Saint James Major: Apostle and Martyr

St. James the Greater: Brother of St. John the Evangelist, he was one of the first to heed the call of Our Lord.

Newsroom (07/27/2022 11:00, Gaudium Press) Saint James the Greater was the son of Zebedee. He was entitled greater because he was older than St. James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus. St. James the Greater witnessed the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:37), the transfiguration (Mk 9:2-13), and the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Olives (Mk 14:32).

According to tradition, after Pentecost, the first disciples dispersed to preach the Gospel. St. James the Greater was also called the “son of thunder” by Jesus because of his fiery temperament. Perhaps this is why it was his duty to evangelize the Iberian Peninsula, one of the most remote regions of the world at that time.

St. James was an apostle and a missionary moved by extraordinary boldness.

He undertook an epic that, taking into account the rudimentary conditions of the time, can be considered as – or more – audacious than a journey, in our days, to the moon.

After a troubled sea crossing, the apostle disembarked in the Ria of Arousa and spent seven years taking the word of the Divine Master to those regions. After the execution of St. Stephen, a Greek deacon and fervent Christian preacher, he returned to Jerusalem, where he was arrested by order of Herod, who had him killed with the sword in the year 44. He thus became the first martyr among the apostles.

Soon after his glorious martyrdom, the saint’s body was taken to Spain and placed in a marble tomb. In this place, he was venerated until the third century. Later, with the invasions of the barbarians in the 4th century, followed by those of the Arabs in the 8th century, the inhabitants of the place eventually lost track of where the tomb of the Apostle was.

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The Field of the Star

Around 820, a miraculous event occurred that marked the restart of the story that St. James would go on to write from Eternity. At that time, a mysterious star began to appear above a field for several consecutive nights.

A nearby hermit named Pelayo, convinced of the supernatural character of the phenomenon, informed Bishop Theodomiro of the strange event. The latter went to the place with all his faithful and, following the path indicated by the star, found the marble tomb with the Apostle’s remains.

Over this precious treasure, Alfonso II the Chaste, king of Asturias, built a church and a monastery. From then on, devotion to the saint and the cult to his relics spread throughout the country.

Patron Saint of all Spain

However, it took another miraculous event for the Apostle to become the patron saint of all of Spain.

According to tradition, during the Battle of Clavijo, in 844, the King of Leon, Ramiro I, at the head of a handful of Christians, was fighting a desperate battle against 70,000 Muslims.

Suddenly, a knight on a white horse, carrying a banner with a red cross, appeared and, mingling with the fighting men, swept away the enemy. Everyone recognized him. From then on, “Saint James!” became the battle cry in the great struggle of the Reconquista, which received a new spiritual impetus under the protection of the illustrious Apostle.

The fame of St. James spread across the Pyrenees at a time when the nations of Europe were moving towards a profound religious and cultural unity. From the 11th century on, especially due to the encouragement of the Popes and the apostolate of the monks of Cluny, pilgrimages to Compostela attracted more and more people from the Iberian Peninsula and other countries.

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At the beginning of the 12th century, Pope Calixtus II granted the place a singular privilege, which was confirmed in 1179 by Alejandro III in the bull Regis aeterni: every year that July 25th, the Apostle’s feast day, falls on a Sunday, all the graces of the Jubilee may be gained in that church.

Thus was born the Way of St. James or “the Jacobean route”. Christianity gained, next to Jerusalem and Rome, a new center of devotion.

Today, finally, several centuries later, pilgrims from all over the world fill the Jacobean routes every summer. And when they arrive at the imposing Basilica, they immediately rush to pray before the relics of the Saint and to give the traditional “embrace” to the image that is venerated on the main altar.

Compiled by Angelica Vecchiato

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