St. James’s bones in a boat and brought them to Iberia, landing in Padron on the coast of Galicia and then on to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where millions of pilgrims have ventured in the largest and longest Christian devotion in history. On July 25, the pilgrims finish their long journey and enter the Cathedral for a festive mass for Spain’s patron saint.
An even weirder legend is that St. James’s bones, including the severed head, miraculously sailed by themselves in a small boat and landed at Galicia, and then transported to Compostela. From this legend, the seafaring symbols of the three scallop shells join the symbols of the Galilean fisherman who became a fisher of men and became attached to our St. James.
The St. James banner, created by Louise Henry and currently part of banners representing congregations in the Diocese of Kentucky at Christ Church Cathedral, depicts St. James’ fishing backdrop. The St. James banner on the altar area of the chancel at St. James Shelbyville showed the customary three scallop shells created by Mo Wakefield and consecrated in September 2009 by Father Peter Whelan.
A third story is attached to St. James as the patron saint of Spain, much bloodier and more problematic than the previous two legends.
“An even later tradition states that he miraculously appeared to fight for the Christian army during the battle of Clavijo and was henceforth called Matamoros (Moor-slayer). Santiago y cierra España (“St. James and strike for Spain”) has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.”
Fantastical tradition holds that on January 2, 40 A.D., Saint James proclaimed the gospel in Iberia and was visited by the Virgin Mary. In A.D. 44, he returned to Judea and was martyred by Herod. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to James on the banks of the Ebro River in Caesaraugusta.
She appeared on a pillar, Nuestra Senora del Pilar, and that pillar is now preserved and worshipped in Zaragoza, Spain, at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. By the 12th century, the Catholic Church had developed this narrative associated with their version of St. James the Greater.
The Way of St. James: One of the Oldest and Most Prominent Pilgrimages
Over time, a network of pilgrimage routes developed along which Europeans traveled from their homes to St. James’s shrine in Spain. The Way of St. James was named after these thousand-year-old pilgrimage paths (or the Camino de Santiago in Spanish).
Although the Way of St. James has various beginning locations nowadays, Saint Jean Pied de Port in southwestern France has become the most popular. The pilgrimage path to the shrine of St. James in northern Spain is 500 miles long from this starting location, known as the French Way. This path takes at least 35 days to complete if traveled solely by “pilgrims” (or peregrinos). Although most pilgrims walk the Way of St. James, others prefer to complete portions of the pilgrimage by bicycle or horseback.
Throughout the journey, passengers are handed a “Pilgrim’s Passport,” which they stamp at specific locations along the routes to prove they have completed key sections of the voyage. Along the Way, travelers may also utilize facilities created over the ages to meet their needs, such as hotels, hostels, hospitals, churches, monasteries, and bridges.
The journey concludes with the arrival at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Pilgrims can get a Compostela credential, see the alleged grave of St. James the Greater, and attend a Pilgrim’s Mass within this historic Cathedral.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians and non-Christians have walked the Way of St. James in recent years, either alone or in organized groups, for religious or non-religious reasons. The Way of St. James is regarded as one of the most important Christian pilgrimage locations in history, equivalent to Jerusalem and Rome. UNESCO recognized the pilgrimage paths of the Way of St. James as a World Heritage Site in 1993.
Saint James and Hispania
According to traditional local legend, the Virgin Mary came to James on the bank of the Ebro River near Caesaraugusta on January 2, A.D. 40, when he was preaching the Gospel in Spain. She has appeared on a pillar, Nuestra Senora del Pilar, which is now preserved and revered within the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain. Following the vision, St James traveled to Judea, where he was murdered in 44 by King Herod Agrippa I.
In legend, his relics were transported from Judea to Galicia in northwest Iberia by a series of miraculous events: after being 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.
The Historia Compostellana, written in the 12th century, summarizes the tale of St James as it was believed in Compostela. Two ideas are central to it:
The authenticity of the sacred relics of Compostela was asserted in the Bull of Pope Leo XIII, “Omnipotens Deus,” of November 1, 1884.
The finding of the saint’s remains was said to have occurred during the reigns of King Alfonso II (791–842) and Bishop Theodemir of Iria. These traditions served as the foundation for the pilgrimage path that began in the ninth century, and the shrine dedicated to James at Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain, became the most famous pilgrimage site in the Christian world. St James’ Way is a network of roads that crosses Western Europe and leads to Santiago via Northern Spain. James eventually became the patron saint of Spain.
The English name “James” is derived from the Latin name “Iacobus” (Jacob). Jacobus became “Jacome” or “Jaime” in eastern Spain; Jaume in Catalunya, Iago in western Spain, and Tiago in Portugal and Galicia. “Saint James” (“Sanctus Jacobus”) was shortened to “Santi’ Iago,” which was then reduced to Santiago. The scallop shell (or “cockle shell”) was James’s insignia, and pilgrims to his shrine sometimes wore it on their caps or clothing.
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Summary Story of Saint James
St. James was one of Jesus’ followers. He was the brother of John the Apostle and the son of Zebedee and Salome. St. James the Greater distinguishes him from James, son of Alpheus, also known as James the Lesser. James is mentioned as being one of the earliest disciples to join Jesus.
According to the Synoptic Gospels, James and John were with their father at the seaside when Jesus summoned them to accompany him. According to Mark’s Gospel, James and John were known as Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder.” James was one of just three apostles chosen by Jesus to see his Transfiguration. Acts of the Apostles records that Agrippa I had James executed by the sword, making him the first Apostle to be martyred.
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