The legend of Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moorslayer)

The news of Spanish priests hiding the images of the Apostle and Patron-Saint of Spain have crossed the frontiers of my country and are now another example of the Christian surrender (for instance, Spain: Parish Priest ‘Disarms’ Saint, Devotees Rebel from Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/7/2008). Obviously, this is an offensive image for Muslims and a politically incorrect icon in a multicultural world or, better said, within a civilisation that feels ashamed of its culture, religion and history.

As this example of abject surrender has crossed our frontiers, it is also important to let the world know about the cultural, religious and historical background of that image in order to make that shameful dhimmi behaviour even more outrageous.

The Apostolic Sees.

Christian religion defined itself historically as apostolic. The Nicene Creed proposes «unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.» (You may click here to hear the first documented polyphonic Credo of the Mass by Machaut). The Church was apostolic because it was the continuation of the enterprise of the Apostles. It was not organised as a Congregationalist society (bottom up), but as an apostolic one: groups of believers under the guidance of a bishop (which means supervisor in Greek). Bishops coordinated themselves by exchanging letters and holding meetings (Councils). This naturally brought along the issue of precedence.

The Apostolic Sees were those founded by a major apostle in the most relevant cities of the Roman world. Furthermore, they were sometimes executed and buried in them. The Catholic Encyclopaedia reads:

But before heresy, schism, and barbarian invasions had done their work, as early as the fourth century, the Roman See was already the Apostolic See par excellence, not only in the West but also in the East. Antioch, Alexandria, and, in a lesser degree, Jerusalem were called Apostolic sees by reason of their first occupants, Peter, Mark, and James, from whom they derived their patriarchal honour and jurisdiction; but Rome is the Apostolic See, because its occupant perpetuates the Apostolate of Blessed Peter extending over the whole Church.

Naturally, the bishops of those four cities considered themselves above the other bishops. The Sees of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioquia were later on swept by the Mohammedan tide. This left only Rome and Constantinople, the Second Rome.

Constantinople is a special case. It was not a relevant city in the times of the Apostles; therefore, their bishops had to create a legend in order to take precedence above the other three oriental sees: St. Andrew would have founded the Diocese. The controversy with Rome on the precedence grew more and more bitter, and eventually led to the Great Schism — but that is another story. The important issue at this point is to understand that having the sepulchre of an apostle in a city was extremely important in ancient and medieval Christianity.

Saint James and Spain

Tradition has it that the Apostle Saint James preached in Spain (with a meagre result, by the way). He then returned to Jerusalem, where Herodes executed him. The corpse was then placed in a ship that arrived at Spain. Again, a legend. From the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

According to this tradition St. James the Greater, having preached Christianity in Spain, returned to Judea and was put to death by order of Herod; his body was miraculously translated to Iria Flavia in the northwest of Spain, and later to Compostela, which town, especially during the Middle Ages, became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in the world.

The rediscovery of the Apostle’s tomb in the Middle Ages.

The tomb of the apostle was opportunely rediscovered in the Middle Ages, according to the traditional account.

The tomb was forgotten until the year 813, when the hermit Pelayo noted lights and songs around the place. The hermit warned the bishop of Iria Flavia, Teodomiro, who after removing some weeds discovered the remains of the apostle identified by the inscription on the tombstone. He reported the discovery to King Alfonso II, who came to the scene and proclaimed the Apostle Santiago patron of the kingdom. The area was then renamed as Campus Stellae, Field of Stars, from which the current name, Compostela, has been derived.

The discovery of this tomb -whether it contained the Apostle or not- could have gone unnoticed, or could have been forgotten if it had not happened at the right moment and in the right place. The place was the north of Spain, where the Christians were rolling back the conquests of the First Jihad. The moment was the consolidation of the Asturian monarchy.

The Reconquista could not be waged under the banner of civil rights, not even as the obligation of a king to ensure the security of his subjects, as Luther naively -or maybe maliciously- proposes in The War against the Turk. A religion may be fought in the name of another religion (including an atheist religion) not in the name of religious freedom. The Apostle was the most adequate banner for the Christians in western Spain.

Why Santiago Matamoros?

The appellation «Matamoros» comes from the legend of Clavijo’s Battle, where he led the discouraged Christian troops to a smashing victory against the Mohammedans. King Ramiro I defeated the troops of Abd ar-Rahman II at the Battle of Clavijo with the assistance of a knight on a white horse who fought by his side and who was considered to be the Apostle. This was the beginning of a myth that would make the Apostle the Patron-Saint of the Spanish Reconquista.

Historians agree nowadays that strictly speaking there was no Battle of Clavijo. Still, this Battle is a major event in the history of the Reconquista. What happened then? Was it all an invention?

Not really. The first mention of Clavijo is found in a twelfth-century document, long after the events. It was written by Pedro Marcio, a canon from the cathedral of Santiago, who claims to copy another document from the ninth century in which King Ramiro I makes a series of donations to Compostela as a thanks-giving offer after the battle. The document by Pedro Marcio has been subject to discussions due to its historical and chronological errors. In any case, it was taken as a truthful testimony at the time and is credited in other early histories of the Reconquista. For instance in De rebus Hispaniae, by Bishop Jiménez de Rada, in the thirteenth century.

What happened at Clavijo?

Let us travel in time to the middle of the ninth century in the north of Spain. Muslims have consolidated their supremacy over Spain, among other reasons, by converting much of the old Visigoth elite to Islam. Still, Galicia, parts of Leon, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque area have not been subdued. In the Cantabrian coast, Christians are organizing themselves. These were poor territories; therefore, as the population grows, the move to the south and the take-over of the Douro Valley becomes imperative. Muslim interest in those northern territories was limited: the Douro valley was just a series of woodlands. The Moors were satisfied controlling the border and punishing Christian territory with occasional looting campaigns. Things are different in the eastern Christian area, at the confluence of La Rioja, Navarra, Aragon and Castile. This is a rich area crossed by trade routes dating back to Roman times. Navarra and Aragon are under Muslim control. But the embryo of the future Castile, a frontier land between Cantabria and Vizcaya opened to the south, is no longer under Muslim rule.

Asturias is then ruled by king Ramiro I (842-850), a man with a crusader’s determination. It is a short rule, dedicated to waging war against Arabs and Normans. Ramiro I, whose banner is a red cross on a white background, creates the first order of the Knights of Santiago. As from him, the monarchy will be hereditary, and not elective.

Christian Spain lives under the constant threat of Muslim power. A threat which is particularly dramatic in the primitive Castilla, the area between Alava, La Rioja and La Bureba (Burgos), in the east of the kingdom, where Muslim pressure is stronger. That is the scenario of our story.

The legend

Legend has it that at the time, the powerful Muslim rulers had imposed a yearly, shameful tribute to Christians: the hundred maidens. In return, the Muslims would not attack the kings who agreed to the pact. This tribute dated back to the year 738, when king Mauregato accepted it. Since then, successive Christian kings had fought to abolish it.

Ramiro I bitterly resented that humiliation and under the banner of the Cross summoned the Christian knights. He himself led the group and marched against the Muslims to the most critical area: La Rioja, the upper half of the Ebro valley. The Moors were then entangled in the frequent quarrels with the Spanish convert Muslims ruling Navarre and had a large army. The chronicles say that the Moorish army was lead by none other than the Emir Abderraman II in person.

When Christians arrived at Najera and Albelda, they were surprised to find an innumerable Moor army, made of both Andalusian and Moorish troops. The Christians fought bravely, but were rooted by the crushing superiority of the Moorish troops. The knights were forced to take refuge in Clavijo Castle, in Monte Laturce, on May 23, 844. We can imagine the Christian troops exhausted and on the brink of despair. It was then when, half asleep, King Ramiro had a vision. This is his account, according to Pedro Marcio (I have simplified the original text, written in ancient Spanish):

I was still sleeping, when the blessed Santiago, protector of the Spaniards, appeared to me.  I asked who he was. He assured me to be Santiago, the blessed Apostle of God. Astonished as I was, the blessed Apostle told me:

«Did not you know that my Lord Jesus Christ, while distributing the other provinces in the world to my brothers, the other apostles, luckily entrusted me the guardianship of all Spain and placed it under my protection? (…) Keep your courage, because I will come to assist you tomorrow, God willing, to vanquish all that big crowd of enemies surrounding you. However, many of your soldiers will be destined for eternal rest and will receive the crown of martyrdom during your struggle for the name of Christ. And so that there is no doubt you will see me dressed in white on a white horse, holding in my hand a white banner. Therefore, at dawn, after receiving the sacrament of penance with the confession of sins, after receiving the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Mass, do not be afraid to challenge the Saracens’ squadrons, invoking God’s name and mine, and taking for certain they will fall to the edge of the sword «.

Having said all that, the pleasant vision of the Apostle of God disappeared.»

It is not necessary to say how much this narrative resembles that of Jihad, the way of Allah, the total war against the infidel.

Ramiro quickly told everyone about his vision: knights, bishops, artisans… At dawn, Christian troops, sure of their victory, attacked the Saracens. For the first time some Spaniards used «Santiago» as a war cry. In the heat of the battle, a great white knight, with a white banner on a white horse, struck the field like a ray of light, to tilt the victory on the crusaders’ side. On May 25, in the town of Calahorra, the king vowed to Santiago in gratitude, inviting all Christians in the peninsula to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, carrying offerings to the Apostle.

The Way to Compostela

Historical research

This legendary account of the Battle of Clavijo has been rejected on historical grounds. No official sources and chronicles of the time refer to Clavijo. The first accounts start much later. However, the Cronica Najerense refers to king Ramiro’s campaigns against the Arabs. Moreover, Muslim chronicles from Abderraman II refer to some Moorish campaigns against Alava. Perhaps most important: they agree on frequent fighting around the area in question. In particular, Astur-Leonese sources record that Ordoño I, son of Ramiro I, sieged the city of Albelda and established his base at Mount Laturce, the place where legend locates the Battle of Clavijo. Archaeological findings leave no doubt: there was a lot of fighting around Albelda.

There was, indeed, a battle in Albelda or, more precisely, two: one in 852 and another in 859. The context of both was the control of the corridors in the east of Christian Spain. But the Christian king leading those battles was not Ramiro (as in the legend), but his son Ordoño, and the rival was not Abderraman II, but Musa II, of the House of Banu Qasi, a powerful hispano-gothic family who converted to Islam. The first battle was won by the Muslims, just as in the Clavijo legend. But the second one was won by the Christians — also as in the legend. The legend condenses into twenty-four hours of struggle by Ramiro what could actually have been a seven-year offensive lead by his son Ordoño.

The historical controversy goes on. But the fact is that after the second battle of Albelda, Christian power in the area was strengthened, and the attempt by Muslims to build a stronghold in La Rioja was foiled. Ordoño immediately proceeded to defend the area by massive repopulation. It is equally true that Santiago, since then, has always been invoked by the Spaniards in distress.

Is it, then, history… or legend? Legend, certainly, but legend that soon became history. And a legend that since then has been part of the Spanish historical consciousness. The question now is: will Santiago Matamoros once more assist the current multiculti priests, who feel ashamed of his feats and hide him as an inconvenient, poor relative?


Origen e Historia del Camino de Santiago

El día que Santiago apareció en un caballo blanco

7 comentarios

  1. Jacob the fisherman evolved into the archetypal hero of Western culture. From Sant’ Iago Matamoros (killer of the Moors) to Sant’ Iago Mataindios (killer of Indians) to Sant’ Iago Mataespañois (killer of Spaniards) – everyone wanted him as their hero!
    In Mexico City there is a carving from the altarpiece of the Church of Santiago Tlatelolco showing him as Santiago Mataindios – the Indian-slayer. And although Christianity and the Catholic religion were taken to the Americas by the Spaniards, when Mexico fought to obtain its independence from Spain in 1810, Sant’ Iago was exalted as Santiago Mataespañois – the slayer of Spaniards!
    In Peru, during an indigenous uprising in 19th-century they adopted Santiago as its champion, using the «Matamoros» iconography of “Santiago Mataespañois” that in Peru had come to be associated with a pre-Columbian deity who drove out evil forces.
    There is a mid-19thC silver statue of Santiago Mataespañois in the Museum of Pilgrimages in Santiago de Compostela.

    and another one – scroll down to under Ano 1998 – (as well as pictures of items from the museum) here:

    You can see the altarpiece of Santiago Mataindios here (click on the photo to enlarge it)

    You can see paintings of Santiago Matamoros and Mataindios together here:

  2. Hello,

    I am searching for a statue of St James the More Slayer.
    Can you help me?
    Maybe you know a website or someting? I am not able to read Spanish, so maybe you know a German, Dutch or English site.

    Please, we adore St James very much. He can protect us against the Moors nowadays. Further, we as a family have a special devotion for him.

    With regards,

    Frans van Leeuwen.

    • I’m afraid statues of Saint Iago Matamoros are VERY politically incorrect these days. Why don’t you copy a drawing off the internet of one of the antique statues onto a board (a 12 or 14 inch poplar board 8-12 inches wide is good) gesso it, and then lightly pencil on the drawing, then paint it in acrylics ? There are u-tube videos on how to paint with acrylics. Practice drawings on paper a lot beforehand, you will get good, and put in details you like. Practice really does make perfect. There is a fine old amateur tradition in New Mexico of painting your own religious pictures on pieces of plank or board, or sheet metal –they are called «retablos», and I taught myself to paint some with images which mean a lot to me– and you can do the same. You don’t have to have any talent — they usually turn out well because they are simple. Look up «retablo,» you will be encouraged.

  3. I am a Matamoros, in further search of my roots. This was a very compelling and eductaional blog. Ironically I happen to be not only a modern warrior (martial artist), but a devout Christian. Great job on the research, it’s much appreciated.

    Gracias por la información! 🙂

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