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Saint James the Great

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

Saint James the Great
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, furrier s, tanner s, 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 Christ. 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".

St James and Spain

Many people believe James went to Spain and preached Christianity there for a time before returning to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44. Another tradition states that he miraculously appeared to fight in a Spanish army during the Reconquista, and is therefore called Matamoros (Moor-slayer). Santiago y cierra España ("St James and close Spain", it's not totally grammatical in Spanish) has been the battle cry of Spanish armies. St Emillianus (san Millán) is said to appear in a battle as well.

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

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

These traditions are the main reason James became the patron saint of Spain, and his shrine at Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia in Spain, became the most famous pilgrimage site in the Christian world. St James's Way is a set of routes that cross Western Europe and arrive to Santiago through Northern Spain.

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, and then by false etymology broken into San Diego. 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.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45