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Saint James Matamoros

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18th-century depiction of St. James slaying Moors. (Anonymous artist)

Saint James the Moor-slayer (Spanish: Santiago Matamoros also known as San Tiago de Matamoros) is a famous Spanish mythological figure who helped the Christians defeat the Muslims in battle. According to legend, the Matamoros was Saint James, son of Zebedee, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Spanish legends recount his heroic appearance in the Battle of Clavijo on 23 May 844, in which Christians defeated the Moors (Muslims), to launch the Reconquista ("Reconquest"). Historians agree the battle never happened and that he never appeared; the legends were invented centuries after the supposed event.[1]

In the 1600s, followers of his cult (Santiaguistas) proposed the patronage of Spain under his name, in contrast to those who favored Saint Teresa of Avila. The Santiaguistas overcame and won this religious debate, naming him the Patron Saint of Spain until November 1760, when Pope Clement XIII rescinded this honor and officially declared the Immaculate Conception as the patroness of Spain as a country, and installed the historical Saint James the Greater the patron of Spanish people. [2]


Statue of St. James, the Moor Slayer, Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, Cordoba, Spain

Christian King Alfonso II of Asturias died in 842 and was succeeded by his nephew Ramiro I.

Meanwhile in Christian circles the legend grew that James, a disciple of Jesus, had gone to Spain, founded the Church there, and provided protection for the Christians. Historians have found no evidence for these old claims.[3] Old bones that were discovered were venerated as his relics.[4]

The legend—invented three centuries later—was that a battle took place. On Alfonso's death, the Moors demanded the reinstation of the Tribute of 100 Damsels (fifty noble and fifty common), which Alfonso had defied. Ramiro denied them the tribute and prepared for battle. On the night before the Battle of Clavijo he dreamt of St. James, who told him that God had chosen James as the patron for the Spanish kingdoms.

According to the legend, Saint James appeared as a warrior on his white horse with a white banner to help Christian armies of king Ramiro I of Asturias in battle against the Moors. The Christians marched on the cry of "¡Dios ayuda a Santiago!" (God save St. James!). They slew more than 5,000 Moors, and James became known as "Matamoros".

Adaptation in Spanish America

Iconography of St. James was used in the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, as a rival force to the indigenous Gods and protector of Spaniards from the natives. He was depicted as a conquistador.


On the last Sunday of July, the Spanish monarch gives an offering at the statue of St. James Matamoros at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where his remains are said to be interred. During the dictatorship of General Franco, he once sent a Moroccan Muslim General to make the offering for him. Cloth was laid over the sculptures of decapitated Moors' heads.[5]


Roman Catholic Church in the Mexican settlement of Matamoros, Coahuila.

The Order of Santiago, a Spanish order of knighthood, originates from St. James' supposed involvement at the Battle of Clavijo. A wide number of Mexican settlements were named Matamoros by Spanish settlers in honour of their patron saint.


In the 1620s Spain debated who should be the country's patron—James, the current patron, or a combination of him and the newly canonized Saint Teresa of Ávila. Teresa's promoters said Spain faced new challenges, especially the threat of Protestantism, and the declining society at home and needed a modern patron saint who understood these problems and could lead the Spanish nation back. Santiago's supporters ("santiaguistas") fought back viciously and won the day, but Teresa of Avila remained far more popular at the local level.[6]

A statue of St. James Matamoros was present at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, one of the most holy pilgrimages of Roman Catholicism. It was removed in May 2004 for cultural sensitivities, and placed in the cathedral museum. It was replaced by a statue by the same 18th-century sculptor, Jose Gambino, depicting St. James as the pilgrim who introduced Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula. Alejandro Barral, speaking for the cathedral, said that it was necessary to portray James in a way which fitted with the teachings of Jesus, and that the decision had been arranged for years prior to the Islamic bombing of Madrid on 11 March 2004.[7] However, by July of the same year, public outcry by Spain's Catholic majority forced Church officials to keep the statue in place.[5]

See also


  1. ^ James Q. Whitman (2012). The Verdict of Battle: the law of victory and the making of modern war. Harvard UP. p. 47. 
  2. ^ Clifford Rogers (2010). The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. Oxford University Press. p. 404. 
  3. ^ Jan van Herwaarden, "The origins of the cult of St James of Compostela," Journal of Medieval History (1980) 6#1 pp: 1-35.
  4. ^ Erin Kathleen Rowe (2011). Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain. Penn State University Press. pp. 20–47. 
  5. ^ a b Wilkinson, Isambard (22 July 2004). "Public outcry forces church to keep Moor Slayer's statue". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Erin Kathleen Rowe, Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain (2011)
  7. ^ "Church to remove Moor-slayer saint". BBC News Online. 3 May 2004. Retrieved 16 February 2015. 

Further reading

External links