The Christian cross is arguably the most recognized symbol in the world and for the informed, there is zero doubt about what a cross atop a church, worn around the neck, or emblazoned upon a shield represents. No matter the specific doctrine the bearer of the cross believes, the uniting principle behind the cross is the undeniable Christian knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. The symbol of The Order of Santiago or the St. James Cross is a beautiful and ornate variant of the Christian cross and its alterations served both symbolic and practical purposes.
St. James, one of the ‘sons of thunder’ referenced in the third chapter of Mark in the New Testament, was a valiant Apostle and disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. The moniker ‘sons of thunder’ wasn’t unwarranted as we learn from the New Testament account in the book of Luke. Here one can read of a Samaritan village that wasn’t receptive to Jesus Christ. James and his brother John asked Jesus for permission to call down fire to consume the village in response to this rejection. This high tempered zeal for righteousness and defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ earned great respect among early Christian converts. When Christianity was in trouble, it is not a surprise that St. James was a Saint to whom Christians would supplicate for help. In fact, this is how St. James became instrumental in the beliefs of Crusaders and helped propel the image we see today as the St. James cross to notoriety.
The remains of St. James are believed to be in Compostela, Galicia, in northwest Spain. Galicia was the only Spanish kingdom that was not conquered by the Muslims as they expanded their reach across the Mediterranean Sea. Kings of Galicia paid homage to St. James believing that his burial there protected them from the invading Muslims. The son of King Alfono II, Ramiro I, is thought to have appealed to St. James to bring victory to them at the Battle of Clavijo. This victory helped solidify St. James as the savior of Christianity in the war against the Muslim invaders. Subsequently, The Order of Santiago, an order of knights, was established to protect pilgrims visiting the shrine of St. James. Because The Order of Santiago was not restricted to Spaniards, the concept expanded to other parts of the Christian world and the unique red cross on a white background quickly became the symbol of many nobles, knights and believers who went on to participate in the Crusades.
The St. James cross is pointed at the base, shaped like a sword, hearkening to his method of death – decapitation by sword. Certainly it could represent wielding the sword in defense of Christianity as well. The other ends of the cross are in a fleur-de-lis pattern and represent “honor without stain”, a tribute to the life of James the Greater. The sword shaped base is also thought to have assisted knights and pilgrims to plant the actual cross in the ground along their journeys, giving them opportunity to worship their God.
The Order of Santiago patch in our collection is a vivid reminder of the story of a man who gave his life for his beliefs and inspired countless others to do the same.
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