After the Ascension of the Lord, the apostles went out into different regions where each one was to carry out the sacred mission of preaching the Gospel. St. James went to distant Hispania, but his mission was not successful. This is where the Virgin Mary enters the scene when, atop a pillar aside the Ebro River, she appears to the Zebedee and exhorts him to return to Jerusalem in light of the few fruits of his labor.
Martyrdom awaited him in Jerusalem by order of Herod; he was decapitated and his body and head were thrown in a field with no grave. At night, his disciples picked up their master’s body and carried it to the edge of the sea where a readied vessel arrived without a crew. They placed the body on the boat and over the course of seven days or one night, the boat, guided by the Divine Hand, crossed the Mediterranean, the Strait of Gibraltar, passed by the Portuguese coast, and entered the port of Iria. There, the body was taken off the boat and an extraordinary event took place: the Apostle’s body stood up in the brilliant sun and later walked to the place he would be buried. This is called the Traslatio.
The saddened disciples traveled twelve miles east through the lands of Lupa (wolf), a woman devoted to idolatry. They asked her for a place where they could bury their master with honor. But Lupa sent them to the territory of Kind Duyo who jailed them with the intention of killing them. The disciples fled and returned to the kingdom of Lupa who sent them to Mount Ilicino (Monte Sacro) where there were wild bulls that Lupa thought would do away with the group. However, Santiago’s followers, armed with the sign of the cross, tamed the animals that allowed themselves to be yoked to a cart upon which the body of the Apostle was placed. The queen, seeing such wonders, converted to Christianity and gave her palace away to be used as a grave and temple.
The body of Santiago and two of his disciples and their graves were forgotten for centuries, but the memory of the apostle’s presence in these lands was kept as tradition and only the Asturian kingdom, after the destruction of the Visigoth kingdom (711) kept this tradition alive.
The discovery of Santiago between 812 and 820 is recorded in Compostelan documents from the 11th and 12th centuries and it is in these documents that the historic tradition is interwoven with the marvelous elements that led to the Jacobean legends.
In the dioceses of Iria Flavia, Pelayo (Paio), a hermit, witnessed a series of phenomena that cannot be anything other than a divine revelation. In the woods he sees lights, stars falling over a certain place, and he hears the singing of angels. The parishioners of San Fiz de Solobio also see this and tell Teodomiro, bishop of Iria, who decrees a time of fasting during which they go to the woods and find the mausoleum, identifying it immediately as the grave of Santiago the Apostle. This is called the Inventio. In fact, the name of the city, Compostela, comes from Campus Stellae, the wonderful light or “Field of Stars,” although others point out that it is a derivation of the word compositum, “cemetery.”