James the greater was the brother of John the beloved. James was the elder of the two brothers. James is named “the Greater” to distinguish him from the Apostle James “the Lesser” or “the Minor,” who was probably shorter in stature.
Jesus knew the brothers’ nature when He first met them and chose “Boanerges” as a fitting nickname, which means “sons of thunder.” (Mark 3:17) Typical of Galileans, they were religious, hardy, industrious, brave and strong defenders of the Jewish nation.
After the Ascension, James traveled preaching the gospel all the way to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).
Saint James the greater by Pere Serra, c. 1385,
a portion of the left predella of the altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin Mary,
Plandiura Collection, Museu Nacional d’Art de Cataluyna, Barcelona, Spain
James landed with his followers in northeastern Spain. He was aware that those to whom he began to preach paid little attention. In prayer, on the 2nd of January in the year 40, James had a vision of the Blessed Mother. She gave him a wooden statue of herself on a pillar and told him to build a church in her honor and then to return to Jerusalem. (1)
James and his disciples built a small chapel in Zaragoza, where she appeared. This was the first church built in Mary’s honor.
Our Lady of the Pillar
This statue atop the pillar of stone is about one foot in height and depicts the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus, who is holding a dove in his hand. The original statue was destroyed in the 1434 fire. The present statue dates from the mid-fifteenth century.
Then James and his disciples returned to Judea (44 AD) where James was martyred by decapitation. Herod Agrippa I, the Judean monarch and grandson of King Herod I, cut off the head of James with his own sword.
They would not give James a burial site in Jerusalem so James’ disciples carried his body by sea to Iberia, where they landed at Padrón on the coast of Galicia, and took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.
Way of Saint James
The tradition at Compostela placed discovery of the relics of Saint James in the time of King Alfonso II (791-842) and of Bishop Theodemir of Iria. These traditions were the basis for the pilgrimage route that was established in the 9th century. And the shrine dedicated to Saint James at Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain became the most famous pilgrimage site in the Christian world. The cathedral was consecrated in the year 1211.
The Way of Saint James is a tree of routes that cross western Europe and arrive at Santiago through northern Spain. Eventually Saint James the greater became the patron saint of Spain. The feast of Saint James the greater is July 25.
The scallop shell, found on the shores of Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago.
The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which meet at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela photographed by Jennifer Ferreira (2011),
Eternal Exploration—Musings of a geographer. https://eternalexploration.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/unesco-world-heritage-sites-challenge-santiago-de-compostela/
Cross of Saint James
The ends of the arms of the Cross of Saint James are shaped like a fleurs-de-lis and the lower part is fashioned like a sword making it a cross of a warrior.
I highly recommend seeing the movie The Way starring Martin Sheen….
You may just want to do the pilgrimage yourself one day….
(1) Saint of the Day—Saint James the Greater – July 25th by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, TRADITION IN ACTION, INC http://traditioninaction.org/SOD/j222sd_JamesGreater_07_25.html