Today is the feast of St. James the Apostle, called The Greater to distinguish him from the other Apostle named James. James was quite popular during the Middle Ages, and rightly so: along with his brother John and Peter, he was one of the three present at the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane. He is also the patron saint of Spain, where he is known as Santiago, and the church at Compostela that houses his relics was a popular pilgrimage destination. A modern journey on the Way of St. James is portrayed in the recent film The Way starring Martin Sheen.
The Codex Calixtinus is an illuminated manuscript from the 12th-century that contains, among other things, one of the world’s oldest tourist travel guides, a guide for pilgrims walking The Way. It also contains music, some of the earliest surviving written polyphonic compositions. The women’s vocal ensemble Anonymous 4 released a recording of some of this music under the title Miracle of Sant’iago, later re-titled and re-issued as Miracles of Compostela. I enjoy their recording, but personally I prefer The Road to Compostela by The Rose Ensemble. It features a more diverse set of musical performances including some with instrumental accompaniment.
Finally, the great polyphonic composer Guillaume Dufay wrote a Mass for Saint James. I recently acquired a recording by The Binchois Consort that I highly recommend, an excellent performance of some breathtakingly lovely music.
Happy Feast of St. James!
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