St. James the Greater (Santiago in Spanish) was a Jewish man, an Israelite, who lived in the first century A.D. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and a close relative of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee before Christ called him to be one of His disciples, and later one of the Twelve Apostles. He may have been a disciple of St. John the Baptist's prior to following the Lord. He had a brother named John, also a fisherman and later the author of the Gospel According to St. John. He received his call from Jesus while he was busy at his nets, fishing with his brother and their father:
And going on from thence a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were mending their nets in the ship. And forthwith he called them. And leaving their father Zebedee in the ship with his hired men, they followed him. (Mark 1:19-20)The two brothers appear to have had a reputation for having fiery tempers and an impetuous spirit, for which Jesus nicknamed them "Boanerges", or "sons of thunder."
And to Simon he gave the name Peter: And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he named them Boanerges, which is, the sons of thunder ... (Mark 3:16-17).
The nickname may also have had something to do with a particularly notorious incident in which James and John (rather missing the point of Christ's mission, it must be said) offered to call down fire from heaven to punish a town whose faithless inhabitants had refused to believe in Christ:
And when his disciples James and John had seen this, they said: Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? And turning, he rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are. (Luke 9: 54-55)
On one occasion, the hapless pair also managed to infuriate the other Apostles by using their mother and their position as relatives of Jesus in an attempt to secure for themselves the choicest seats in Christ's kingdom:
Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, adoring and asking something of him. Who said to her: What wilt thou? She saith to him: Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom. And Jesus answering, said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to him: We can. He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father. And the ten hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren. (Matthew 20:20-21)
Despite these blunders, St. James and his brother were among Christ's favorite Apostles, together with St. Peter. It was these three who were privy to some of the most significant moments of Our Lord's life: the resurrection of Jairus's daughter, the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor and Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest and crucifixion (cf. Mark 9:2, Mark 5:27 and Matthew 26:37).
His last appearance in Scripture is found in the twelfth chapter of the Acts of The Apostles, where he becomes the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom at the hands of King Herod Agrippa I:
And at the same time, Herod the king stretched forth his hands, to afflict some of the church. And he killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. (Acts 12:1-2)
There ends the scriptural record of St. James' life. Outside Sacred Scripture, an ancient tradition holds that in the years following Christ's Ascension into heaven St. James undertook the evangelisation of the Roman province of Hispania (modern-day Spain). Travelling in the company of a small group of disciples, he preached the Gospel here for several years without much success, making only a handful of converts and appointing bishops in the cities of León and Astorga before returning to suffer martyrdom in Jerusalem.
Following his martyrdom, a small group of his disciples is said to have recovered the Apostle's remains, placed them in a boat and set sail for Spain. Eventually they landed at the Roman settlement of Iria Flavia on the Atlantic coast, not far from the modern town of Padrón. They faced numerous difficulties, not the least of which was the opposition of a local pagan queen who set a series of tests for them before agreeing to allow the burial of the body in her territory.
Overcoming these obstacles, they were finally given a plot of land in which to bury the remains, and two of the disciples, Athanasius and Theodore, stayed behind and spent the rest of their lives in prayer, watching over the tomb until they themselves died and were buried alongside their master.
And then, nearly eight centuries of silence. The location of the tomb was forgotten and it lay lost for nearly seven centuries until in AD 813. It was then that an extraordinary miracle occurred: the location of the tomb was revealed to a hermit named Pelayo, who was guided to it by a star and the sound of heavenly choirs of angels singing (hence the name Compostela for the city, from the Latin campus stellae, "the field of the star"); Pelayo immediately informed his bishop Teodomiro, who, after verifying the authenticity of the relics himself, ordered a church to be built on the site. He also sent word to King Alfonso II the Chaste, who travelled to the tomb to venerate the relics of the Apostle himself and ordered that the simple church constructed by the bishop be enlarged.Word of the relics' rediscovery spread throughout Christendom like wildfire, and it set in motion a wave of pilgrimages from every corner of Europe. From the Christian kingdoms north of the Pyrenees came kings, queens, nobles, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, merchants, craftsmen, architects and millions of ordinary men and women. With them too came much-needed economic and military aid for the wars of re-conquest against the Muslim armies further to the south.
There's lots more stories to tell about the history of the Camino, but I'll end it here for now. 1200 years of history and millions of pilgrims' stories would make for an excessively long third post, so I guess I'll have to save some of them for another day.