The Symbolism and Iconography of Santiago or Saint James

Santiago or Saint James as a knight

Santiago or Saint James as a knight

Santiago, or Saint James, has three iconic variations according to his roles as apostle, pilgrim and knight. Each variation comes with its specific iconography. 

I visited the extraordinary Museum of Pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, at which the following information is offered:

The Iconography of St James

The Representation of the Apostle

The Apostle St James the Great is one of the most diversely represented figures in Christian iconography. The expansion of his cult across Europe and since the 16th Century across America led to his image being adapted to suit the different devotional and political needs of the moment, by combining different aspects of his status as an apostle, pilgrim and knight.

In the oldest images he is depicted with the typical attributes of the other apostles: tunic and cloak, holy book and bare feet or sandals. Often his name or a brief phrase about him would appear in a scroll or sign.

From the 12th century onwards St James was normally portrayed as a pilgrim both because he was sent by Jesus to embark on a long journey to evangelize Hispania and because he was identified with the pilgrims who walked to worship at his tomb. He is represented with a large staff (bordon), a sporran (escarcela), a gourd, hat, cape and scallop shells, accompanied at times by miniature staffs that adorned his clothes.

The third iconographic model is that of the knight. The image of St James as a soldier (miles Christi) on horseback supporting the Christian troops is documented for the first time in the mid-12th Century. Tradition relates this with previous events such as the Battle of Clavijo in 844, the conquest of Coimbra in 1064 and others. St James is generally shown mounted on a white horse, with a sword, shield and/or standard with "infidels" at his feet or at the head of the Christian troops.


 Santiago or Saint James as an apostle or martyr


 Santiago or Saint James as a pilgrim

Jesse Waugh