St. James, Our Lady, and America

I’m a day late in posting this, but yesterday (July 25) was the feast day of St. James the Greater. Along with St. John the Evangelist (St. James’ brother) and St. Peter, St. James was one of Our Lord’s inner circle, being present at the Transfiguration and during Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden. Here are some one-off notes in appreciation of St. James:

St. James’ Iconography: Apostle, Pilgrim, Moor-Killer, and Martyr

Over at the New Liturgical Movement, David Clayton has posted an article about St. James’ iconography.* One of the commenters, Thom Ryng, notes that St. James appears in art in three different ways: as Apostle, as pilgrim, and as the Moor-Killer (Santiago Matamoros).**

I’ve seen the apostle, pilgrim, and Moor-Killer (or martyr?) identities combined in iconography. Once upon a time, I used to attend Mass at St. James Parish in Trumansburg, New York. The canopy/reredos at St. James shows a bishop’s crosier and sword laid across each other. The crosier obviously shows that St. James was an Apostle, and hence a bishop. The sword likely refers to his martyrdom by beheading, but also possibly to his status as Santiago Matamoros, the scourge of the Moors during Spain’s Reconquista. I believe the canopy also shows the pilgrim’s scallop shell, which points to Santiago de Compostela and the Way of St. James.

Sts. James and John: Together at the Beginning, Together in the End

St. James and St. John were brothers, the sons of Zebedee. Our Lord summoned them from their father’s fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee (Gospel of St. Matthew 4:21-22). Their mother Salome once asked Our Lord to let them sit at Our Lord’s right and left hand when He came into His Kingdom (Gospel of St. Matthew 20:20-28). Our Lord asked whether they were ready to drink the cup that He was about to drink (i.e. His Passion). They said yes, and Our Lord agreed that they would drink the same cup.

St. James became the first of the Apostles to be martyred. St. John was the last of the Apostles to die, after being miraculously spared martyrdom when he drank a poisoned cup without dying. St. James was the first of the Apostles to enter Heaven, and St. John was the last.

The Sons of Zebedee and Our Lady

Both St. James and St. John were close to Our Lady. Of course, St. John took Our Lady into his own home after Our Lord committed them to each other from the Cross. For his part, St. James witnessed the first supernatural apparition of Our Lady when he was preaching the Gospel at Caesaraugusta (Saragossa) in Spain. This was during Our Lady’s earthly lifetime. She bilocated to Spain, appearing to St. James from atop a pillar. Hence her title Our Lady of the Pillar, and the Spanish female name Pilar.***

Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. James, and St. John

Did Our Lady of Guadalupe display her love for Sts. James and John? She appeared to an Indian whose Christian name was Juan Diego—Spanish for John James. So, when Our Lady appeared on our continent and made known her reign as Empress of the Americas, she chose as her apostle a man named for the two Apostles who were closest to her.

America and St. James

The first permanent Ango-American settlement in the United States was Jamestown, named for King James I of England and VI of Scotland. I don’t know whether St. James the Greater or Lesser was the King’s patron saint, but the country’s first settlement still bears the saint’s name. That’s enough to justify a connection.

Africa and St. James

St. James should be honored as one of the patron saints of Sub-Saharan Africa. I don’t have time to write about it now, but the saint was instrumental in the conversion of the Kingdom of Kongo.****

St. James, pray for us!




**** and

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