St. James the Great Day falls on July 25. St. Jame the Great was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. This day is also known as Galicia Day, which is fitting because St. James is the patron saint of both Galicia and Spain. His relics are said to be housed at Galicia’s Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. When the feast of St. James the Great falls on a Sunday, the next year is designated as a Camino Holy Year, also known as the Year of Compostela or Jacobean Year. During these years, devotees can receive a plenary indulgence.
History of St. James the Great Day
The Bible tells us that Jesus summoned James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to leave everything behind and follow him. Perhaps Jesus dubbed them “sons of thunder” because of their great enthusiasm or temperament.
James was one of three apostles who were particularly close to Jesus — the other two were Peter and John. The appellation “the Greater” distinguishes him from the other apostle, that is, “James the Lesser,” who was either smaller or younger.
James was the first of the twelve apostles to be killed; he was beheaded in Jerusalem by Herod Agrippa about the year 44 A.D. There are stories that James preached in Spain just before his death; other stories claim that his relics were moved there. St. James the Great’s relics were later taken by his disciples to the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Galicia in Spain) and are believed buried in Santiago de Compostela.
His body was taken to the Iberian Peninsula aboard a rudderless ship with no sail, according to mythology. They landed on the peninsula’s northwest shore and continued up the Ulla River to Iria Flavia (modern-day Padron). The Celtic Queen Lupia commanded these areas, When James’ followers begged permission to bury him there, she refused and dispatched warriors to pursue them. While these warriors proceeded to chase James’ followers across a bridge with his body, the bridge collapsed, killing her men!
St. James the Great is also the patron saint of travelers, laborers, and those who suffer from rheumatism, and various Latin American nations, as well as Spain, where Santiago de Compostela has been a famous pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages. He is also the patron of St. James Roman Catholic Parish in Glendale, Arizona.
St. James the Great Day timeline
He is born in Bethsaida, Galilee under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire.
Western European nations observe St. James’ the Great Day as a feast day.
The relics of St. James the Great are unearthed between 791 A.D. and 842 A.D.
In a papal bull released on November 1, Pope Leo XIII states that the relics of St. James the Great at Santiago de Compostela are genuine.
St. James the Great Day FAQs
What do Catholics do on St. James the Great Day?
Catholics usually go to their parish church and pray the novena to St. James the Great. Others make a pilgrimage to churches where St. James the Great is the patron saint.
How do Spaniards celebrate the feast day of St. James the Great?
Because this day is the most emblematic day on the Camino de Santiago calendar, Spaniards celebrate a full program of exhibitions, theater performances, and concerts days before his feast day. By midday of July 24, church bells are rung out to signal the evening celebration.
What miracle did St. James the Great perform?
Legend has it that St. James the Great cured a paralytic man who was scheduled for execution. This miracle caused the prosecutor to convert to Christianity.
How to Observe St. James the Great Day
Attend special services in church
On the saint’s feast day, special services are performed at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. A priest performs a ritual in which he whirls a big incense burner at full speed. The smoke and woody smell from the incense fill the entire church.
Visit souvenir shops in Santiago
If you’re anywhere near Santiago de Compostela, you’ll find souvenirs with a scallop shell on them. One of many legends has it that medieval pilgrims carried it while journeying to Santiago de Compostela. It was used as a bowl to hold food and water. The grooves in the scallop shell also symbolize the many routes taken by pilgrims converging at a definite destination.
Make an altar
Set up an altar outside your house. Place on your altar table a picture of St. James, a crucifix, a small statue of the Blessed Virgin, flowers in a small vase, and a candle. Invite neighbors and friends to say a prayer asking “for the strength to fight the good fight to be worthy followers of Christ.” Follow it up with an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary.”
5 Facts About St. James The Great
He was the first apostle killed
St. James the Great was the first apostle to be killed when Herod Agrippa ordered his execution around 44 A.D.
His martyrdom is recorded in the Bible
St. James the Great was the only apostle whose martyrdom is told in the New Testament (Acts 12:2).
He is patron of many professions
St. James the Great, a fisherman, is the patron saint of furriers, veterinarians, tanners, oyster fishers, woodcarvers, blacksmiths, equestrians, horsemen, soldiers, and pharmacists.
He may hold a scroll or book
In Orthodox iconography, St. James the Great is usually pictured with a scroll or a book.
He brought Christianity to Spain
St. James traveled to Spain after Jesus’s ascension into heaven — he brought Christianity to that country.
Why St. James the Great Day is Important
We need his intercession
It’s a day that reminds us to pray to St. James the Great. In prayer and novena cards, St. James the Great is often depicted as a pilgrim with a staff, gourd, and scallop shell, or holding a book. In sacred art, he is sometimes pictured riding into combat on a white horse trampling enemies underneath. We ought to invoke his intercession to help us succeed in our spiritual warfare.
It gathers people together
Any religious holiday or observance draws people together. On this day, Catholics usually hear mass and visit with family and friends.
It reminds us to perform good works
The saint’s feast day reminds us not only to avoid sin but more importantly, to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It’s an opportunity for Catholics and Christians to give witness to Christ.
St. James the Great Day dates