This Wednesday, July 25, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint James the Greater, Apostle of Christ our Lord. James was the brother of the Apostle, Saint John, the “beloved disciple” in the Gospel according to John. James is called “the Greater” not because he did bigger things than Saint James the Lesser (whose feast is on May 3 and shared with St. Philip), but because he was a follower of Jesus before the other James.
If you suffer from arthritis or rheumatism, Saint James is your patron. He is also the patron of those who are pharmacists. Most famously, though, Saint James the Greater is the patron of pilgrims. This latter patronage comes from the centuries old tradition of walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) on the Iberian peninsula (Spain/Portugal) in western Europe. There are dozens of official routes – the official route actually begins in southern France — that are marked along the way by a scallop shell, a symbol of Christian Baptism and a reminder that, once Baptized, Christians are to follow Jesus Christ who is “the Way” (John 14:6).
The principal relics of Saint James are buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This is the ultimate destination for pilgrims along the route. The remains of James, who was martyred around 44 A.D. were miraculously brought to Spain in the early ninth century and buried in Compostela’s cathedral. Soon after, pilgrims began to arrive to ask for divine favors from Saint James. By the 11th century, pilgrimages were an almost annual summer vacation ritual for western Europeans and others allowing their religious fervor and fidelity to be on display. In the 12th century, Pope Callixtus II granted a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims who walked the Camino and the indulgence remains available to the faithful to this day.
Our parish and Cathedral have two interesting connections to Compostela and the Camino. First, Compostela and Aviles, the home town of St. Augustine’s founder Pedro Menendez, were part of the Kingdom of Asturias. Second, one of the towns along the principal pilgrimage route is Santervás de Campos, the birthplace of Juan Ponce de León, who landed on these shores in 1513 and named the area La Florida. The villagers of Santervás de Campos donated a replica of the baptismal font in which Ponce was baptized after his birth in 1474 to the City of St. Augustine. That font is located inside the vestibule of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine.
The connections between Spain, our parish and our city are many. Saint James, pray for us.