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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

St. James the Great's Feast Day July 25

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Two of Christ's apostles were named James. The James boys were the sons of Zebedee. James the Lesser became bishop of Jerusalem. James the Great (Santiago el Mayor) spent several years in Spain preaching Christianity and became the patron saint of Spain.

After his martyrdom in Jerusalem, James' body was shipped to Spain for burial. According to legend, while the ship containing his body was nearing Spain and passing the coastline, a young nobleman was riding along the adjacent seacoast. The horse saw the ship, bolted into the sea, and swam out to greet the ship with the young man still in the saddle. When they reached the ship, the Christian crew explained what they were doing, who St. James was, and a few basic tenants of the new faith and converted the man to Christianity, When they returned to shore, the horse and rider emerged from the sea, covered with scallop shells which is why scallop shells became the mystical symbol of St. James.

Somehow, James' tomb was lost. According to legend, it was discovered in the medieval walled town of Compostela (Star of the Sea) where, in the ninth century, a shrine was built to honor James (Santiago de Compostela) which subsequently became the name the city which serves as capital of the autonomous community of Galicia. It is probably impossible to know whose bones were actually found, and precisely when and how. However, the local cult associated with the saint was transformed into an international cult drawing pilgrims from distant parts of the world. The shrine became the major pilgrimage for Western European Catholics from the early Middle Age. However, the Black Plague, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th- century Europe resulted in its decline.

The annual  pilgrimage to the tomb of James, known in English as the "Way of St. James," and  in Galician as the "Camiño de Santiago." By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims arrived in Santiago annually. However, since then, the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. Over 100,000 pilgrims now travel to the city each year from points all over Europe and other parts of the world.

Many pilgrims still cross parts of Europe and Spain on foot to Santiago de Compostela for a weeklong the celebration of James' feastday. This is whythe celebratory film for St. James's feastday is The Way (2012)  with Martin Sheen  as a doctor who receives news that his son has been killed while walking the Way of St. James. He decides to finish the pilgrimage in his son’s place. This is our celebratory film for James' feastday.'

Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to his shrine,  often carried a scallop shell with them and would present themselves at churches, castles, and abbeys where they could expect to be given as much sustenance as they could pick up with one scoop.

In France, scallops are called Coquilles St. Jacques (the shells of St. James). The term is often erroneously used in the United States to refer to scallops in a Morney sauce. However the term Coquilles St. Jacques only refers to the scallops themselves, and not the method of preparation. When the term coquille is used by itself, it simply refers to the scallop shell, and not the scallops themselves.

There are more than 100 species of scallops. Americans are familiar with the bay scallops which are gathered on the eastern coast from New England to Cape Hatteras. In the west, sea scallops seem to be more popular. The Alaskan scallop is one of the most popular American scallop because of its size. Each Alaskan scallop muscle, or eye, weighs about two ounces which is about twice the size of the average sea scallop and four times the size of the bay scallop.

Scallops have two types of meat in one shell: the adductor muscle, called "scallop" which is white and meaty, the roe called "coral", which is red or white and soft. In the United States only the muscle, or eye, is eaten. In Europe, where the scallops are generally larger, the roe or coral is also eaten  Scallops that are without any additives are called "dry packed" while scallops that are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) are called "wet packed". STP causes the scallops to absorb moisture prior to the freezing process, thereby getting a better price per unit of weight. Scallops are commonly paired with light semi-dry white wines

In addition to scallop celebratory dishes, there is Tarta de Santiago (St. James' Cake). This special almond cake has been popular for more than 300 years and is sold all over Santiago de Composte

Coquille St. Jacques a la Persillade

(Scallops in Parsley and Wine)


2 lbs fresh scallops

1&1/2 cups dry white wine

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

4 sprigs parsley

1/4 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp salt

4 shallots

3 cloves garlic

1/4 cup minced parsley

3/4 cup butter, melted


Slice sea scallops crosswise into 1/2" pieces (leave bay scallops whole). Place in saucepan, add wine, parsley, pepper, and thyme. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.

Remove scallops and set aside. Strain stock. Cook over high heat until reduced by half.

Mince shallots and garlic and mix with parsley.

Place scallops in 6 scallop shells. Add 1/6 of wine sauce to each scallop. Sprinkle with even portions of parsley/garlic/scallion mixture. Pour melted butter over top of mixture.

Preheat oven to 400º F. Place shells in ovenproof dish and bake for 20 minutes

Tarta de Santiago

(St. James' Cake)


3/4 cup flour

1&1/4 cup sugar

4 Eggs

8 Tb Butter at room temperature

2 &2/3 cups ground almonds (raw)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup water

I TB brandy

zest of 1 orange

powdered sugar for decoration


Grind the raw almonds in a food processor until fine and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350º F degrees. Grease a round 8-inch springform pan.

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.

Add the butter, flour, baking powder , brandy water and beat with an electric hand mixer.

Stir the almonds into the batter. Add the zest and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour batter into cake pan. Bake in oven on the middle shelf for approximately 45-50 minutes.

Cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

© 2017 by Gordon Nary


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