St. James, the Son of Zebedee, (known as St. James the Greater) was the brother of St. John the Apostle. Saint James and his brother John were among the first apostles called by Jesus. The two brothers and St. Peter witnessed many of the most important events of Jesusí life including the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. Saint James was the first to die among the Apostles. In this lesson we will study the life of St. James the Greater as presented in the Gospels, in the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the Catechism. We will also learn several prayers to him and have an engaging activity in honor of St. James.
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St. James appears to Charlemagne
Catholics know that death is not the end but the beginning of a new life and so it proved with St. James. His tomb in Spain is a place of religious pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of people every year. In the past, the Spanish people were inspired by St. James as they reconquered their country from the Muslims.
In 711, General Tariq Ibn-Ziyad led a force of Islamic Moors of Arab and Berber descent to conquer most of Iberia. Fortunately, the Islamic force was halted by Charles Martel and his army at the Battle of Tours in 732. Yet most of Spain was still under foreign rule and, according to legend, Charlemagne (742-814) was recruited to rectify this situation.
“Charlemagne saw a path of stars in the sky, beginning in the Frisian Sea and extending through Germany and Italy, Gaul and Aquitaine, passing directly over Gascony, Vasconia, Navarre and Spain to Galicia, where the body of Saint James lay buried and undiscovered. Looking upon this stellar path several times every night, he began to mediate its meaning. A knight of splendid appearance, more handsome than words can describe, appeared to Charlemagne one evening in a vision as he sat in deep meditation.
“What are you doing, my son?” the knight asked.
“To which the king responded, “Who are you, sir?”
“I am Saint James the Apostle, disciple of Christ… whose body lies forgotten in Galicia, a place still shamefully oppressed by the Saracens. I am deeply disturbed by the fact that you, who have conquered so many cities and nations, have not liberated my lands from the Saracens… The path of stars that you have contemplated in the sky is the sign indicating that you must take a great army from here to Galicia to do battle with those perfidious pagans, to free my path and my lands and to visit my basilica and my tomb. After you, all peoples from sea to sea will walk there as pilgrims, begging forgiveness for their sins and proclaiming the greatness of the Lord…” (Poole. ed. 2014. pgs. 5-6)
The historical Charlemagne was forced to retreat from the Muslims in Spain and then tragically, the Basques attacked his baggage train and killed Roland, the warden of the Breton March. The incident inspired the Song of Roland but brought the Spanish people no closer to freedom. However, the Reconquista had already begun in 718 when Pelagius defeated an Islamic Umayyad patrol in the Battle of Covadonga in Galenci...
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