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James the Greater, Saint

spain period apostle bearing

The brother of *John the *apostle and son of Zebedee, the apostle James (d. c.44) was among the first disciples to be summoned by Jesus, who called him away from his life as a fisherman . He, along with *Peter and John, was present at the *Transfiguration of Jesus as well as (according to the Gospels of *Mark and *Luke) a witness at the *miracle of the *Raising of Jairus’s Daughter. The first apostle to be martyred, he was beheaded at the order of King *Herod Agrippa I


Early historians and theologians expanded upon the biblical accounts. The soldier who led James to his execution was said to have repented at the last minute; he was blessed and forgiven by James and then beheaded along with him. Another early account (third century) describes how James, before his *death, converted two magicians, named Hermogenes and Philetus, by exhibiting his power over *demons. These scenes, as well as his *martyrdom, appear primarily in the Romanesque and Gothic period.


The association of Saint James with Spain probably began in the seventh or eighth century (first mentioned in the Martyrology of *Florus of Lyons and in *Beatus of Liébana’s Commentary on the *Apocalypse ). The discovery of his *relics (revealed by an *angel in a vision to a hermit, located by peasants guided by a star) provided the foundation for the *pilgrimage to Compostela (“the field of the star,” or “burial place”), which developed into one of the most important institutions of the Middle Ages. The story of the translation and discovery of the relics of Saint James is complex. He had previously preached in Spain, miraculously received a pillar (now in Saragossa) from the Virgin *Mary, returned to Jerusalem and was executed, then borne back to Spain by his disciples with angelic guidance. His body disappeared into a stone, which the pagan queen Lupa ordered oxen to remove; they dragged the stone to her palace instead, and she was converted. Eventually his body was enshrined in a burial chapel—the location of which was later forgotten (until rediscovered by the peasants mentioned above).

These subjects are illustrated in art from the Romanesque period onward, as well as the powerful image of Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moorslayer), which was popular especially during the expulsion of the Moors from Spain and during the Crusades. The image of Saint James, bearing a sword and riding into battle on a white horse purportedly first appeared in visions to Christian warriors during the reconquest of Spain in the Carolingian period. Hence, art and legends also link Saint James with *Charlemagne . Various other *miracles were recorded, especially episodes of his assistance to *pilgrims en route to his shrine, and Saint James himself is also often represented as a pilgrim, wearing a large hat bearing the scallop shell badge which identifies pilgrims to Compostela, carrying a staff and script (or knapsack). He may also be shown with a sword.

James the Less, Saint [next] [back] James, Steve (1952–1993)

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about 6 years ago

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