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As with many other European cities, Antwerp does not lack a St. James' sanctuary. In 1431, then outside the city walls, a guesthouse for Northern European pilgrims on the way to the tomb of the apostle St. James in Santiago de Compostela stood here. At the end of the 15th century a small modest chapel was constructed. Only 15 years later when it became a parish church it was substituted with the present-day church in Brabant gothic style. The architects were father and sons de Waghemakere and Rombout Keldermans. Following a universal need for recognition of "bigger and higher" the builders planned (only) one tower that (however) had to overshadow the tower of the Church of Our Lady. Eventually only a third of the approximate 165m high dream was realized; however this does not make the little houses round about any less "minuscule".


In the second half of the 16th century everything went its normal way: Iconoclasm, a short-lived "co-habitation" of Catholics and Protestants; Calvinistic preponderance and then a return to Catholic liturgy in 1585. The first half of the 17th century (in high baroque!) they worked on the construction of the eastern part in the gothic style. The grave chapel of the baroque master of Antwerp, P. P. Rubens, too, is gothic. A chapter was founded, a (collegiate?) group of canons; hence the name of collegiate church. The canons unite to sing the daily prayers in confraternity (in the choir stalls). Many craftsmen and wealthy magistrates were responsible for the particular opulence of furniture (a number of altars, like the one of the attorneys (see their page) Lien externe), ornaments - mostly epitaphs -, and also the materials (an exceptional amount of different sorts of marble). Apparently Pope Clement XI got wind of it and bestowed the title of a "famous church" upon St. James'; a title which is not likely to be left out here...


When the French had Antwerp in their grip, the customary scenario of closure and sale was avoided thanks to a priest who swore loyalty to the Republic. In fact it is thanks to this form of collaboration that St. James' church was able to keep its unbelievably rich patrimony...


The apostle James the Greater
James was - together with his brother John - among the first apostles who were called by Jesus, after Peter and Andrew. Zebedee and his two sons James and John were repairing their nets on Lake Tiberias when Jesus passed by. After he first called the siblings Peter and Andrew, Jesus then addressed those two brothers who quickly accepted the invitation.

Together with Peter and his brother John, James the Greater belonged to the three privileged apostles. It was only him and the other two who were present during some of the most highlights in Jesus' life, both at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and during Jesus' death throes on the Mount of Olives. On the other hand the two brothers were rapped over the knuckles because of their aggressive reaction towards the unfriendly Samaritans. And this was not the only reproach. Stimulated by their privileged position, James and his brother asked Jesus outright for a place of honor in heaven, much to the disgust of the other apostles. Jesus answered: "Whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant."


The addition "the Greater" is to distinguish him from fellow apostle James, the son of Alpheus, who then gets named "the Lesser".


Following the ascension of Christ James preached the gospel in Palestine together with the other apostles, more precisely in Judea and Samaria. The Epistle of James did not receive general recognition as being his till the 4th century. But probably it is only a pseudonym from later-apostolic time. Around Easter of the year 44 James was beheaded with a sword in Palestine by order of king Herod Agrippa I (37-44). James was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom and - after deacon Stephen - the second of Christianity. According to a number of writings (6th-9th century) James' grave was on the Mount of Olives.


Santiago de Compostela

Since the end of the 7th century the story developed that James the Greater would have preached the gospel in Spain. Subsequently, to gather with some converted souls, he would have ordered the other apostles back to Jerusalem for their council in Jerusalem AD 44. The idea of an apostolic origin gave the young church of Asturia unquestioned courage at a time when it suffered fierce attacks from Islamites. Such an origin is best given a starting point in history, since the 9th/10th century, tradition has it that James would have also been buried in Spain. But how did James get "back" to Spain then? He should have been brought over by his (Iberian) students Athanasius and Theodore of Jerusalem, after they miraculously got hold of the suitable ship. They landed in El Padrón, Northwest Spain, in the province of Galicia and buried the apostle 8 miles inland.
It is only from the 9th century on that traces were to be found of the worshipping of his relics at the place of this grave in Compostela, which - according to archaeological findings - is located in an old Roman graveyard.


The fact that this tomb remained unknown for centuries and then honoured so suddenly, needs an explanation. The grave was forgotten because of neglect, and brought back to life by rediscovery. And look, suddenly and miraculously his grave was found "again" in the 9th century. The hermit Pelagius, staying in Amahia, received a message from angels on the whereabouts in the neighbourhood of the grave of James. The grave was discovered to supernatural gleams of light. It fell to local bishop to find the grave: a stone mausoleum. This was immediately followed by the construction of a church, the first of a series.


The site was named after the apostle: "Sant-iago" - Saint James. Since he was regarded as a personality of good reputation the whole region of Galicia was named "James' land" by the Vikings as from the 11th century. The addition "of Compostela" or "de Compostela" is defined etymologically with the legendary discovery of the grave because of the fantastic gleams of light, since then understood to be stars, hence "field of stars", in Latin "campus stellarum". In the Middle Ages the pilgrimage place was situated in "Finis terrae". Seen from a continental European point-of-view the area of North western Spain is indeed the "end of the world". Did not Jesus tell his apostles to spread the gospel "to the ends of the earth (acts of the Apostles 1,8)?


In the Middle Ages the authenticity of James' grave was unquestioned: many streamed from near and far to this place, numerous miracles were attributed to him and an impressive pilgrimage church marked his grave, later elevated to a cathedral. At the time of the critical humanism more and more doubts began to appear. Still, Pope Leo XIII did not hesitate to establish the authenticity of the holy apostle James and his companions Athanasius and Theodore in his bull Deus omnipotens (1884) after the skeletons were excavated again in 1879. But this was not the end of the critical research.


The iconography of James the Greater

As a saint: an aureole, a saint intensively radiates God's light of love and wisdom.

As apostle:

A book of the gospel, open or closed: Christ, "the word of God", forms both the source of inspiration of his life and the message which has to be preached by him.

A banderol with inscription: each of the apostles ought to have formulated one of the 12 articles of the Apostle's Creed at the so-called Council of Apostles in Jerusalem AD 44; James formulated the third one: "He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary."

Bare-foot: to prevent that thefieriness of their task be tempered by the adherence of material goods, Jesus tells his students: "carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road" (Luke 10,4).

As first (arch-) bishop of Spain: Episcopal regalia like mitre, crosier, pectoral cross, and cope.

As martyr:

A sword: the instrument of his decapitation.

A palm leaf: a martyr, who loses his life because of his faith, will have a "Joyous Entry" into the heavenly Jerusalem.

As contender against the Moors: a sword in a lifted hand and seated on a horse: in this position he would have appeared to the Spanish in the battle of Clavijo (844) and handed them victory (rarely outside of Spain).

As patron of the pilgrims: a coat around his shoulders, a broad hat and a travelling crook (though without a drinking gourd added), and, of course, the scallop.

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