St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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St James the Greater

For all the Saints: St James the Greater

Santiago de Compostela, he is called in Hispanic countries.  You may know him as the fisherman James, one of the sons of Zebedee and brother of John whom we call the Theologian.  He is one of the big three in the Gospels, along with his brother and St Peter.  Jesus called him among the first of the disciples (Mark 1:18-20).  Jesus nicknamed James and John “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) because they were given to preaching in a loud voice with great fervor.  They were present on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-9).  Jesus shared with them his vision of the End (Mark 13), and they were with him in Gethsamene (Mark 14).  James was at the cross and he was in the room when Christ appeared after the Resurrection.

Saint James got as far as northwestern Spain in his missionary travels. The Romans called the region “the end of the earth.”  He returned to Jerusalem, but was denounced before Herod and suffered martyrdom on March 25th, 45.  According to pious legend, his disciples received his body and, after a journey by ship, buried him on July 25th in a wooded place in Spain.

In A. D. 813, a monk named Pelayo saw brilliant light and heard music that led him to the forested grave.  He called the place campus stellae, Latin for “field of the star,” and in time the name became Compostela.  After this, the King of Spain, Alphonse II, declared St James the patron of his realm and built a chapel at the gravesite.  In time miracles were connected to his gravesite.

People began to make pilgrimage from all over Europe to the grave of St James along the Camino de Santiago, the way of St James.  So many people came that, in time, in place of the small chapel the Church built a cathedral.  By the twelfth century the pilgrimage of Saint James was the largest one in Europe.  Saint James is commemorated twice annually, on April 30th and on July 25th.

The pilgrimage continues in our time with hundreds of thousands of people, including numerous Americans.  It occurs in years when July 25th is a Sunday.  Shells, which became a symbol for baptism in the west, mark the Way.  Saint James is said to have baptized his converts in running water with a shell.  90,000 people live in Compostela today, in the region of Galicia (Celtic Spain).

Published 29 Apr 06