St. James the Apostle, July 25

St. Josemaria Institute

We celebrate James the Apostle on July 25. With his brother, John, the Gospels (Matthew 4, 21-22; Mark 1, 19-20; Luke 5, 10-11) record that they were fishermen, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon Peter, and called by Jesus from mending their nets beside the sea of Galilee at the beginning of his ministry

Jesus nicknamed them ‘the sons of thunder’ – perhaps justified by the story (Luke 9, 51-56) that they once wished to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village which had refused them hospitality.

They made it to key events in Jesus life – the Transfiguration, Gethsemene and at various healings and miracles – Peter’s mother-in-law and raising of Jairus’s daughter. Obviously, James was of Jesus closest followers.

He is known as James the Great to distinguish him from James the Less, or James the brother of the Lord.

About AD 42, shortly before Passover (Acts 12), James was beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who tried to kill the infant Jesus–Matthew 2). James was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom, and the only one of the Twelve whose death is recorded in the New Testament.

Tradition is he was a missionary to Spain in his life and, at his death, was buried at Compostela, a site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. 

Relics of the saints were believed to possess great power. Spain needed it in the 8th century. Jerusalem fell to the armies of Islam in 636 A.D., and less than a century later, in 711, Spain was also invaded and conquered. Islam rapidly reached northern Spain, and sent raiding parties into France. In northwest Spain, however, a small Christian kingdom, including Asturias and present-day Galicia, emerged in the 8th century, and at this time James’ tomb was discovered near Finisterre. James was the most senior member of the intercessionary hierarchy whose relics remained undiscovered.  The discovery of his tomb helped to bolster the resistance.

In the 12th Century Santiago came to rank with Rome and Jerusalem as one of the great destinations of medieval pilgrimage. The first cathedral was built over the site of James tomb, and Benedictine houses were established.  The cathedral where he is buried was depicted in the film, The Way, at the end of the “Way of St. James”, a pilgrim’s path across Spain.  

The relics of St James are housed in a silver casket below the high altar, above which his statue presides over the cathedral. On the feast of St James on July 25, and other high days and holy days, a giant censer, the Botafumeiro, is swung on ropes by red-coated attendants in a great arc from floor to vaults, emitting clouds of incense over delighted crowds.

Here is the scene from The Way that depicts the pilgrims reaching  Santiago and venturing to the cathedral with the swinging of the censer.  This has never been filmed before and the production crew had to get special permission to film it.

The “Way” is actually many paths across France and Northern Spain that has been followed by pilgrims for 800 years. In recent decades it has enjoyed a resurgence as a spiritual journey with many organized and unorganized journeys.  You can the take the route across Northern Spain (800km) taking 6 weeks or break it up into shorter journeys. 

Scroll to Top