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GLEANINGS IN CHURCH HISTORY
ST. JAMES THE GREATER IN SPAIN
ON the 19th of July, 1884, the Congregation of Sacred Rites at Rome put forth a decree declaring that the bones of three skeletons discovered, in January, 1879, under the pavement in the centre of the apse behind the great altar in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in Galicia in Spain, are those of St. James the son of Zebedee, and of his companions, Theodore and Athanasius.
I propose in the following pages to give a hasty sketch of the evidence on which this decree is founded. I shall use none but Roman Catholic evidence and authorities, and even of those I have but few at hand out of many which might be cited in support of my statements.
It may be as well to say a few words as to the claim which the alleged fact of the preaching of St. James in Galicia, and the translation and entombment of his body there, had on the credence of Roman Catholics before the present decree. It is true that the belief in both became almost, but not
quite, universal in Spain. In the year 962 the bishops of north-eastern Spain declare "that the Apostle came here after he had been killed, but by no means when living."1 In the rivalry between the Sees of Toledo and Compostella for the primacy of Spain, Rodrigo, Archbishop of Toledo (1208-1245), puts forth doubts concerning the whole story at the Lateran Council of 1215; 2 but on the whole the belief was firmly held in Spain,3 and it was considered there almost heresy to doubt it.
Very different, however, has it been outside that country in the Western Church. The Greek and Eastern Churches know nothing of it; they suppose the body of the Apostle to be buried at Marmarica. In the article on St. James in the Dictionnaire Universel des Sciences Ecclésiastiques, par l'Abbé J. B. Glaire (Paris, 1868), one of the most popular manuals in France, and by no means of Gallican tone, there is not a word either on the preaching of St. James in Spain, or of the translation of his body thither. The only statement bearing on it is the very cautious one, "It is believed that St. James was the first to preach the Gospel to the Jews dispersed throughout the world; but what is certain is, that he preached with zeal in Jerusalem.” In the Dictionnaire Hagiographique, in the collection of the Abbé Migne, vol. ii. p. 11 (1850), we read
1 España Sagrada, t. xix. p. 372, and quoted with approval by Gams, Kirchengeschichte von Spanien, vol. ii. p. 299.
2 Tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire Ecclésiastique (Paris, 1701), vol. i. note, p. 597.
Even by Masdeu, who was so sceptical on many points of Spanish history.
that "The details of his labours are unknown; it appears that he quitted Judea soon after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, to go and announce the divine Word to the twelve tribes dispersed, and, after the tradition of the Church of Spain, he went to carry the torch of faith to that country. . . . The body of the holy Apostle was interred at Jerusalem; but shortly afterwards his disciples brought it to Spain and buried it at Iria-Flavia, now El Padron, on the frontier of Galicia. These precious relics were discovered in the ninth century, under the reign of Alfonso the Chaste, King of Leon, and were transported by order of this prince to Compostella, whither Pope Leo III. transferred the Episcopal See of Iria-Flavia."
As said above, one of the earliest to throw doubt on the preaching of St. James in Spain was the celebrated Rodrigo Jimenez de la Rada, Archbishop of Toledo. At the Lateran Council, 1215, speaking against the transfer of the primacy from Toledo to Compostella, he said: "Ego tantum legi datam ei fuisse potestatem predicandi in Hispaniam, sed interim cum per Judæam et Samariam divinam legem seminaret, sub Herode Hierosolomis, truncato capite, exhaluit animam et Domino reddidit. Quomodo ergo ibi predicavit, qui nondum ingressus. est? Memini bene, in primis me annis, accepisse a quibusdam sanctis Monialibus et Religiosis Viduis, paucos admodum ejus prædicatione ad fidem conversos esse, in qua cum tam exiguos progressus effici videret in patriam reversus, fato functus est.” 1
1 Historia Ecclesiastica de España, por Don T. Padilla, I vol. 8vo, fol. 23 (Malaga, 1605).
The legend of St. James the Greater, in the Breviary of Pius V., said, without further details, that the Apostle had "traversed Spain, and had preached the Gospel there, then had returned to Jerusalem." Bellarmine requested that this assertion should be removed from the Breviary, since it was founded on no evidence worthy of credit. Baronius disregarded the representations of Bellarmine, and had the following phrase inserted:-1 "Mox Hispaniam adiisse, et ibi aliquos ad fidem convertisse, Ecclesiarum illius Provinciæ traditio est." In 1608 this was again altered to "Mox Hispaniam adiisse, et aliquos discipulos ad fidem convertisse, apud Hispanos receptum esse affirmatur." But, on the strong protest of the Spanish Church, this was removed in 1625, and the present reading adopted: "25 Iulii. S. Jacobi Apos., Lectio V., 'Mox in Hispaniam profectus, ibi aliquos ad Christum convertit; ex quorum numero septem postea Episcopi a beato Petro ordinati, in Hispaniam primi directi sunt. Deinde Ierosolymam reversus ;" in Lectio VI., " Corpus ejus postea Compostellam translatum est, ubi summa celebritate colitur." The Abbate Gaëtan Cenni in his work, De antiquitate Ecclesiæ Hispaniæ (2 vols. 4to, 1740–1), held these views quite as strongly as Bellarmine. In fact, Roncaglia (1677-1737) says it is acknowledged, that it was considered by critics a settled matter that St. James did not preach in Spain. Against these Cornelius a Lapide 2 (d. 1637), in his
1 Histoire du Bréviaire Romain, par Pierre Batiffol, p. 257 (A. Picard, Paris, 1893).
2 Cornelius a Lapide, S.J. (Cornelissen van den Stein),