St. James the Greater

Two of the twelve apostles were named James. St. James the Greater is the brother of the apostle St. John and son of Zebedee and Mary Salome.

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He is “the Greater” because he was called to the apostolate earlier than St. James the Less, the “Brother of Jesus” who led the Christians of Jerusalem until that city’s destruction in 70 AD. A tradition in late antiquity held that the apostles divided up the world into territories to be evangelized, with Spain falling to St. James. In the ninth century a Galician monk announced that a star had led him to a field where he found the remains of the saint. This “field of the star” became the city of Compostela, one of the most important medieval pilgrimage destinations

The scallop shell is a symbol of St. James, the Greater, our patron saint.

There are two versions of the legend surrounding the use of this shell as symbolic of St. James. One legend claims that after James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

The second legend recounts that after James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in sea-shells.