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Statue of St. James, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostel

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Galicia, Spain.

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Medieval legends tell that St. James the Elder, one of the apostles of Christ, traveled on the Iberian Peninsula spreading Christianity. Following his martyrdom in Jerusalem around 44 AD, his relics were supposedly taken back to Spain and enshrined. The location of the shrine was forgotten after the fall of the Roman Empire but a hermit, led by a beckoning star and celestial music, rediscovered the lost relics in 813 AD. Historians however, doubt that St. James ever visited Spain and the idea that his relics were transported to Iberia is thought to be a fabrication of the Church. The 'discovery' of the relics provided a rallying point for Spanish Christians living in territories then occupied by the Islamic Moors. There were also stories that Santiago Matomoro or ‘St. James the Moor Slayer’ had appeared on a white horse in 844 AD to lead Christians into battle against the Moors. These two legends are interpreted by scholars as attempts by church authorities to gather popular support for the overthrow of the Arabs. Furthermore, it is known that church officials in Compostela hired storytellers to travel the European countryside spreading 'news' of the miracles of St. James and his relics.

Over the tomb where St. James’ relics were 'found', the first church was constructed in 829 AD and within 100 years Santiago de Compostela was becoming a popular holy place. Even though Rome and Jerusalem were more favored pilgrimage destinations, because Santiago de Compostela was closer and safer to visit, it received more visitors. Over the centuries four major land routes developed to Santiago, passing through places of pre-Christian sanctity where other pilgrimage churches had been built, and by the 12th century Compostela had become the greatest pilgrimage center in medieval Europe. The photograph shows a stone sculpture of St. James in the garb of a wandering pilgrim. The seashells fastened on his cloak were the badges of the medieval age, signifying a pilgrim's visit to the shrine of Santiago.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the Sacred Sites Website.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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