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Santiago Matamoros

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Santiago Matamoros

Saint James the Moor-slayer (Spanish: Santiago Matamoros) is famous Spanish myth. He was said to be St. James, son of Zebedee, an apostle of Jesus. Legends said he appeared in the fictional Battle of Clavijo on 23 May 844, in which Spanish Christians defeated the Moors (Muslims), during the Reconquista. He is a myth and the battle is too, but he remains as Spain's patron saint.[1]


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

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"; to this day he is Spain's patron saint.

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.[2]


The Order of Santiago, a Spanish order of knighthood, originates from St. James' 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.[3]

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.[4]

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


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