Santo Santiago, Saint James the Apostle
by Gabriel Cerda
In the Spanish-speaking world he is known as Santo Santiago. Though some consider the name a redundancy (the word Santiago suggests sainthood), it does bestow a sort of double sanctity upon Saint James the Apostle which is fitting when his life as it is known to theologians is contrasted with the invocations of his saintly power throughout the ages. Among the faithful- especially the Spanish- Saint James is one of the more momentous of the beatified, but among those he has been surnmoned to bear arms against, Santiago evokes anything but saintly admiration.
James the Saint
Also known as Saint James the
Greater, he was the son of Salome and Zebedee, a relative of Jesus and brother of Saint John. By birthright Santiago was a fisherman, but his greater calling was to be a fisher of men. His determined and intense temperament made him the most zealous and intimately trusted of Jesus' Apostles.
After Christ's ascension into heaven, Saint J ames cast his nets as far as he could across "known" civilization. He preached in Judea and Samaria, worked miracles, baptized converts and ordained bishops. Arriving in what is now modern day Spain, he spent an undetermined time on the peninsula continuing the work of his mentor. It is said that James alone
baptized more converts, most of whom
were Iberian, than the rest of Jesus' Apostles put together.
A dedicated evangelist even to martyrdom, J ames left the Iberian Peninsula for Jerusalem to recount his progress to the young Church's leaders. While there, he won more converts. It is rumored that Pontius Pilate- the man who condemned Jesus to death-and Hermogenes, who was considered one of the most feared enemies of Christianity, also became believers thanks to J ames' spreading of the gospel.
His skill at procuring disciples outraged the Jewish community. They demanded of the sovereign Herod Agrippa, grandson of the Herod the Great, that J ames be executed. The request was granted without dispute. On the way to the executioner's block the apostle cured a paralytic, an action which persuaded a man by the name of Josiah to convert to Christianity. Infuriated, the influential J ewry
demanded that the new follower be executed too. It is said that both were beheaded on the same hour, day and month that J esus had been crucified some ten or eleven years prior.
The apostle's body was left in a garbage heap. His disciples removed the corpse during the night, taking it to the port of Joppa (modem-day Joffa, 35 miles northeast of Jerusalem), where it is said a great fissure in the earth opened to sepulture the martyr. A shrine was erected there for the faithful, who carne to venerate Saint James for many years.
It is after his death that the "double sanctity" of Saint James, or Santo Santiago, comes into play. While a model teacher of Jesus' word well deserving of beatification, the warhorse-riding swordbrandishing Santiago portrayed today is a rather sanguinary figure. Considering his "participation" in the war to end Moor reign on the Iberian Peninsula- and his no less criminal subjugation of indigenous Mesoamericans during the Conquest- one wonders how the holy Saint James, a figure whoshould tum the other cheek by design, became the bloody Santiago whose exclusive mandate was killing those who did not agree with Spanish precepts.!
At the outset of the Renaissance, Spain was one of the
most powerful nations in Europe- mainly by means of conquest and the unification of separate kingdoms through marriage. Spain had also converted itself into one of the most
solid bastions of Christian resistance. At the time, Eurape was recovering from the terrible epoch of the Crusades, the horrendous centuries-Iong holy wars that the Church not only validated, but justified in the name of God. The barbarie extremes used to impose the Church's interests upon pagan comers of the continent made more than a few question their faith. A holy guarantor was needed; someone fram heaven who would say spilling the blood of your fellow man, just this once, was acceptable. Who better than the likes of Saint James, the brave evangelist who braught Catholicism to the
peninsula? As a result, Spanish Church leaders announced that Santiago stamped the divine seal of appraval upon the wars against the peninsula's Muslim enemies2 and later on the conquest of the Americas.
For indigenous Mesoamericans, just as it was for the
peninsular Moors, Santiago represented the worst of religious intolerance, arbitrariness and violent persuasions.
Of course, no one actual1y believes that the apostle physically carne down fram heaven and killed people whose only fault was getting in the way of Spain's manifest destiny or for not being Christian. But J ames' alter ego makes him an
interesting historical figure: he satisfied the need for an ideological justification of the dominant beliefs of the time-whether as an evangelist or assassin.