Tradition has richly embellished the simple history of St. James that comes to us from the gospels. According to this tradition, James traveled as far as Spain to preach the gospel before returning to Jerusalem to be martyred at the hands of Herod. Two of his companions climbed with the martyr’s remains into a rudderless boat which drifted, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to Spain, where the apostle was buried. In due time, his faithful friends were buried beside him and the site of the tomb was forgotten. In the ninth century it was rediscovered when the local Bishop, Teodomiro, followed a vision of stars to the location of the tomb. From that time onward, people began to pray at the tomb in increasing numbers. In the 13th century, a mighty cathedral was built over the tomb to accommodate the flood of pilgrims.
After a long and dusty journey through the north of Spain, the pilgrims would catch their first glimpse of the towers of the Cathedral of Santiago from a hilltop that came to be called Mount Joy. On arrival, after visiting the tomb and greeting the image of St. James with a kiss, pilgrims would receive their Compostela, a document certifying that they had completed the pilgrimage, and the coveted scallop shell, the symbol of pilgrimage to Santiago. These emblems of the pilgrim — the staff and the scallop shell — became associated with the Saint himself, who in art is frequently represented as a pilgrim, and almost always with his scallop shell.
St. James the Greater is represented several times in St. James church and a brief visit to each of these images is a small pilgrimage in itself — a suitable devotion for the month of July!