Saint James and the Christian liturgy

Saint James and the Christian liturgy image

Who was Saint James ?

It is said that James was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. James and John were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him. James was one of only three apostles whom Jesus selected to bear witness to his Transfiguration. The Acts of the Apostles records that Agrippa I had James executed by sword. He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. He is, therfore, traditionally believed to be the first of the 12 apostles martyred for his faith.

St James & Spain

Christian legend has it that when the Apostles divided the known world into missionary zones, the Iberian Peninsula fell to James. Seventh and eighth century documents suggest that he spent a number of years preaching there before returning to Jerusalem, where in the year 44 AD he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I. After his martyrdom, popular belief relates that his followers carried his body to the coast and put it into a stone boat, which was guided by angels and carried by the wind to land near Finisterre, at Padrón, in northern Spain. And there the body lay, forgotten until the 9th century.

Field of Stars

Early in that century, a hermit living in that part of Galicia, had a vision in which he saw a field of stars that led him to what proved to be an ancient tomb containing three bodies.  The local bishop declared the remains to be those of Santiago and two of his followers... A small village named Campus de la Stella (Field of Stars) and a monastery were established on the site. News of the discovery spread like wildfire and a trickle of pilgrims began to arrive.

St James Day

The feast of St. James, which falls on 25 July, is celebrated quite vigorously all over Spain. Because of the Spanish people's love for Saint James they adopted him as their patron saint and his feast is a national holiday, a time of great celebration.  Major celebrations are planned all over the county. In Compostela, there are great processions and many pilgrims gather to worship at the cathedral, especially in Jubilee years (when 25 July falls on a Sunday). From the ceiling of this great cathedral hangs a six-foot tall, 14th century incense burner (the "botafumeiro") that is swung by Church officials on pulleys on this day to fill the whole church with incense smoke.

The famous La Fachada fireworks display

True to its ancient name, (Compostela - field of stars), every year Santiago’s skies are lit up in celebration as it hosts the “best fireworks display in Europe”. The show is viewed from the city’s cathedral plaza, it's elegant Cathedral taking centre stage. The display combines  modern lights and images projected onto the façade of the cathedral, combined with spectacular, good old-fashioned fireworks, exploding rockets and spinning wheels of light.

Other St James Day Celebrations and Traditions

Many events are organized on and before Saint James Day in the Basque Country and Galicia. These include:
•    Special church services to honour the life and work of Saint James.
•    Exhibitions of art work by artists born or living in or near Santiago de Compostela.
•    Theatre productions and street shows.
•    Concerts of modern and traditional music, including bagpipe performances.
•    Traditional dance events held outside.

In the past, people who couldn't make the pilgrimage to St. James's shrine would gather up seashells, bits of broken coloured glass, pretty stones and flowers, and would build little grottoes in honour of St. James on his feastday.  It is also said that "Who eats oysters on St James's Day will never want!" In France, it is not the oyster that is eaten, but the scallop, named "coquilles St. Jacques", "shells of St. James",  in his honour.



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