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About Santiago, the patron saint of Spain

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July 25th is the name day of the patron saint of the whole of Spain and the autonomous Spanish region of Galicia, Santiago. Although the country nowadays must be considered Catholic in name only, many Spaniards still celebrate it. To my embarrassment, I had to be reminded of it.

Known in English as St James the Greater, he originally was a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee who became a disciple of Jesus and one of the twelve apostles, witnessing miracles like His appearance on the shores of Lake Tiberias or His resurrection.

After the death of Christ Santiago came to Hispania, modern Spain and Portugal, to start preaching in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. As the Virgin Mary appeared to Him announcing her impending death, he took the perilous journey back to Jerusalem to pay his respects.

There Santiago was captured and executed by beheading for heresy by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44 AD. Although he died in his native land, his remains were somehow buried in Galicia at an unknown location by his followers.

They were discovered around 820 by bishop Theodemir of Iria, guided by a light in the sky that a hermit had seen. King Alfonso II of Asturias (c. 760-842) went on a pilgrimage there and had a modest chapel and a small monastery erected above them.

A larger temple slowly attracted a growing number of pilgrims from remote places. This custom slowly evolved into the Camino de Santiago (St James Way) as we know it today, although besides the religious aspect the route has gained considerable touristic importance.

On that same site, the current cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was built between 1075 and 1211. The remains of Santiago, lost again and rediscovered in the middle of the 14th century, were finally recognized as authentic by Pope Leo XIII in 1884.

The importance of Santiago as an icon of faith was decisively enhanced by the mythical Battle of Clavijo in what is nowadays the world-famous wine region of La Rioja in 844. The apostle appeared to the Christians on a white horse with a sword in his hand and helped them to defeat the Muslims.

In this charge the cry “Santiago y cierra, España” (James and charge, Spain “) was heard for the first time. That motto would afterwards be used by all Spanish armies to strengthen national identity, beginning with the Reconquista to liberate Spain from the Moors that had invaded in 711

P.D.: Santiago is also the patron saint of Guatemala, Nicaragua and all Christian fishermen.

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