James drank of the cup Jesus drank of, all too shortly after the Resurrection. Acts 12:1 tells us thatJames was one of the first martyrs of the Church. Saint James is known to have died around A.D. 44, by the sword, at the command of Herod Agrippa.
Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great who tried to have Baby Jesus killed, set out to do the will of the Jews by dealing harshly with local Christians. St. James was accused, and Herod then “killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2). Church Historian, Eusebius, tells us that St. James’s accuser followed James to martyrdom when he converted after hearing the Saint’s confession to Herod.
James is called James the Greater because another younger apostle was named James. He should not be accused with this James, or the James who is a relative of Jesus, or the James who was an elder of the Church in Jerusalem and heard Peter’s defense of baptizing Gentiles. James, son of Thunder, was dead by then.
According to legend, he first spent seven years in Spain, traveling throughout the land and preaching Christianity. After he was put to death, his followers are said to have brought his body back to Spain for burial. In the ninth century, a star miraculously revealed what was claimed to be his tomb. A great shrine was build at Compostela (“Star of the Sea”), and by the eleventh century great flocks of pilgrims were visiting it. From then on, only Jerusalem and Rome attracted more pilgrims than “Santiago” (Iago is Spanish for James).
The English name “James” comes from Italian “Giacomo”, a variant of “Giacobo” derived from Iacobus(Jacob) in Latin, itself from the Greek Ἰάκωβος. In French, Jacob is translated “Jacques”. In eastern Spain, Jacobus became “Jacome” or “Jaime”; in Catalunya, it became Jaume, in western Iberia it became “Iago”, from Hebrew יַעֲקֹב, which when prefixed with “Sant” became “Santiago” in Portugal and Galicia; “Tiago” is also spelled “Diego”, which is also the Spanish name of Saint Didacus of Alcalá.
James’ emblem was the scallop shell (or “cockle shell”), and pilgrims to his shrine often wore that symbol on their hats or clothes. The French for a scallop is coquille St. Jacques, which means “cockle (or mollusk) of St James”. The German word for a scallop is Jakobsmuschel, which means “mussel (or clam) of St. James”; the Dutch word is Jacobsschelp, meaning “shell of St James”.
Fun Customs for the Feast of St. James
As to the day’s customs, because of the love the Spanish have for St. James, they adopted him as their Patron, and his Feast is a national holiday, a time of great celebration, much like the Feast of St. Patrick is for the Irish, and that of St. Joseph is for the Italians. In Compostela, there are great processions and the famous La Fachada fireworks display. And at the city’s cathedral, the city’s faithful — and many pilgrims, too, especially in Jubilee years — gather to worship. From the ceiling of this great cathedral hangs a six-foot tall 14th century censer (the “botafumeiro”) that is swung by pulleys on this day and for a few other great Feasts.
“Back in the day,” the people of England who couldn’t make the pilgrimage to St. James’s shrine would gather up seashells, bits of broken colored glass, pretty stones, and flowers and such and would build little grottoes in honor of St. James on his Feast. Though I doubt many people still do this, it is a lovely custom — and one that could be easily revived!
It is also customary for the English to eat oysters today. It is said that “Who eats oysters on St James’s Day will never want!” In France, it is not the oyster that is eaten, but the scallop — named “coquilles St.Jacques” — “shells of St. James” — in his honor. A few recipes to try:
Coquilles St. Jacques à la Provençale (serves 6)
1/3 cup yellow onions, minced
1 TBSP butter
1 1/2 TBSP minced scallions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds washed bay scallops (or sea scallops, quartered)
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup sifted flour, in a dish
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP olive oil
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 small bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon thyme
6 buttered scallop dishes or baking shells
1/4 cup grated good-quality Gruyère or Swiss cheese
2 TBSP butter in 6 pieces
Cook onions in 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender and translucent but not brown. Stir in scallions and garlic and sauté slowly 1 minute more. Dry scallops and cut them into slices 1/4 inch thick. Just before cooking, sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, roll in flour and shake off excess flour. Sauté scallops quickly in very hot 2 tablespoons butter mixed with olive oil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Pour wine into skillet with scallops, add herbs and cooked onion mixture. Cover skillet and simmer 5 minutes. Then uncover and, if necessary, remove scallops and boil down sauce rapidly for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Correct seasoning and discard bay leaf. Spoon scallops and sauce into shells. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to broil. Just before serving, run under moderately hot broiler 3 to 4 minutes to heat through and melt cheese.
Oysters on the Half-Shell
Arrange raw, shucked oysters (see below) on the lower halves of their shells on an plate covered with crushed ice (6 oysters to the plate is the traditional way), with lemon wedges in between. To eat, add one of the following to the oyster in the shell:
- a few drops of lemon
- a few drops of Tabasco
- a few drops of Pernod with a tiny bit of caviar
- a little mignonette sauce (see below)
Slurp the oyster out of the shell, or use a small cocktail/oyster fork if you’re dainty. Drink the oyster’s liquor from the shell after eating the oyster itself. Serve with oyster crackers, and champagne or dry white wine.
Mignonette Sauce (enough for 3 dozen oysters)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 shallot, minced
white pepper to taste
salt to taste
Place wine and vinegar in saucepan and reduce to one-half. Turn off the flame and stir in the shallot, white pepper, and salt as needed. Set aside to steep until the shallot is softened.
How to Shuck An Oyster
Only eat live oysters, which you can recognize by their tightly closed shells. If a shell is opened, throw it out. Now, scrub the shells with a brush and rinse. Now put on a pair of heavy gloves! Holding the oyster so that the bottom shell is in your hand, insert the blade of a sturdy, blunt knife in between the shells as close to the hinge as you can get. Run the knife along the edges of the oyster until you get to the other side, then twist the knife to pop the shell open. Keep the shell steady so you don’t lose the liquor! On the underside of the oyster will be a little muscle that connects it to the shell. Cut that, then scoop the osyter out. Keep the liquor in the shell to drink when eating the oyster and/or to add to the mignonette sauce, if you are making some.
…As you shuck, keep an eye out for pearls! Pearls (which also, but much more rarely, form in clams and mussels) are produced when an irritant, such as a grain of sand, gets stuck in between the oyster’s mantle and shell. To protect itself, the oyster secretes the same substance that it used to line the inside of its shell with lovely nacre. The pearl is a symbol of perfection and chastity, and of evangelical doctrine (see St. Ephraem’s hyms on the Faith under the title “The Pearl“). After recounting the Parable of the Wheat and the Cockle, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a merchant seeking a “pearl of great price”:
Matthew 13:24-29, 36-50
Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn…
…Then having sent away the multitudes, he came into the house, and his disciples came to him, saying: Expound to us the parable of the cockle of the field. Who made answer and said to them: He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man. And the field, is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle, are the children of the wicked one. And the enemy that sowed them, is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels. Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world. The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all that he had, and bought it. Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kind of fishes. Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth. So shall it be at the end of the world. The angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpentecost4x.html)