The Apostle St. James. History and legend

According to tradition, one of Jesus’s favourite apostles, St. James the Greater, was ordered to be beheaded, by King Herod Agrippa. James’s disciples collected the saint’s body and took it away in a rudderless boat, which God guided from Palestine to the coast of Galicia, where he was buried.

Legends are beautiful, aren’t they? And they certainly help believers!

What may actually have happened was that the apostle St. James was ordered to preach Christianity in Hispania after the death of Jesus Christ, sometime around the year 40 AD. The apostle arrived at a southern port on the Iberian peninsula, making use of the busy Roman maritime traffic. He went north through Portugal and arrived at Iria Flavia, where he continued to preach and to move eastwards. Around two years after his arrival, he decided to return to Palestine. When he got back to his homeland, he was denounced by the Jews, and Herod Agrippa ordered him to be decapitated. His disciples brought his body to Spain for burial. According to one legend, they asked the Celtic Queen Lupa, who ruled the Roman regions of Finisterra for her help to transport the body from the coast. Instead, to mock them, she sent them two wild bulls. When the animals arrived and the saint’s tomb, they turned into oxen and took the body to its present location.

A mausoleum was erected over the tomb, in the style of the Roman Necropolis. It comprised a small building surrounded by columns, and its remains are still buried in the subsoil of the Cathedral. Two other tombs were also found in the mausoleum which are said to be those of James’s disciples, Athanasius and Theodore. They were troubled times, and the persecution of Christians meant the mausoleum lay forgotten until a propitious miracle led to its reappearance in the 9th century, when the struggle to regain the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims began. It was in that century that the king of Asturias, Alfonso II, declared St. James the patron saint of Spain. The feast of St. James the Apostle was later decreed to fall on 25th July, all over Spain.

(c) (R) 2013, MUSMon com S.L.
Text (a) Diego Laforga Marcos

Source: Own work
Author: Diego Laforga (2013)