St James of Compostela
The Wild Atlantic Way is proving to be a big hit with tourists this year in the west of Ireland. Visitors are following its well signed trails and discovering the most unexpected sights and scenes. Local communities along the way are trying to upgrade the welcome for visitors. Let’s hope that that welcome will include quality features of Irish tourism.
The Wild Atlantic Way is well signposted all along the West Kerry scenery. A fascinating piece of mediaeval history has a large footprint in west Kerry which would do well to be more prominently highlighted. I was reminded of this last Friday when we celebrated the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. James the Apostle. Now what has St. James the Apostle to do with West Kerry?
Well those who visit churches on their travels, and they are many, of all faiths and none, will know that there is always some local history enshrined in local churches. All over the two peninsula embracing Dingle Bay you will find churches dedicated to St. James the Apostle.
St. James is considered as the first of the Apostles to be martyred, circa 43 A.D. He is referred to as St. James the Greater, to distinguish him from other St. James among the apostles. He was the brother of the apostle St. John. With Peter and John he was a witness to the Transfiguration. He was beheaded in Jerusalem by Herod Agrippa in 42 or 43 A.D.
Relics of saints were precious commodities in the Middle Ages. Spain has claimed to have the relics of St. James since the ninth century at Compostela. Legend has it that the relics were carried by boat from Jerusalem to Northern Spain where they were buried. The veracity of the claim has never been fully established, but the faith of the people took hold of it and the shrine of St. James became the greatest pilgrimage in Europe after the pilgrimages to Rome and to the Holy Land. Immense crowds set out to pray at the shrine of St. James at Compostela from all over Europe and pilgrim paths to Compostela formed a network all over the Continent. The Spanish for The Way of St. James is El Camino de Santiago, hence the popular reference today to “walking the Camino”, which very many people have done from Ireland and from Mallow. In the last 30 years there has been a great revival of walking the Camino to the Shrine at Compostela. In 1987 the journey was named the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe and the Shrine has been named a World heritage site by UNESCO.
And what of our Kerry churches? Well each country had its own pilgrims routes to Compostela and Ireland had two main departure points. For the South and West, Dingle was the departure point for pilgrims setting out on the Camino. For those on the East coast there was another departure from Dublin—called St. James’ Gate!!! Yes that is the origin of the now famous name.