History of Saint James’: El Camino de Santiago

Saint James, aka Saint James the Greater, Saint James the Elder, and James, son of Zebedee

Fellow parishioner Jim Timberlake is now on a walking pilgrimage – the route is called “El Camino de Santiago,” or “The Way of Saint James” as its often called in English – to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, believed to be the burial place of Saint James.  One of the Twelve Apostles, James was distinguished as being in Jesus’ innermost circle and the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament (Acts 12:2).  Born in Galilee, Palestine, he died 44 CE in Jerusalem by order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea

Medieval Christian legends tell us that Saint James had traveled widely on the Iberian Peninsula, bringing Christianity to the Celtic peoples.  Following his martyrdom, his relics were supposedly taken back to Spain and enshrined. During Roman persecution, however, the early Spanish Christians were forced to abandon the shrine and with the depopulation of the area following the fall of the Roman Empire, the location of the shrine was forgotten.  In 813 CE, so the legend goes, a hermit led by a beckoning star and celestial music discovered the location of the buried relics.

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain (Creative Commons License)
Catedral de Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain (Creative Commons License)

Over the tomb, the first church and a monastery were constructed in 829 CE, and by the 12th century, Santiago de Compostela became the center of the greatest pilgrimage in medieval Europe.

Saint James is the patron saint of all Spain.  In the Cathedral, the body of the Apostle is said to be contained in a silver coffer in a small crypt under the high altar.  After Jerusalem and Rome, Santiago de Compostela is regarded as the third-most holy city in the world. When the feast of Saint James – July 25 – falls on a Sunday, it is declared a Holy Year.

Jim Timberlake’s journey began on April 2, 2016 in France at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a town that provides access to the Pyrenees Mountains, dividing France and Spain.  The first day was a trek uphill for many miles!  Jim, accompanied by local resident Darren Wrigley, is now about one-quarter into the journey; for which the two have set a goal of 15 miles a day, completing the pilgrimage on May 15.  Each day they meet fellow pilgrims from other parts of the world, most recently they were joined by a Norwegian and an Argentine.  At day’s end, they find simple lodging, food, and respite.  Jim is in regular touch with his wife, Gina Farrar, who reports that all is going well.  Jim attended a service at a Catholic church on Sunday, April 10!

We will continue to follow Jim’s pilgrimage with the greatest interest.  He is sending progress reports on Facebook (James William Timberlake V), and through that medium we can vicariously walk The Way on our own pilgrimage with Jim and his fellow traveler!

Jim’s pilgrimage brings to mind the artistic talents of the late Arnold C. Holeywell, who became a parishioner in 1985.  Arnold had had a remarkable career with Time Warner-Time Life Books as designer and art director.  He illustrated for Field and Stream Magazine and the Ford Times publication.  In retirement, Arnold generously contributed his artistic ability to Saint James’ Church.  His paintings of symbols and words of scripture are found in the church, the chapel and the main entrance at the bell tower.  Hanging over the baptismal font is his rendering of the symbol of Saint James – three gold scallops on a field of blue.  Beginning in medieval times, seashells were fastened to pilgrims’ cloaks and were the badges of the medieval age signifying a pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago.

Arnold’s work can also be seen in eight heraldic shields, representing saints, high above the nave, and in the shields depicting Christian church seasons, hung at the chapel door.  We remain grateful to Arnold for giving his extraordinary artistic talent in beautifying the church through these painted symbols and other lasting art work.

Arnold C. Holeywell’s illustration of three scallop shells, the symbol of St. James.


Compiled: History Committee – Richard Gookin   April 2016

Sources: Google; Gina Farrar; Facebook; writings of Arnold C. Holeywell

File: Saint Jame2