History of St. James
St. James the Apostle (also known as James, son of Zebedee or Saint James the Greater) was born in Galilee. James was among the first of the 12 apostles to be called by Jesus, along with Simon, Andrew, and James’ younger brother, John the Evangelist.
“As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea. They were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.” (Mark 1:16–20)
James witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles, including the Transfiguration, the Agony in Gethsemane, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. He was the first apostle martyred, in AD 44, and the only one whose death is recorded in the Bible: “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword.” (Acts of the Apostles 12:1–2)
Spanish tradition holds that James preached the gospel in Spain and Jerusalem and that after his execution his body was taken to Galicia, Spain, by his disciples. His remains are still located there, in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, though many scholars debate the authenticity of these claims. St. James came to be known as the patron saint of Spain.
The Hand of St. James
Legend has it that the first appearance of the mummified hand relic of St. James was in 640 in Venice. The next record shows the hand was given to Reading Abbey in Berkshire, England, in 1133. Over the next 400 years, the relic was used by various bishops and monks for prayer and healing miracles. In 1786, while building a prison near Reading Abbey, a worker discovered the relic. J. Scott Murray bought the relic in the 1840s for private use, and upon his death, in 1882, he left it to St. Peter’s Church in Marlow, England, where it remains today.
Devotion to St. James
The Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago), the oldest pilgrimage in Europe, leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where the remains of St. James are buried. Routes begin in Lisbon, Portugal; St. Jean Pied de Port, France; and various cities throughout Spain. The pilgrimage can be traveled on foot, horseback, or bicycle. Scallop shells and yellow arrows help guide pilgrims on their journey. To officially complete the Way of St. James, pilgrims obtain a passport that is stamped at locations along the various routes. Upon arrival at Santiago the passport can be used to receive a certificate of completion.