Santiago is the Spanish name for Saint James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles and the patron saint, and mythical hero, of Spain and Portugal. In Catholic Spanish iconography, Santiago is evoked not only as the humble fisherman from the Bible but a crusader knight and conquistador. Five cities are named after him, including the capital of Chile. He is Sao Thiago in Portuguese.
The Spanish Iago derives from the Hebrew Ya’akov, as Saint James was known in his lifetime. Like most Biblical names, it differs according to language:
- Hebrew – Ya’akov
- Greek – Iakobus
- Classical Latin – Iacobus
- Vulgar Latin – Iacobu
- Spanish – Iago, Yago, Jacobo, Jaime, Diego
- Portuguese –Thiago, Tiago
- Italian – Giacobo, Giacomo
- English – Jacob, James
The English Jacob derives directly from the Latin Iacobus, while the more common James is an Anglicisation of the Italian Giacomo.
Of the European languages, the Russian ‘Yakov’ is closest to the original Hebrew.
According to the Bible James and his brother John the Apostle, were cousins and early disciples of Jesus. Santiago was known for his violent temper – once calling for God to rain fire upon a Samaritan town. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 BC, and was thus the first Christian martyr and the only one recorded in the New Testament (Acts).
The 12th century Historia Compostelana says Santiago proselyted in northwestern Spain (Galicia) before returning to Jerusalem, and was transported there by angels when he died. The Bible makes no mention of these episodes however, and historians and theologians doubt its veracity.
By 700 AD, the Spanish claimed Iago as their patron saint. His body is claimed to reside in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostella. A legend arose Santiago was said to have descended from heaven and fought at the 9th century Battle of Clavijo against the invading Moors. This earned him the title of Santiago Matamoros, or ‘Saint James the Moor Slayer’.
In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral of Santiago was the most popular place of pilgrimage in Europe. The famous ‘Camino de Santiago’ or ‘Way of Saint James’ attracted thousands of pilgrims across Europe in the 1100 and 1200s.
In the 21st century the route has seen a significant revival, attracting not only pilgrims and tourists but avid hikers and seekers of spiritual growth, making it a European counterpart to the USA’s Oregan and Appalachian Trials. The Camino de Santiago was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993.
The Order of Santiago was a military order founded in the 1175. Akin to the Knights Templar and Hospitallers of Palestine, the Order protected Christian pilgrims and, in the spirit of Santiago Matamoros, sought to drive the Muslim Moors from Spain. Like the Knights of Saint John, the Order of Santiago still exists today, though no longer in a military sense.
Reminiscent of Henry V’s ‘Cry Harry, England and Saint George!’, ‘¡Santiago y cierra, España!’ was the warcry of the Spanish Reconquista.
Santiago, Chile was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdiva in 1541 on Incan land. Today it is a highly developed capital city of over 7 million people and the 7th largest city in Latin America. Its namesakes include Spain’s Santiago de Compostella and cities in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. San Diego, California is named not for Saint James but Didacalus of Alcala, a 15th century missionary.
Sources: Behindthename, Catholic Encyclopedia, The Guardian, UNESCO, Santiago Compostela