Thought of the week

This Sunday 25th July we will celebrate the Feast of St James. 

James was one of disciples closest to Jesus. He and his brother John were fishermen, sons of Zebedee and Salome and were among the first to be called by Jesus, at the same time, or soon after, Peter and Andrew.

After Pentecost, some of the disciples moved away from Jerusalem to spread the gospel in other lands as Jesus had commanded them. There is a legend that James went to spread the gospel in Spain but precious little evidence that he did so. All that is known is that he was arrested and beheaded in 44AD in Jerusalem on the orders of Herod Agrippa.

However, it is quite possible that he spent some time in Spain before returning to Jerusalem. Whether he did or not, there are several legends linking James with Spain and according to seventh-century sources, after his death his body was carried miraculously in a stone boat to the Galician coast, where he was buried.  James’ body found its way without human help to Spain because (according to the story) he had already visited the country. 

 His remains were discovered in 813AD by a local hermit. It is said he found it by following a star – thereby giving us ‘Compostela’ – the field of the star.  A shrine was established there and this provided the basis for resurrecting the historic legends and traditions and led to establishment of the pilgrimage route that dates from this time. El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) was to become the most famous pilgrimage route in the Christian world. Today it is a network of routes that cross Western Europe and arrive at Santiago through Northern Spain. In 2018, over 300,000 pilgrims were officially registered as having walked the last 100km of the route.                                  

Many of the walkers carry the traditional walking staff and wear the scallop shell which is the emblem of St James and of the Camino. (The illustration shows the shell being carried on the end of a walking staff). It is said that the converging  grooves of the shell represent the various routes to Compestela, while the scallop is a practical emblem because it can serve as a dish to eat or drink from. 

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Cathedral of Compostela

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Eventually James became the patron saint of Spain. So the Feast of St James is widely celebrated in Spain, especially in Galicia and the Basque country where it is a public holiday. Many local events are organized on and before Saint James' Day in these regions.  At Santiago de Compostela there are exhibitions of work by local artists, concerts and theatre productions, carnival processionsl and traditional dancing and on the eve of the Feast there is a light show with fireworks and a huge image of St James appears on the front wall of the cathedral.

Special services are held in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela on July 25 and a. gigantic incense burner, the Botafumeiro, is swung down the cathedral aisles in breathtaking fashion almost touching the vaulted ceilings. The eight handlers of the botafumeiro, the tiraboleiros, somehow guide its movements by ropes.

As July 25th falls on Sunday this year, the day becomes more special. The year itself is proclaimed to be a Xabobean Year and, astonishingly, there will be even greater celebrations than usual.