Santiago, the elder brother of John the Evangelist, has been the patron saint of Spain ever since the Reconquest over the Moors. Santiago, or James Major or the Great, was one of the original twelve apostoles. Early legend has the remains of Santiago migrating from the Middle East to Spain to Santiago de Compostela, the site where he reputedly established Christianity in Spain. Compostela is the only site in western Europe which claims to have the actual remains of an apostle.

Santiago is a very important image in the historic santos of New Mexico (from 1700-1900). According to ongoing research on the frequency and iconography of New Mexico santos, Santiago is the twenty-eighth most frequent saint. Even more importantly, Santiago is the sixth most frequent male saint to appear on altarscreens in New Mexico, a indication of a high degree of importance to New Mexicans during the period between 1700 and 1900. Based on the inventory of over 5,000 historic New Mexican santos, only five other males appear more often on altarscreens — Lorenzo, Antonio, Francis, Juan Nepomuceno, and José. Other than images of Christ, Santiago is the twelfth most important male saint in New Mexico. Kurt Stephen’s research on Mexican tin retablos indicates that Santiago is a Category Six (on a scale of Ten).

Santiago in the New World
Santiago made several appearances in Spain, the most legendary of which occured at Clavijo in 844 AD at the battle against the Moors.

Santiago’s initial appearance in New Mexico occurred during the battles between Native Americans and Spaniards. It is believed that Santiago helped bring about the defeat of Zuni Pueblo by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540 and of Acoma Pueblo by Juan de Oñate in 1599. After Oñate’s victory, Acoma prisoners recounted their sightings of a Spanish soldier with a long white beard on horseback flashing a sword. The natives from Acoma also told of how a beautiful woman accompanied this figure. Thus, the Spaniards concluded, Santiago and the Virgin had assisted in their victory. New Mexico villagers continued to invoke Santiago’s protective powers until the late 19th century.

Spaniards invoked the patron saint of their homeland to help succeed in their “New World” confrontations with Native Americans. Some of the older soldiers who were among the first to venture to America in the early 16th century had also fought in La Reconquista against the Moors. In unknown situations and in battle, they carried his banner and exclaimed “¡Santiago y a ellos!” (St. James and at them) or “¡Santiago sea con nosotros!” (May St. James be with us!)

Santiago is said to have appeared at least 14 times in the New World. These appearances include:

1518 Tabasco, Mexico — Battle of Centla, where he appeared to troops led by Hernán Cortés

1520 Tenochitlán, Mexico — Appeared to Pedro Alvarado

1524 Guatemala — Appeared at the founding of Guatemala by Pedro Alvarado

1530 Jalisco, Mexico — Battle of Tettán, where he appeared to troops of Naño de Guzmán

1531 Querétaro, Mexico — Appeared during the conquest of the Chichimeca Indians

1533 Janja River, Mexico — Appeared to Spanish troops near Janja River

1536 Cusco, Peru — Appeared to soldiers of Hernando Pizarro

1536 Goaca Valley, Columbia — Appeared to the troops of Francisco César

1541 Guadalajara, Mexico — Appeared to Cristóbal de Oñate

1599 Acoma, New Mexico — Appeared during the Battle of Acoma to troops of Juan de Oñate

1640 Chile — Appeared to Spanish troops in battle against Arancano Indians

1817 Michoacán, Mexico — Island of Janitzio, where he appeared to Mexican insurgents while they defended the island against the Spanish

1862 Tabasco, Mexico — Appeared to Mexican troops as they fought the French army

1892 Hacienda de San José Atlatongo, Mexico — Appeared to a Spanish adminstrator

Memorial or Feast Day
July 25

Santiago is the patron saint of Spain. New Mexicans venerated Santiago as a patron of warriors, particularly when they fought the enemies of the Church. He was also a patron of horsemen, or corridas del gallo, and of sowing of fields.

Some of the most important images of Santiago in the New World are:
Miguel Maurico, ca. 1609, Iglesia de Santiago Tlatelolco, Mexico City
Juan Correa, 17th century, Toluca Cathedral, Mexico

Santiago appears on at least five altarscreens in New Mexico, the oldest being the Castrense altarscreen made by don Bernardo Miera y Pacheco in about 1759-60, which can now be found at Cristo Rey Church in Santa Fe. Other altarscreens containing images of Santiago include those from Llano Quemado by José Rafael Aragon, Rio Chiquito by Molleno, Las Trampas by José de Gracia Gonzales, and Santa Clara Pueblo by don Bernardo Miera y Pacheco.

There are at least a dozen different scenes used to depict Santiago in the art of the New World. The analysis of over 5,000 images reveals that he is depicted in only one of two ways in New Mexico — as a pilgrim (15% of the time) or as a warrior on horseback (85% of the time). The iconography of Santiago as a warrior shows him always on horseback, nearly always with a staff bearing a flag or banner (which sometimes shows a cross design), and almost always wearing a hat. Most of the time he is seen trampling either dead or dying Moors. Approximately half the time he holds a sword and ocassionally holding a shield to protect himself.

Paul Rhetts is the co-publisher of Tradición Revista.
First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 7, No. 1, Spring 2002.

Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.