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Saint James the Apostle Patron of Spain

The apostle Saint James: the patron of Spain

Saint James has been the official patron of Spain since the 17th century. However, his patronage was not always unique, and it was a source of dispute between the religious order of the Carmelites and the nobility.

During the 9th century, the kings of the Reconquest already recognised James the Great as the patron of their kingdoms due to the legend of the Battle of Clavijo. The Apostle became the armed wing of Catholicism and a symbol for the Reconquest.

The Vow of Saint James

Legend has it that, during the battle of Clavijo (844) led by King Ramiro I of Asturias, the Apostle Saint James appeared on a white horse brandishing a sword. The appearance of Saint James the Greater enabled the troops to defeat the Muslims. Since then, the representation of the Apostle on horseback has been known as “Santiago Matamoros”.

The Battle of Clavijo by Corrado Giaquinto. Photo: National Museum of the Prado.

The Battle of Clavijo by Corrado Giaquinto. Photo: National Museum of the Prado.

After the battle of Clavijo, King Ramiro I established the Vow of Santiago. Thanks to the help that the Apostle gave during the Reconquest, the Christian kingdoms undertook to pay an annual tax in favour of the church of Santiago de Compostela.

With the Vow of Saint James, the Apostle was named the patron saint of Spain. However, it was not until the 17th century, when Pope Urban VIII made his patronage official. And so, it was until the Discalced Carmelites proposed that he should share the position with Saint Teresa of Jesus.

The co-patronage

In 1617, after the beatification of Teresa of Jesus, the order of the Discalced Carmelites proposed that the saint should share the patronage of Spain with the Apostle. This proposal was accepted and ratified by King Philip III in 1618.

In 1622, King Philip IV insisted that the Pope proclaim the saint as co-patron saint, and he did so. However, a large part of the clergy and nobility were against this decision. The Order of Santiago was one of the most affected, and the writer Francisco de Quevedo, a member of the Order, led an investigation to justify that the Apostle should be the sole patron saint.

As a result of his struggle, Quevedo wrote Memorial por el patronazgo del Santiago. In it, he reminds the king that “Santiago gave you the kingdom, taking it away from the Moors with the sword”. Furthermore, he justifies in his writings that “There is no other patron like Santiago, sir, nor another kingdom with the obligations of this one, nor another king who owes him by vassalage what you owe him”.

The Apostle James on horseback.

The Apostle James on horseback.

Despite his intention to serve, Quevedo offended the monarch and, in 1628, was sentenced to six years’ exile. However, during his exile, the writer continued his struggle and sent the Count-Duke of Olivares a new work, Su espada por Santiago, to convince the king.

Such was his insistence that in 1630, King Philip IV asked Pope Urban VIII to repeal the co-patronage and restore the honour of Santiago as the sole and only Patron Saint of the Spanish nation.

Military cry

In honour of the Patron Saint of Spain, and following the legend of the Battle of Clavijo, some military corps maintain the cry “Saint James and close Spain!”. With these words, the Christians prepared for an offensive during the Reconquest and tried to invoke the Apostle’s help.

The cry gained such prominence that the explanation of its use even appears in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. “This great knight of the red cross has been given to Spain by God as his patron and protector, especially in the harsh times that the Spanish have had with the Moors; and so they invoke him and call upon him as their defender in all the battles they undertake”, Don Quixote explains to Sancho.

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