St James – Patron of Pilgrims

25th July is the feast of St James who is special to all pilgrims and attracts thousands of pilgrims arriving on various trails across Spain from France and Portugal in the Camino de Santiago.

About St. James the Apostle

According the the Biblical scriptures, St. James the Apostle, along with his brother John, the Evangelist, was one of the first disciples of Jesus. They were related to Jesus through their mothers side and James and John were disciples of John the Baptist (also a cousin), until Jesus called them to follow him.

They were nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’ by Jesus (Mark 3:17) due to their anger and insensitivity which was a character trait that had to be rectified in the course of their journey with their teacher Jesus. James and John being family members were held up as being somewhat more ‘special’ and that they also quarrelled that they were entitled to sit at the side of Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven. However, James was to be transformed in his spiritual journey and pilgrim and learnt that his place at Jesus side had to be ordained by a higher power, through the sacrifice of the ego and humbling of himself in the service to others. 

After the death of Jesus, St. James took his ministry to the Iberian Peninsula and to this day is the Patron Saint of Spain.  During the days of his ministry, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. James on the bank of the Ebro River on the Nuestra Señora del Pilar which today can be found in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, south of Spain.

St James as a pilgrim with a shell on this bag

St. James and the Scallop Shell

The Scallop Shell has many grooved lines that lead from the outer rim to a meeting point at the base, representing our life journey that might look different from the outside, but all of them lead us back to one sacred soul.

The shell itself represents the many different spiritual pathways that lead to the same place, to the universal centre of all life-forms, the spirit, the soul. When pilgrims carry the Scallop Shell it represents our personal journey, the sacred path that we must take within. We are all on the outer rim of the spirit, struggling to find our way back to our centre.


Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, ‘Nuestra Señora del Pilar‘ in Zaragoza, Spain, where the Virgin Mary appeared to St James in his missionary journey in Spain.

What can we learn from St James pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage is physical travel in pursuit of a spiritual goal and it is a microcosm of the soul’s lifelong journey to God – the greatest of all adventures

A pilgrim lives each day with radical intentionality to depend upon divine providence. When he leaves the comforts and security of home behind, illusions of self-sufficiency and control quickly dissipate. 

The pilgrim crosses unfamiliar terrain, encounters new people and customs, and sleeps each night in a different locale. He is vulnerable to the elements and the road’s many pitfalls.

The pilgrim experiences his own physical limits and recognises the necessity to journey with bare essentials and live a simple life making one open to the Holy Spirit.

In this struggle of the journey, the spirit of the pilgrim is taken over by prayer, progress , encouraged by new people and the natural beauty that surrounds him.

These lights and challenges involved in the pilgrim’s physical journey point to greater spiritual realities, leading to life-changing lessons.

In life’s journey we are all pilgrims and like St James we can travel light, detaching ourselves from that which is temporary and unnecessary of the past, to pray in difficulties, to depend on divine providence, to travel with and help others yet focus on one’s own journey, and be open to life and the works of the Holy Spirit.

Let your friends know! Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *