St James was one of the lesser known of Jesus’ twelve apostles. As recorded in Matthew, James and his brother John crossed paths with Jesus while they were fishing. The brothers and their father Zebedee were fishermen, which is perhaps why St James’ symbol is the scallop shell.
St James joined Jesus to spread the word and was present at a number of significant events in Jesus’ life.
St James was present at the Transfiguration, where Jesus began to shine with a bright light, Moses and Elijah appeared and God called from the heavens, calling Jesus his son.
This is one of the miracles of Jesus present in the gospels, marking a turning point for Jesus, allowing him to be the bridge between man and God. The brothers were also present at one of the post-resurrection appearances, Jesus appeared to them while they were fishing and shared his bread with them.
The death of St James was at the hand of Herod Agrippa in AD 43. He was put to death by beheading. Knowledge after his death is reliant on legend.
One story states St James’ remains were placed in a stone boat which landed on the coast of Spain. These remains were then taken to Santiago and discovered by the hermit, Pelayo, who had been shown the way to the remains by a shining star.
The story of St James became popular in 9th century Spain, partly due to the unstable politics of the time. There was growing discontent between areas held by the Islamic Moors and the Catholics. The legend of St James was thus coined and the area of Santiago became a centre of Christian unity. The increasing popularity of St James made him the patron saint of Spain.
As popularity for the Saint continued people began to make pilgrimages to the site at Santiago de Compostela. The journey for many meant several months of walking or riding. The journey from Paris would have been a 3,200 km round trip.
Today, Santiago de Compostela is more popular than ever, with people undertaking the journey for religious and personal reasons.