St. James the Greater was one of the twelve apostles of Our Lord Jesus Christ and a son of Zebedee. He and his older brother John were called by Our Lord while fixing their nets at the Lake of Genesaret. They received from Our Lord Jesus Christ the name “Boanerges,” meaning “sons of thunder,” for their impetuosity. The gospel relates that St. James was present for the miracle of Jairo’s daughter, the Transfiguration, and later with Our Lord during His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
[The Acts of the Apostles relates that the Apostles dispersed to different regions to take the Good News to the people of God. Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda was a Franciscan religious who received revelations from Our Lord. It was revealed to her that St. James the Greater went to Spain to evangelize. He went first to Galicia, where he established a Christian community and later to the Roman city of Cesar Augusto, today known as Zaragoza.]
Tradition tells us that after Our Lord’s Ascension, St. James went on to evangelize today’s Spain and that on January 2nd, in the year 40 AD, St. James and his disciples where resting on the shore side of the Ebro River and started to hear sweet voices singing. They saw the sky fill up with light and many angels coming near them. The angels were carrying a throne on which the Queen of Heaven and Earth was sitting. This was extraordinary, for Our Lady was living at that time in Jerusalem, making her appearance to them in Spain a bilocation. The Blessed Virgin told St. James to build a sanctuary where God would be honored and glorified, and gave him a pillar with her image to be placed in the sanctuary.
The Blessed Virgin also told St. James that the sanctuary would remain until the end of time and that she would bless all the prayers offered devoutly in this place. At the end of the apparition, Our Lady said to St. James that when the sanctuary was finished, he should return to Palestine where he would die.
St. James fulfilled the wishes of the Blessed Virgin Mary and constructed the first Christian Church in the entire world. St. James returned to Palestine, where he was decapitated by order of Herod on the 25th of March during a persecution of the Church in Jerusalem. According to tradition, the accuser of St. James, who led him to judgment, was so moved by St. James’ confession before death that he converted and was willingly beheaded with the Apostle. His disciples recovered his body and transported it to Galicia without anyone’s knowledge in a miraculous boat guided by God.
St. James’ tomb was forgotten for almost 800 years. Under the rule of Alfonzo II (789-842), a hermit named Pelagio received a vision revealing the tomb of St. James. On July 25th, 812 the spot where the tomb was revealed to be, was filled with a bright light. Because of this, it has since been known as Compostela, which means “Field of Light.” The bishop of Iria Flavia, Theodomir, after investigating, declared that these were truly the remains of St. James in the tomb. In 1884 Pope Leon XIII, in a Papal Bull, declared that the remains of St. James were at Compostela.
In the battle of Clavijo in 845, Santiago descended from the sky mounted on a white horse, having in one hand a snow-white banner and in the other a sword. The forces of King Ramiro I defeated the far superior army of Abderraman II, and according to tradition, St. James alone killed 60,000 Moors. From this time on, Santiago was regarded as the patron saint of Spain, and the special protector of Christian soldiers in wars against infidels or pagans. In the 11th century, St. James began to be called “Santiago Matamoros” (St. James, Slayer of Moors).
Whenever St. James’ feast day (July 25th) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. The next Holy Years will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.
Prayer to St. James the Apostle
O glorious Apostle St. James, who by reason of thy fervent and generous heart wast chosen by Jesus to be a witness of His glory on Mount Tabor, and of His agony in Gethsemane; thou, whose very name is a symbol of warfare and victory: obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending warfare of this life, that, having constantly and generously followed Jesus, we may be victors in the strife and deserve to receive the victor’s crown in heaven. Amen.