Saint James is one of the most celebrated saints in the Catholic Calendar, not only is he the patron saint of Spain, where his remains are housed in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, but he is also the patron Saint of Caltagirone. Who was he?
Feast in Caltagirone
Saint James (the Greater) was the son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ and considered the first apostle to be martyred. He was the brother of John, possibly the older brother and one of the first Disciples of Christ. It is possible it was him who introduced his brother to the Messiah.
James’ is the only martyrdom which is recorded in the New Testament, within the Acts of the Aspostels, telling the story of when King Harold Agrippa had him beheaded in Jerusalem.
James in life was characterized by a fiery temper, as well as a pious disciple. Many miracles and apparitions are contributed to James, including his appearance at the Christian Army at the battle of Clavijo, during the Reconquista; henceforth the traditional battle cry of the Spanish army became “Santiago y cierra Espana” (St James strike for Spain).
Iconographically James is represented with a Pilgrim’s hat and a Scallop, while he is the Patron saint of vets, equestrians, furriers, tanners and pharmacists.
But how did he get to become the Patron Saint of Caltagirone?
The Norman King Roger I declared him to be so in 1109, building a church in the Saint’s honour. Until the 16th Century, the feasts of the Saint, on the 25th July was simply celebrated within the church, where a statue of Saint James took pride of place. Within the church lies a sculpture of the saint made by the Catania born sculptor Vincenzo Archifel in 1518. The baroque golden statue is now paraded around the town, since the first folkloristic feast which as celebrated in 1591. Over the centuries, the procession has become more llavish and to the statue there has been added a silver casket and a reliquary which supposedly houses a bone from the arm of Saint James.
Though the religious display and fervour of the Feast of Saint James in Caltagirone held on the 24th and 25th July is paramount, there is another display which is worth seeing: the decoration and lighting up of the unique Santa Maria del Monte stairs. In addition to the incredible majolica tile work which sets these stairs apart from any other, during the feast the citizens create intricate perspective displays with flowers and candles.
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