The way of St.James (El Camino de Santiago)

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His First Years-Life with Jesus-Preaching in Spain-His Last Years

The first biographical information about the Apostle St. James comes fundamentally from the Gospel. We know that he was the son of Zebedeo and Salome and the brother of John the Evangelist. It is often pointed out that, judging by the familiarity with which Salome asked Jesus for privileged positions for her two sons, the family of Zebedeo must have been closely related to the Sacred Family.

With regard to his birthplace, there are various authors who place it as Jaffa, close to Nazareth, on the shore of Lake Gesenareth. The family trade was fishing, in association with the brothers of Simon (St.Paul) and Andrew. Jesus selected his first four disciples from this group of fishermen. These were Paul, Andrew, James and John, who followed him immediately and zealously.

Within the group of disciples who followed him, Jesus formed a group of twelve. James, along with his brother John and Paul, became one of his favourite disciples; belonging to the group of intimates. In the key events Christ used him as a special witness. He is one of the elected to assist in the Tabor of the Transfiguration, to accompany Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or to witness the resurrection of the daughter of Jairo. These passages assist in evaluating the degree of affection with which Christ distinguished this Apostle.

Santiago is portrayed as a man with a vehement, passionate and impulsive character. References to this impetuosity are frequently found, being well defined in his conversation with Jesus requesting a privileged place in Heaven, or when demanding the punishment of the hostile Samaritans with fire.

The zeal of the son of Zebedeo receives strong reprimands from Christ, who gives him the sobriquet of Bonaerge, “Son of Thunder”. His vehemence and perseverance as a preacher is conserved in the Codice Calixtino (XII Century). This is the fundamental book of the Jacobean tradition and qualifies him as “a saint of admirable power, blessed for his way of life, astonishing for his virtues, of distinguished talent, of eloquent brilliance”.

After Jesús was crucified, St. James the Elder totally identified with his doctrine, became the principal leader of the community of believers in Jerusalem. He was admired for the fervour and sincerity of his preaching.
The transport of minerals, such as pewter, gold, iron or copper, from Galicia to the shores of Palestine was being developed at that time. On the return journey they brought ornaments, marble slabs, even herbs and other products that were highly valued commercially and which were loaded in Alexander and other more eastern ports.
It is believed that the Apostle made the journey from Palestine to Spain in one of these ships. Landing in Andalusia, where he began to preach. He continued his evangelistic mission in Coimbra and Braga and then, according to tradition, passed to Iria Flavia in the Spanish Finisterre, where he would begin evangelisation by frequenting places of pagan worship.


It is in the Apostles Breviary (end of the VI Century) that St. James is first credited with preaching the Gospel in Spain and the western regions and the fact of his burial in Arca Marmárica is recorded. This converts the Breviary into an extraordinary instrument of diffusion of the Apostolic tradition. Later, in the VII Century, an erudite English monk called The Venerable Bede again mentioned this fact in his writings, and surprisingly, fixed the exact location of the body of the Apostle in Galicia.

The popular legends remind us of the presence of St. James on hills near the valley of Padrón, where a cult of water-worship existed. In the XVI Century, Ambrosio de Morales wrote in his Viaje Santo, “Climbing the mountain, half way up the slope, there is a church where they say that St. James prayed and held Mass, and an abundant spring flows from under the main altar to the outside of the church, the coldest and most delicious that I had seen in Galicia”. This place still exists today and has received the affectionate name of “O Santiaguiño do Monte”. One of the authors of the sermons collected in the Códice Calixtino, alluding to the preaching of St. James in Galicia, mentions “the one the people come to venerate, James the son of Zebedeo, …the land of Galicia sent him to the star-filled heaven”.

The best route for crossing the Peninsular in order to return to the Holy Land, would be the Roman road through Lugo, Astorga and Zaragoza. Here, a dejected St. James received the consolation and inspiration of the Virgin. She appeared to him on a quartz Roman pillar at the side of the River Ebro, indicating that here he should build a Church.

This event served to explain the founding of the Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza, which today is a Basilica and an important Sanctuary of Spanish catholicism. From here, along the Ebro, he could have travelled towards Valencia to embark in Murcia or Andalusia and returned to Palestine about the year 42-44 AD.

Once in Palestine, St.James forms an integral part of the basic unit of the Primitive Church of Jerusalem, with the group of “Twelve”, playing an outstanding role in the Christian community of the Holy City. In a climate of great religious anxiety, where the desire to eradicate the incipient Christianity was increasing daily, we hear how the Apostles had been forbidden to preach to the Jews. However, St.James, ignored such limitations and preached to all the people, entering in the Synagogues and discussing all that was announced by the Prophets. His loquacity, his dialectic ability and his attractive personality situates him as one of the Apostles with the largest number of followers.

Herodes Agripa, King of Judea, selects him as a representative figure and, in order to silence the protests of the religious authorities, to please the Jews and to give a lesson to the Christian community, sentences him to death by beheading. In this way, he becomes the FIRST MARTYR OF THE APOSTOLIC COLLEGE.

The Tradition &The Body´s Passage -The Discovery of the Tumb /Sepulcre & The First Pilgrims- Over a Thousand Years of Pilgrimage-Pilgrims Today- Testimonials

The Tradition &The Body´s Passage

Even before the discovery of the remains of the Apostle Saint James, crowds of people made the route that goes to the Finis Terrae. There they felt that “religious terror” when, as happened to the Roman legionary Decimo July Brutus, they saw the Sun being extinguished in the waters of the ocean. He insisted that, when this happened, there was a hissing sound similar to the one iron makes when it is tempered in the forge.
Some people maintain that making the route to Finis Terrae was part of the rites of the “Ancient Religion”.
But the “miraculous arrival” of the corpse of the Apostle Saint James is the origin of the pilgrimage we know today. Beheaded in Palestine in the year 42 A.D., he finally arrives in Galicia.


The legend says that his disciples stole their master’s corpse and put it on board a ship without a crew, or better, with a crew of Angels. And seven days after their departure they landed at the mouth of the River Ulla in Galicia. Once there, the disciples had serious problems burying their Master caused by Queen Lupa and especially by King Duyo a confessed enemy of Christianity.
After a series of miraculous happenings, the Apostle was buried in the place that would later become the town of Santiago an Queen Lupa converted to Christianity.

The Discovery of the Tumb /Sepulcre & The First Pilgrims

In the year 813 (some authors date it a little later,between the 820 and the 830), governing Alfonso IIthe Chaste (789-842) in the Asturian reign and Charlemagne in the West, a hermit called Paio had anangelic revelation in which a refence about the discovery of the Apostle Saint James’ corpse was done. A few days later some shepherds notedan extrange luminosity upon the tree-covered Libred¤n mountain -where Compostela wouldemerge later- , a light which irradiated from a star.

This happening was inmediately comunicatedto the bishop of Iria Flavia, called Teodomiro, and he ordered three days of fasting and prayers, atthe same time that the mountain was cleared and it was discovered an Arcis Marmoricis (whichcan be translated as a a marble ark or marble bows). The three days passed, and by divinerevelation, the bishop Teodomiro attributed the found remains to the Apostle Saint James.

The king is inmediately given an account of the miraculous finding. The monarch comes with hisnobles and orders to raise the first church dedicated to Saint James and two other ones dedicatedto the Saviour and to St. Peter and St. Paul, respectively. . In this place and by Royal order, a littleAgustinian community is set up, then came the monasteries, churches, residences and severaloutbuildings for the service to the cult of the Apostle’s corpse, that constitutes the origin of whatnow it is Compostela.

According to the tradition, the king Alfonso gives inmediately account to Charlemagne who appears in Santiago with his retinue. This is quite unlikely, due toCharlemagne dies in the 814, but it is part of the legend. The fact is that the news spread all overEurope with great speed and the first pilgrims begin to arrive to this Locus Sanctus, the Field ofthe Star (Campus Stell -Compostela), the most popularly accepted translation, where the monkskept something very worthy, an apostolic corpse that put that place at the same level than Antioch,Ephese and even Rome.

Over a Thousand Years of Pilgrimage

In the first third of the IX Century, when the Moslem invasion is practically consolidated and only the kingdoms of the North resist its domination. A figure was needed that could unify the fight against the common enemy and that, at the same time, could serve as moral support to this important historic activity.

During the battles, if the Moors called on Mohammed, the Christians called on Saint James. In this way that humble Saint, friend of the poor, who believed in the power of the word, became a warrior “Santiago Matamoros (killer of Moors)” who takes a sword for the first time on the 23rd of May 844, to help Ramiro I of Asturias in the Battle of Clavijo against Abderraman II.


Since that moment, he will preside over the most important battles of the Re-Conquest and the Christians will, little by little, recover their domains and convert Compostela into the principal centre of spiritual attraction of the Asturian-Leonese kingdom. A phenomena that will eventually compete with Rome and Jerusalem in power of attraction, becoming the largest centre of pilgrimage in the whole of Christendom

The monks of the powerful Cluniac Order were the principal promoters of the pilgrimages in the Middle Ages. Pilgrimages that began all over Europe and even in the East. But it was from the XI Century, after the kings Sancho the Elder of Navarre and Alfonso VI of Leon had established the plan of the French Pilgrim Road, that the phenomenon of the pilgrimages became especially important.

The Pilgrim Road was defined by resorting basically to the numerous Roman roads that linked the different points of the Peninsular. But in view of the extraordinary human flow, it became imperative to provide the Road with the necessary infrastructure for their attention. Lodging houses, hospitals and cemeteries were created, bridges were raised, churches were built, monasteries and abbeys were set up and, the most important, countless settlements were founded near the Pilgrim Road, creating a historic and artistic legacy of such importance, that even now it is impossible to value.

In this same Century, a French clergyman, Aymeric Picaud, presented a book known as theCodex Calixtinus (the fact of him being the author is more than debatable), in which the French Pilgrim Road is already described and a multitude of advice is given on travelling along it. It is, without doubt, the first tourist guide of humanity.

The establishment of the Jacobean Holy Year, by Pope Calixto II and his successor Alexander III (1159-1181), by a Papal Bull (Regis terna), the granting of the grace of the Jubilee (plenary indulgence) to those who visit the Temple of Compostela in the years when the 25th of July (Day of Saint James) coincides on a Sunday, gave the final impulse to the pilgrimages to Santiago in the Middle Ages.

In the XIV Century an important decline begins, caused both by the catastrophes that devastated the Century (above all the Black Death) and by the numerous wars in which the Continent was involved. This degeneration increased in the XVI Century. It was caused by the emergence of Protestantism and the resulting religious wars, together with the hiding of the remains of the Apostle (for over 300 years) to prevent them from falling into the hands of the English pirates. This process culminated in the XIX Century with the almost total disappearance of the pilgrimages. The chronicles say that on the 25th of July 1867, there were barely forty pilgrims in the town of Compostela.

In 1878, Pope Leon XIII issues a Bull corroborating the authenticity of the rediscovery of the remains of the Apostle. This causes the gradual resurgence of pilgrimages up until 1993, the last Holy Year.

Pilgrims today

Nowadays, apart from the religious motivations which gave it life, the interest of the Road lies in its artistic and tourist aspects: in its architecture (for its so-called Pilgrimage Style), in its very important Romanesque sculptures (the evolution of which can be followed all along the Road until reaching the Portico de La Gloria), in the art (represented in the Pantheon of San Isidro de Leon) and by its outstanding tourist attractions: landscapes, gastronomy, culture, that are offered by this millenary route.

This route has been travelled by such important personages as: Fernán Gonzélez (El Cid), Luis VII of France, Edward the First of England, Juan de Brienne (King of Jerusalem), Princess Ingrid of Sweden, Isabel of Portugal, San Francisco of Assis, the Flemish artist Juan Van Eyck, Domingo de Guzman, Raimundo Lulio, San Vicente Ferrer and millions of anonymous pilgrims who, suffering the innumerable difficulties of the Road, reached Compostela simply to pray and redeem their sins.

The centuries-old pilgrimage to Compostela along the Road to Santiago, created since the very beginning an extraordinary spiritual, cultural and economical vitality: it bred literature, music, art and history and, on its account, cities and villages were born, hospitals and lodgings were built, commercial ways and new markets appeared, new roads and bridges were planned and cathedrals and churches, that elevated the Romanesque art to a magnificence not reached by other styles, were built.


The road was a melting pot of cultures, disseminator of tendencies and ideas all over the Continent, meeting point of peoples and languages and supporting axis of the first European common awareness.
Goethe said that ‘Europe was made on the pilgrim road to Compostela’.

In our days, the European Council has defined the Road to Santiago as First European Cultural Itinerary and the UNESCO has declared the city of Santiago de Compostela, Cultural Patrimony of Humankind.

The Xacobean phenomenon spread its influence all over the world. Countless churches are dedicated to St. James all over the planet and especially next to the pilgrim roads. Lots of cities and villages in Europe and other continents have the name of Santiago; in America, the name of Santiago designates numerous villages from the United States to Chile. Many teaching institutions are dedicated to the Xacobean theme, and in the 20 th century alowe published. 600 works have been published by specialists in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Portugal, United States of America, Luxembourg, Low countries, Switzerland…and even in Japan.


The French Way is the archetypal St. James’ Way. Its itinerary through the north of the peninsula was set out at the end of the 11th century thanks to the efforts in construction and promotion of Sancho III the Great and Sancho Ramírez of Navarre and Aragón, in addition to Alfonso VI and his successors in Castile and León-Galicia. In about 1135, the main roads along this itinerary were described in Book V of the so-called “Codex Calixtinus”.


Of the four French routes, three of them (Paris-Tours, Vézelay-Limoges and Le Puy-Conques) cross over the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles, while the fourth (Arles-Toulouse) does the same at Somport and continues on to Jaca. The Roncesvalles road goes on to Pamplona and both the Navarre and the Aragón routes meet up at Puente de Reina.

From there on, Estella, Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Castrojeriz, Frómista, Carrión de los Condes, Sahagn, León, Astorga, Ponferrada, Villafranca del Bierzo along with a large number of smaller towns, become places of renown along St. James’ Way. The pass and village of O Cebreiro leads into Galicia, its landscape and its culture, which owe so much to the Apostle’s tomb and the pilgrimage to it. This pilgrimage transformed the Libredón Forest into present-day Santiago de Compostela, and Galicia’s roads into paths of spirituality, art and culture.

History- The Compostela

By means of the Bula Regis Aeterna, Pope Alexander III (XII Century) conferred the Grace of the Jubilee, that is the remission of all sins. No matter how serious these are and even of those sins whose remission can only be conferred by the Pope himself.
To obtain the Jubilee it is not necessary to travel over the Pilgrim Road. It is sufficient to visit the Cathedral during any Holy Year (when the 25th of July coincides on a Sunday) and say a prayer, such as the Lords Prayer or the Creed, praying for the intentions of the Pope. You must also have made confession and received Communion within the previous fifteen days or must do so within the next fifteen days.

La Compostela

The Compostela is the name of the official certificate awarded by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to all the people who make the pilgrimage for religious reasons (whether or not it is a Jubilee Year).
In order to receive this certificate and in addition to the above, it is necessary to travel on foot, bicycle or on horseback a part of the Pilgrim Road to Santiago and to demonstrate this on arrival (at least 100 kilometres on foot or horseback and 200 kilometres on bicycle).
The demonstration of the distance travelled is made using the ìPilgrims Credentialî, which should be stamped or signed by the different parishes, hostels, refuges or the official representative of the towns along the Pilgrim Road.
If this Credential is not obtained, it can be substituted with a written journal containing the signatures and stamps obtained at each and every stage.


Historia Compostelana, XII Century
“Who is this person, so great and illustrious, that the Christians go to him, to pray, from behind the Pyrenees and further away? It is so great a multitude of those who go and come, that they barely leave free the road to the West”

Codex Calixtinus, XII Century
“Saint of admirable power, blessed for his way of life, astonishing in his virtues, of distinguished talent, of eloquent brilliance”

Codex Calistinus, Century XI
“He, the one who people came to worship, James, son of Zebedeo / the land of Galicia sent him to the star filled heaven”

Codex Calixtinus, XII Century
“The soul of Alfonso, King of Aragón, that to his memory offers and donates to Saint James, rest in eternal peace”

Ambrosio de Morales, Viaje Santo, XVI Century
“Climbing the mountain, half way up the slope, there is a church where they say that St. James prayed and held Mass, and an abundant spring flows from under the main altar to the outside of the church, the coldest and most delicious that I had seen in Galicia”.

Dante, Divina Comedia , XVI Century
“the man for whom every body visits Galicia”

Valle-Inclán, La Lámpara Maravillosa, XX century
“…of all the ancient Spanish cities, the one that seems to be immobilised in a granite dream, immutable and eternal, is Santiago de Compostela… It does not seem ancient but more eternal… But Compostela, immobilized in the Extasis of the pilgrims, joins all her stones in one unique prayer, and the chain of century had always, in its echos, the same resonance. There, the hours are the same hour, eternally repeated under a weeping sky”.

John Paul II, during his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on the 9th of November of 1982
“..I, from Santiago, call to you, old Europe, a cry full of love: find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins. Arouse your roots. You can still be the lighthouse of civilization and stimulus of progress for the world. All the other Continents look to you and await the same answer that Santiago gave to Christ “

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