at prayer

St. James the Great
St James the Great

Feast Day 25 July
Martyred 44 AD

James, son of Zebedee, was one of the Twelve Disciples. He was beheaded in Judea by King Herod Agrippa I himself. His remains are believed to be buried in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the third holiest site in Christendom, after Jerusalem and Rome.

Patron Saint of Spain, tradition later relates that he appeared to fight with the Christian army against the Moors. Santiago y cierra España ("St James and strike for Spain") has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies ever since, and Santiago evolved into ‘dago’ a disparaging term for a Spaniard and hence, by association, the Italians and Portuguese.

Tradition also says that his body was carried to Spain and brought ashore near Finisterre. Queen Lupa provided a marble tomb and the saint was buried there with two of his disciples Athanasius and Theodore. The site was then forgotten for eight centuries. In the time of King Alfonso II (791-842) and Bishop Theodemir of Iria, a hermit, Pelayo, was led to the spot by a vision, the relics were authenticated by the local bishop and the pilgrimage to Compostela became almost as popular and important in medieval Europe as that to Jerusalem. Because of this, seventeen English peers and eight baronets have scallop shells (or cockle shells, the emblem of the saint) in their coats of arms.

Late 19th and 20th century excavations under Compostela Cathedral disclosed a Roman-period tomb below the high altar, and a stone inscribed with the names Athanasius and Theodore.