Santiago de Compostela, a Pagan Saint

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Santiago de Compostela

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Pilgrim of St. James from the Luttrell Psalter July 25 is the feast day of Santiago de Compostela, known in English as St. James the Greater, and St. Jacobi the Apostle in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. However, this article mostly discusses the Spanish form of the saint. The Order of St. James of the Sword was formed to protect pilgrims traveling out to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain and was probably inspired by the success of King Jaime of Spain, during the Reconquista. King Jaime was a great hero to Christians and was known as the Killer of Moors, but needless to say he wasn’t so popular with the Moslems in Spain.

The major cult site is at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain and many churches in European countries and elsewhere are dedicated to St. James. He is the patron saint of cities like San Diego, US, and Santiago, Chile.

Because Santiago de Compostela is a major pilgrimage destination site, he is associated with pilgrims to such a degree that a scallop shell (his symbol) is often seen as a symbol of pilgrimage. As the patron saint of pilgrims, he was also a patron saint of sailors (though that may have been his earliest domain).

Music for the Feast Day of Santiago de Compostela
The Mass of St. James (de Compostela), Spanish version, was reconstructed and published based on the Libri St. Jacobi (Book of St. James), attributed to Pope Calixtus. The text with words and music is published in The Mass of St. James per Codex Calixtinus , by Paul Helmer, Institute of Medieval Music, Ottawa, Canada. This book also has a very thoughtful introduction which gives a scholarly discussion of the legends and impact of Santiago de Compostela in the Middle Ages. The mass as it was reconstructed in this publication was performed in Montreal, but not recorded as far as I know.

Some of the music from the Mass of St. James is recorded on The Miracles of Sant’Iago CD, performed by Anonymous 4. Most of the music in this CD is from the Liber Sancti Jacobi, also called the Codex Calixtinus or Jacobus, now in the Cathedral at Santiago. This includes a mass for St. James, attributed to Pope Calixtus in the Middle Ages, who was supposed to have been pope from 217-222 CE. Other music that appears on the CD is attributed to other 12th century French authors. The book has other material about St. James, including his miracles and life, and was actually produced in Cluny about 1150 CE, though some of the music is older. A processional Salve Festa Dies, and a conductus In Hac Die Laudes are among musical pieces that are most especially appropriate to be sung on a feast day for St. James. The Alleluia Gratulemur et Letemur is especially notable for the insertion of Greek, Hebrew and Galician words into the text and so is specific to Santiago de Compostela. The music on this CD can be considered a work of scholarship, as is the study that went into producing it, although the singers being artists have brought some of their own artistic sensibility to the performance. This is fabulous music, and you can hear parts of it on their website.

There are also many songs for the pilgrims to sing on the road to the shrine, however the ones that I have seen so far (especially the Cantigas de Santa Maria) have words that are so cruel and immoral that no one would sing them who knew what they meant.

“La Pernetta” is a pilgrim song for Santiago de Compostela on the Songs of the Pilgrims and Palmers CD. These songs date back to the 15th century, and are sung by the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.

One very beautiful modernized version of a pilgrim song is “Santiago” arranged by Loreena McKennitt and available on the Mask and the Mirror CD.

Relationship to the Proto-Indo-European God Yama
Santiago de Compostela might not seem to have much to do with an Indo-European god like Yama, but his name is best interpreted as “St. James, the Decomposed” (the town of Compostela is named after him, not the other way around) and even in pagan times the town of Finisterre, closer to the ocean, was a place of pilgrimage for people who wanted to remember the dead probably those who were lost at sea, though the name of the god worshiped there is not known. In any case such few facts of the lives of the apostles James as are given equate him to Yama the person deified as the first cow sacrifice and the hero of the creation myth of the Indo-Europeans. See Creation Myth, for a full description of the myth told about the Indo-European god *Yama. [fuggle26]

Santiago de Compostela, in his Christian form, is one of the few Catholic saints who still gets any sort of worship in western Europe, despite his demotion from the liturgy. Also the Catholic Church has reassigned his feast day from July 25th, the feast day of St. James the Great, to October 23 the feast day of St. James the Lesser, so he has even been demoted from greater to lesser by the official church. However, Spanish people still consider him their national saint and still identify him with St. James the Greater. In addition, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is still a very popular site of pilgrimage for Christians, and for vacationers and for people who are interested in art and history.

Around the Mediterranean, St. James is very much the patron saint of sailors and pilgrims. If you do wish to celebrate St. James’ Day, you might want to include Jambalaya or one of the related traditional foods, which are made of a melange of seafood and served with rice.

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