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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of
St. James the Greater


St. James was the son of Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, and Salome, a pious woman who tended after Christ. He and his younger brother, St. John (Feast Day: December 27), were called as disciples just after Simon Peter and Andrew were called, and Peter, James and John are often mentioned together in Scripture, having been witness to the raising of Jairus's daughter, the Transfiguration, and Christ's Agony in the garden of Gethsemani.

James and his brother must have been been zealous and of a passionate nature as they came to be called "Boanerges" ("Sons of Thunder") -- a nickname given to them by Jesus Himself. After Our Lord's Ascension, tradition says that St. James's zeal for evangelizing took him to parts of Spain for a time -- where St. Paul had wanted to travel (Romans 15:24) -- whereafter he returned to Judea for his martyrdom.

In A.D. 44, Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great who tried to have Baby Jesus killed, set out to do the will of the Jews by dealing harshly with local Christians. St. James was accused, and Herod then "killed James, the brother of John, with the sword." (Acts 12:1-2). Church Historian, Eusebius, tells us that St. James's accuser followed James to martyrdom when he converted after hearing the Saint's confession to Herod. At the place where James was said to have been martyred by beheading, a chapel was built; you can find it near the sanctuary of Jerusalem's Cathedral of Saint James, in the Armenian Quarter.

Here tradition picks up again by telling us that James's relics were translated to Spain (of course, legends grew surrounding the event, one strange and lovely one in particular apparently meant to explain why the cockleshell is St. James's emblem. It is said that when the Saint's relics were being conveyed by ship from Jerusalem and approached the coast of Portugal, a man happened to be riding his horse on the beach. The horse disobediently plunged into the sea, with its rider, making for the boat. They sank, of course, but then rose again, covered with scallop shells, and hence the cockleshell became the symbol of our hero). The relics were entombed and rather forgotten after years of Roman persecution, Vandal and Visigoth invasions, and Muslim attacks -- forgotten, that is, until an early 9th century hermit named Pelayo discovered the tomb -- some say after seeing a star marking the place -- in an area that became known as Compostela, which means "Field of Stars." The King built a cathedral to mark the location (Pelayo's Bishop, Theodomor of Iria, is also buried there, refusing to be buried in his See out of his desire to be near the Saint).

The faithful began to make pilgrimages to the site -- so much so that Compostela became the third greatest place of pilgrimage, just after Jerusalem and Rome -- and still make the pilgrimage today. After making one of the many routes, known as "the Camino de Santiago," pilgrims attach cockleshells or their facsimile to their hats or clothes as "pilgrim badges," signs that they'd venerated the holy relics. Any year in which St. James's Day falls on a Sunday is called a Holy Year, and a plenary indulgence may be gained by making the pilgrimage (his Feast falls on a Sunday every 6, 5, 6, and 11 years). To gain the indulgence, one must fulfill the usual conditions of plenary indulgences, must intend the pilgrimage for spiritual purposes and must have made the last 63 miles (100 km) on foot or on horse, or the last 125 miles (200 km) on bicycle.

At the time of the Muslim ("Moorish") invasions mentioned above, a particular battle took place that was to seal St. James ever more closely to Spain, where he is known as "San Tiago." At the Battle of Clavijo in A.D. 841, the Christians had lost and were in retreat when King Ramirez of Leon had a dream in which the Apostle assured him of victory. He relayed his vision to his men, and the next morning he had his trumpeters sound the call to battle. There, on the field, the men saw St. James on a horse adorned with cockleshells, waving a banner. He led the Christians on to a clear victory, and ever since, the Spanish battle-cry has been "Santiago!" and St. James has been known as "Matamoros" -- "Moor-slayer."

St. James is Patron of the Spanish people, equestrians, blacksmiths, tanners, and veterinarians. He is usually depicted in art with his symbols -- the cockleshell, pilgrim hat, sword, Sacred Scripture -- or on horeseback, usually trampling a Moor.

Note that July 25 is also the Feast Day of St. Christopher, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers whom we honor together on August 8.


As to the day's customs, because of the love the Spanish have for St. James, they adopted him as their Patron, and his Feast is a national holiday, a time of great celebration, much like the Feast of St. Patrick is for the Irish, that of St. Joseph is for the Italians, that of St. George is for the English, and that of St. Andrew is for the Scots. In Compostela, there are great processions and the famous La Fachada fireworks display. And at the city's cathedral, the city's faithful father to worship -- and many pilgrims, too, especially when his feast falls on a Sunday. From the ceiling of this great cathedral hangs a six-foot tall 14th century censer (the "botafumeiro") that is swung by pulleys on this day and for a few other great Feasts. The censer is so large that it takes eight people to swing it properly! A hymn you might hear in Compostela on the Feast of St. James:

Himno al Apóstol Santiago

Santo Adalid, patrón de las Españas,
amigo del Señor:
defiende a tus discípulos queridos,
protege a tu Nación.

Las armas victoriosas del cristiano
venimos a templar
en el sagrado y encendido fuego
de tu devoto altar.

Firma y segura
como aquella Columna
que te entregó la Madre de Jesús,
será en España
la santa fe cristiana,
bien celestial que nos legaste tú.

¡Gloria a Santiago, patrón insigne!
Gratos, tus hijos, Hoy te bendicen.

A tus plantas postrados te ofrecemos
La prenda más cordial de nuestro amor.
¡Defiende a tus discípulos queridos!
¡Protege a tu Nación!
¡Protege a tu Nación!

The food du jour in Spain at this time is a lemon and almond-flavored St. James Cake. To make it, you'll need to make a cardboard stencil out of this image of the St. James Cross (right-click and save the image, print it, tape the paper at its edges on to a piece of cardbard, and cut the image out so you're left with a cardboard stencil):

Tarta de Santiago

2 2/3 cups almonds
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup water
zest from 1 lemon
powdered sugar for garnish

Blanch the almonds, then using a grinder or a food processor, grind the almonds until fine and set aside.

Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 8-inch round cake pan, and butter its sides.

Beat the eggs and sugar together. Add the butter, flour, baking powder, and water and beat until well combined. Stir the ground almonds into the batter. Add the lemon zest and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Bake in the oven on the middle shelf for approximately 45 to 50 minutes, until it tests done when a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Let it cool about 15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and lay your St. James Cross stencil on top and dust with powdered sugar. Carefully remove the stencil.

"Back in the day," the people of England who couldn't make the pilgrimage to St. James's shrine would gather up seashells, bits of broken colored glass, pretty stones, and flowers and such and would build little grottoes in honor of St. James on his Feast. Though I doubt many people still do this, it is a lovely custom -- and one that could be easily revived!

It is also customary for the English to eat oysters today. It is said that "Who eats oysters on St James's Day will never want!" In France, it is not the oyster that is eaten, but the scallop -- named "coquilles St.Jacques" -- "shells of St. James." A few recipes to try:

Coquilles St. Jacques à la Provençale (serves 6)

1/3 cup yellow onions, minced
1 TBSP butter
1 1/2 TBSP minced scallions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds washed bay scallops (or sea scallops, quartered)
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup sifted flour, in a dish
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP olive oil
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 small bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon thyme
6 buttered scallop dishes or baking shells
1/4 cup grated good-quality Gruyère or Swiss cheese
2 TBSP butter in 6 pieces

Cook onions in 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender and translucent but not brown. Stir in scallions and garlic and sauté slowly 1 minute more. Dry scallops and cut them into slices 1/4 inch thick. Just before cooking, sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, roll in flour and shake off excess flour. Sauté scallops quickly in very hot 2 tablespoons butter mixed with olive oil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Pour wine into skillet with scallops, add herbs and cooked onion mixture. Cover skillet and simmer 5 minutes. Then uncover and, if necessary, remove scallops and boil down sauce rapidly for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Correct seasoning and discard bay leaf. Spoon scallops and sauce into shells. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to broil. Just before serving, run under moderately hot broiler 3 to 4 minutes to heat through and melt cheese.

Oysters on the Half-Shell

Arrange raw, shucked oysters (see below) on the lower halves of their shells on an plate covered with crushed ice (6 oysters to the plate is the traditional way), with lemon wedges in between. To eat, add one of the following to the oyster in the shell:

  • nothing
  • a few drops of lemon
  • a few drops of Tabasco
  • a few drops of Pernod with a tiny bit of caviar
  • a little mignonette sauce (see below)
Slurp the oyster out of the shell, or use a small cocktail/oyster fork if you're dainty. Drink the oyster's liquor from the shell after eating the oyster itself. Serve with oyster crackers, and champagne or dry white wine.
Mignonette Sauce (enough for 3 dozen oysters)

1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 shallot, minced
white pepper to taste
salt to taste

Place wine and vinegar in saucepan and reduce to one-half. Turn off the flame and stir in the shallot, white pepper, and salt as needed. Set aside to steep until the shallot is softened.

How to Shuck An Oyster

Only eat live oysters, which you can recognize by their tightly closed shells. If a shell is opened, throw it out. Scrub the shells with a brush and rinse. Now put on a pair of heavy gloves! Holding the oyster so that the bottom shell is in your hand, insert the blade of a sturdy, blunt knife in between the shells as close to the hinge as you can get. Run the knife along the edges of the oyster until you get to the other side, then twist the knife to pop the shell open. Keep the shell steady so you don't lose the liquor! On the underside of the oyster will be a little muscle that connects it to the shell. Cut that, then scoop the osyter out. Keep the liquor in the shell to drink when eating the oyster and/or to add to the mignonette sauce, if you are making some.

...As you shuck, keep an eye out for pearls! Pearls (which also, but much more rarely, form in clams and mussels) are produced when an irritant, such as a grain of sand, gets stuck in between the oyster's mantle and shell. To protect itself, the oyster secretes the same substance that it used to line the inside of its shell with lovely nacre. The pearl is a symbol of perfection and chastity, and of evangelical doctrine (see St. Ephraem's hymns on the Faith under the title "The Pearl"). After recounting the Parable of the Wheat and the Cockle, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a merchant seeking a "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:24-29; 36-50).

Another recipe to consider for the day is  a Cuban one -- Moros y Cristianos, or "Moors and Christians." The  white rice represents Christians, and the black beans represent the Moors in a recipe that recalls the Moorish invasion and rule of Spain for so long before the Reconquista which began with the Battle of Covadonga, which you can read about on the page about the Nativity of Mary.

Moros y Cristianos (adapted from the Food Network)

1/2 pound dried black beans
12 cups water
1 medium Spanish onion, peeled
1 medium green pepper, cored and seeded
6 cachucha peppers

The rice and beans:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound slab bacon, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
2 cups long grain rice
4 cups reserved liquid
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 teaspoons salt

Prepare the beans: Rinse the beans and cook in a large pot with the peeled whole onion, the cachucha peppers, and the green pepper. Cook over moderate heat until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Make sure the beans retain their shape; do not overcook. Drain and reserve 4 cups of the cooking liquid and 2 cups of cooked beans. Rinse the rice in cold water until the water runs clear, drain, and set aside.

Cook the rice and beans: In a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the diced bacon until golden brown. Add the onion, green pepper, cumin, oregano and bay leaf. Saute, stirring for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated with oil and bacon grease. Add the reserved 2 cups of beans and the 4 cups cooking liquid, then add vinegar, sherry, and salt. Mix well, taste, and correct seasonings. Cook uncovered until all the liquid evaporates, you will see small air bubbles forming on the surface of the rice. Fluff the rice slightly with a kitchen fork. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, uncovered, at least 2 to 3 minutes before serving.

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