The Institute for Christian Formation
Saint James, Apostle
Feast Day (Feast): July 25
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On July 25 the Church celebrates the Feast of St. James, Apostle. He was the brother of St. John, and the son of Zebedee. He is sometimes called St. James the Greater, to distinguish him from the other apostle named James, who was the son of Alphaeus. James and his brother John were fishermen, as were Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew. These four men were the first four of the apostles whom Jesus called to follow him.
James was present at some of the most dramatic moments of Jesus’ ministry, including the Transfiguration. James was also the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred. Acts 12:2 provides a record of his martyrdom. He was beheaded by a decree of King Herod Agrippa around the year 44.
Albrecht Durer, 1516
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy
According to Spanish tradition, the apostles took the body of James to Spain for burial. This city in northern Spain is called Santiago de Compostela, “Santiago” being the Spanish name for Saint James. The cathedral built at Santiago de Compostela has been a major pilgrim destination for well over a thousand years. Huge celebrations are held there each year on July 25 celebrating the Feast of Saint James. Here is an interactive 3D visualization of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and you can view the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in pictures here. You can also learn more about the present-day pilgrimage here. The 2010 movie, “The Way,” also brought Saint James' pilgrimage into the popular limelight.
A shell is one of the major symbols associated with St. James. One legend says the boat carrying St. James’ body to Spain encountered a storm, and that the body was washed ashore, unharmed but covered with shells. Another legend has to do with St. James saving the life of a knight whose horse threw him into the sea. It is said the knight was saved, unharmed but covered in shells. Whatever the case may be, over the centuries the pilgrims following the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela have usually been distinguished by carrying a crooked staff with a shell attached, or by wearing a shell. The pilgrimage, itself, has been marked by shells along the way. The shell is also a symbol of baptism, and served as a handy cup or dish for pilgrims to use to get a drink of water or eat some food. The grooves in the shell, coming together at one point, also attest to the different routes to Santiago de Compostela.
St. James is the Patron Saint of Spain, Guatemala, Nicaragua, pilgrims, scallops, and oysters! So if July 25th doesn’t find you as a pilgrim at Santiago de Compostela, or at the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival always held in Britain near this Feast Day (the English oyster season officially begins on Saint James Day), at least enjoy a nice seafood dinner, perhaps some Coquille St. Jacques (a scallop dish - here is one recipe), named for St. James! If you are seriously interested in learning more about Saint James and Santiago de Compostela, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has eight fantastic presentations available online, which you can access here:
•Santiago de Compostela and the French Connections
•Art and Anecdote on the Road to Santiago
•The Twelfth-Century Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela: Art and Mores along the Routes
•Art, Experience, and the Exotic on the Road to Santiago
•Romanesque Redivivus: A Full-Scale 3D Computer Reconstruction of the Medieval Cathedral and Town of Santiago de Compostela in 1211
•Santiago Beckons: Artist and Scholars on the Pilgrimage Road
•The Manuscripts of the Codex Calixtinus
•The Musical Repertoires and Liturgical Contexts of the Codex Calixtinus: An Overview
Celebrate the Feast of Saint James with children by making sea shell crafts, or even traditional “grotters” - a hollow mound made of mud and decorated with seashells. You can view some great photos of both the Blessing of Waters on the Feast of Saint James and traditional grotters here. Make sure to scroll all the way down the page to see all of the photos – especially the grotters! Conclude your children’s feast day celebration by sharing homemade chocolate seashell cupcakes!
Carlo Crivelli, circa 1480
Click on the image above to download our ICF bulletin on Saint James, Apostle.