The story of the cross of St James / Way of St. James – el camino de Santiago de Compostela, and the ‘field of stars’ in Spain
(Please see our central SHOP for Crosses and Conchas / Shells and souvenirs – especially St James jewellery, pendant necklaces, bracelets and earrings, cufflinks and rings which we ship all over the world as gifts for Camino walkers and other travellers – especially to United States of America (USA), England, Britain / UK- United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, France, Germany / Deutschland, Australia)
SEE Saint James / Camino de Santiago jewellery in our central gift shop
Somos Amigos del Camino – we are friends of the Camino
The 1,000-year-old pilgrimage to the shrine of St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is known as the Way of St James (El Camino de Santiago – in Spanish). Hundreds of thousands of pilgrim travellers journey to the city each year from all over Europe and other parts of the world in order to find inspiration and/or deeper spiritual understanding. Not all are Catholic – nor even Christian. Many are walking the Camino for inspirational or spiritual reasons, or just to have fun and experience the camaraderie. (Some even cycle.)
The city of Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, in northern Spain, and the city’s Cathedral is the final destination (like it has been for centuries), of this medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St James. In 1985 the city’s Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Santiago is the local Galician translation of the Latin ‘Sanctu Iacobu’ (Saint James) and the St James cross features on many souvenirs, as well as on locally handcrafted jewellery in silver and gold. The St James jewellery in particular makes a lovely (and meaningful) gift for many occasions – like for a successful graduation for example, or for a new job or for someone going on a journey . . and for many types of people: men or women, and boys or girls – whether that person is a girlfriend or boyfriend, fiance, mother or father, brother or sister – or simply a work colleague or friend. But why?
Two of Jesus’s twelve disciples were named James, and one of these, James the Greater, whose younger brother was John the Apostle, was an original disciple and a very close associate, possibly a cousin, of Jesus. He worked as a fisherman alongside Peter. James was present at the transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. A mixture of history and legend says that James travelled to the Spanish Iberian peninsula in the early day’s of Christ’s ministry – preaching the Gospel.
According to ancient tradition (that can be traced back to the 12th Century), in AD 40 Jesus’s mother, the Virgin Mary appeared to James in a vision on the banks of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta (present day Zaragoza, in Spain), while he was preaching. She told him to return to Judea, in the Holy Land. There, in AD44 he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I. Because James was denied burial after his execution, his followers took his remains to Jaffa, where they boarded a ship to take the body back to Galicia (Iria Flavia). In the 9th Century, the relics were discovered by a hermit named Pelagius who, after observing strange lights in a local forest, went to Theodemar, the local Bishop of Iria Flavia for help. Theodemar was then guided to the spot by a star, thus establishing the “Compostela” – as the “Field of Stars” (Campus Stellae in Latin) . . and hence Santiago de Compostela.
So, Santiago de Compestela became a pan-European place of peregrination, second only to Rome and Jerusalem for Christian travellers and today, the symbol of Santiago – the cross of Saint James (as well as the scallop shell waymarker seen along the St James Way) is represented in special gold, silver and jet jewellery handmade in this area of Galicia including St James bracelets and necklaces which make ideal inspirational gifts that can say: Have a good journey, Thinking of you, Thanks, Get well soon, Good luck, Happy birthday, or even Have a Good Trip to a friend, loved-one, parent, other relative: a godfather or godmother, grandad or grandma, uncle or aunt, nephew or niece – or simply a work colleague (and especially if they too are about to embark on the famous Camino de Santiago).
SEE Saint James / Camino de Santiago jewellery in our central store
The Celtic connection:
The tomb of St. James was found in Galicia inside a Castro. The Castros were circular fortifications common to all regions that were inhabited by the Celts. The Cross of St James is shaped like a Celtic sword or dagger and, over time, it has become an icon of Galicia, and St James is not only the Patron Saint of Galicia, he is also the Patron Saint of all of Spain.
It should also be noted that the St. James Cross, when placed in red on a white background, is also the most popular Christian cross of all time – a symbol of God’s protection. The white colour represents purity and the red colour symbolises the blood of Christ. The red cross over a white field was used during the Middle Ages, by the Crusaders, and the Knights Templar; it has also been the national flag of England since the 16th Century. Pointed crosses like the St. James Cross, were carried in ancient times by Christian pilgrims. They would thrust them into the ground and then kneel before them to pray.
In 2016, over 278,000 individuals (pilgrims, walkers, cyclists, etc) completed the final 100 km walk in to Santiago and qualified for the coveted ‘Compostela’ or certificate – a memorable souvenir of a great journey and achievement. The Way of St James criss-crosses Western Europe, arriving at Santiago through Northern Spain. It is generally regarded as a journey of the body, mind and spirit. More than just a simple walk, the Camino is special because of the fellow pilgrims, the stories they share and the challenges people overcome. Modern pilgrims choose to do the Camino for personal, spiritual and/or religious reasons – or simply to take time out from their busy, modern lives. For many, the walk is to find inspiration – improving their outlook on life, bringing them into closer contact with nature and expanding their cultural horizons through contact with other pilgrims. Everyone experiences the journey in a different way and many keep a Saint James Cross or Concha scallop shell as a loving reminder or souvenir.
Symbols and gifts for the Camino:
Some pilgrims identify themselves by carrying a heavy cape, long stave, sandals and/or a felt hat turned up at front and bearing a scallop-shell emblem. (The use of the scallop shell is related to various legends, but it seems clear that when the remains of St James were originally unearthed, it was covered in scallop shells.) Many also carry with them the St James’s Cross – believed to promote courage, strength and hope, and nowadays, a Camino bracelet or some other item of Camino jewellery.
St. James is the Patron Saint of all Spain and, according to Don Quixote in Cervantes’ book, “St. James has been given by God to Spain for its protection”.
Wish someone “good luck” and a ” buen camino ” (good journey) . . either on the Camino itself, on another journey, or in life in general, with one of our St. James Crosses. (Many feature the scallop shell as well.)
See some of our Jewellery and Camino souvenirs in our central SHOP . .
or . . look for:
More information about the Concha de Santiago scallop shell – and even its connection to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and the British Royal Family in Britain / England
Some travellers or pilgrims include the famous Sanctuary at Lourdes, France (just north of the Pyrenean border with Spain) on their Camino – especially those who do the Camino Francés. The normal starting point would be Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port / Roncesvalles on the French-Spanish border but, by adding Lourdes (some 140 kms to the East) it makes a spectacular Camino experience. Many say that when in Lourdes they feel great energy, and the start of the Camino from Lourdes can certainly make the journey to Santiago something special. But, it adds a substantial distance to the Camino which can be arduous through the Pyrenees.
See more information about Lourdes on our sister site IndaloMart
AND . . don’t forget that the Tau Cross is also a symbol of the pilgrim: During the Renaissance period in Europe from the 14th to the 17th century, which moved from Italy to France, Germany, Holland and England, as well as Portugal and Spain, the Tau Cross was used in religious paintings and carvings to denote pilgrims and wandering hermits – and so it became linked to people making pilgrimages and it became known as the Cross of the Pilgrim (Cruz del Peregrino in Spanish). For this reason, you can find it in many places in the city of Santiago de Compostela. A change in the general style of jewelry which started in Italy, adapted ancient techniques like filigree or delicate all-gold jewelry to include the biblical themes of the Middle Ages, and this style of Renaissance jewelry spread north during the 16th century, slowly replacing the gothic style of the Middle Ages. The pendant on a necklace became very popular although generally they were intricate and ornate pieces – not simple crosses, which were more the reserve of the poorer or more puritanical. Renaissance jewelry was both decorative and functional. Rosary beads and gilded silver pomanders were popular – used as memory aids for saying prayers dedicated to the Virgin Mary, or containers for aromatic substances to perfume the air and protect against infection. Even very religious people who shunned bodily adornment approved of rosaries and simple cross pendant necklaces like the Tau or the St James cross.
Joyas del Camino de Santiago jewellery
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