Tales from
the Loir

A Weekly Column

September 18, 2002 - Saint James

When I first learned that the tomb of Saint Jacques was in Spain, I had no idea who Saint Jacques was. When I finally figured out that Jacques is the French version of James, it still didn't mean anything to me. I knew that one of the twelve Apostles was James but it never occurred to me that he might be buried in Spain. I knew that there had to be a good story to explain how an Apostle, who was decapitated in Jerusalem in 44 AD, came to buried in a remote corner of Spain.

I decided to start my research in my aunt Mayme's library of books and tapes. She has been sending money to televangelists for years and has collected a huge array of tapes, bibles and books. I found a large set of tapes and books on the subject of Saint James, but I quickly found out they were worthless. Other than referring to one obscure sentence in the bible about Saint James, the tapes rambled for hours about nothing except an occasional reference to Gawd. I guess this should not be surprising since the bible, which is read so literally by fundamentalist Christians, was so severely abridged when it was compiled in 325 AD at the Council of Nicaea. A huge number of apocryphal writings were left out because they could not be authenticated or were politically incorrect. The point is that the bible does not say much about James. Other documents are more enlightening.

The Codex Calixtimus, or Liber sancti Jocobi, stored in the archives of the Cathedral of Compostela, is the most detailed information about Saint James and the pilgrimage. James, the son of Zebedee, is referred to as James the Major because he was the first James to become an Apostle. Jesus recruited James and his brother, John, while they were fishing. He invited them to become fishers of men but they must have been very young men because they had to get permission from their mother, Salome, to leave their fishing profession. When Jesus explained to Salome that he wanted her sons to join his future kingdom she was impressed but when he explained that the kingdom would be in heaven she refused. She finally agreed to release her children if they could sit at his right and left hand side in the hereafter. Of course, Jesus had no power to grant such a request but he did it anyway. Even Jesus was no match for a Jewish mother.

James along with Peter and his brother John became the inner circle and closest disciples of Jesus. James and John are also sometimes referred to as the sons of thunder. Jesus named them as such when they angrily demanded that Jesus bring some thunder and lightening on a village that failed to offer him hospitality. Jesus reprimanded them for their hostility and, afterwards, they became known, somewhat mockingly, as the sons of thunder. James is also sometimes called Matamore or the Moor killer.

After the crucifixion of Jesus the Apostles dispersed throughout the known world to spread the word of the new religion. James preached in Spain but returned to Palestine where Herod Agrippa decapitated him in 44 AD. The part that gets a little hard to follow is how he got to Spain. This is where Gregorian chants and a little Latin helps: Ah ah ahhhhh ah, Translatio sancti Jacobi and the body shows up in Spain eight centuries later. The movement of the body to Spain is actually called the La Translatio which suggests that a little faith is required to accept it, but there is also a somewhat secular explanation.

After his execution, seven of his disciples put his body in a boat with no rudder or oars. The boat drifted for seven days across the Mediterranean Sea, through the straights of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic Ocean before coming ashore in the far northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula. The seven disciples encountered hostility from the local population until they collapsed a bridge of pursuers, killed a dragon and subdued some wild bulls. These feats resulted in the conversion of the natives who destroyed their idols and dug a tomb for Saint James in their temple.

Eight centuries later, Saint James appeared in a dream to Charlemagne. He told him that his body was buried in Galcia and that he must raise an army to defeat the Saracens who occupied the land of his tomb. After Charlemagne chased the Saracens from northern Spain, a hermit found a tomb that everyone recognized as the tomb of Saint James. Skeptics argue that this story was all made up because Saracen infidels occupied Spain and an icon was needed to inspire the Reconquista. Saint James was chosen because he had preached in Spain before his execution.

Although the story of the Translatio seems farfetched, the idea of taking his body back to Spain does make sense. The seven disciples were from Spain and it seems logical that they would have wanted to carry him back to Spain. The story that is hard to swallow is the drifting boat but it is a reoccurring theme. The whole story of the bible drifted in boats to French territory. Mary Magdelene, Joseph of Arimathie and the Holy Grail drifted ashore near Marseille in a rudderless boat. The head of John the Baptist rests in Saint Jean d'Angely, Saint Veronique drifted ashore near Bordeaux and the body of Saint Tropez found its way by boat to French soil with a chicken and a dog. Although Saint James did not make it to French soil, it was the French who created the pilgrimage and sold the idea of the cult of Saint James. Over 15,000 pilgrims pass through the Pyrenees each year to pay homage to Saint James. Most of the pilgrims are French. About three percent are American.

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September 11, 2002 - Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle

July 10, 2002 - Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

July 3, 2002 - Bugs

June 26, 2002 - Summer

June 19, 2002 - French Property News

June 5, 2002 - Emmanuel de Broglie

April 24, 2002 - Election Day in Saint Rimay

April 17, 2002 -Surprise Review

April 3, 2002 - Spring in Lavardin
March 20, 2002 - Guest Columnist /Furman Magazine/ John Roberts
March 13, 2002 - Tête de Veau
March 6, 2002 - Table Etiquette
February 27, 2002 - A Country Boy Can Survive
February 20, 2002 - Driving in France
February 13, 2002 - The Circus
February 6, 2002 - History of France
January 30, 2002 - THE BEST I EVER HAD
January 23, 2002 - Miranda This
January 16, 2002 - Charlotte Observer Interview
January 9, 2002 - Walnut Wine
January 2, 2002 - Sloe Gin
December 26, 2001 - Winter Solstice
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000

 

       

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