The enigma of Saint James

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Tomorrow pilgrims will gather at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain for the feast day of Saint James the Great, many having travelled hundreds of kilometres on foot along the medieval Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) to be there.

But the man whose relics pilgrims travel so far to venerate is a complex figure whose identity has never been fixed.

In the nearly 2,000 years since his death Saint James has gained a wealth of associations through the legends that have grown up around him. The identity of Saint James has been reinvented many times over two millennia, from Moor-slayer to Spaniard-killer to pilgrim.

His constant metamorphosis in popular religious culture shows the adaptability of saints and the way our uses of them can change their representation.

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This post was last updated: Jul. 24, 2010