Saint James the Great was one of the first disciples, along with his brother John, to be called by Christ. These “sons of Zebedee” were fishermen and associates of Peter, they were among the inner circle of Christs ministry and were the ones who witnessed the transfiguration.Being the earliest and among the closest of Christs disciples, they witnessed many of the miracles and hearings of Christ. James was also one of the first of the Apostles to be martyred. His was the only Apostle martyrdom to be recorded in the New Testament.James is the patron saint of Spain and “the way of Saint James“, the journey to the cathedral that holds his relics has been a popular pilgrimage since the middle ages.Many images of St. James the Greater represent him as a pilgrim with cape, boots, a broad-brimmed hat, and a walking stick with a hook for hanging a drinking gourd. The cap, stick, gourd and also a scallop shell are common elements of “El Camino de Santiago“pilgrims attire.
Many of the Icons of Saint James show the saint with the accoutrements of a pilgrim. They include the hat, the staff and the shell that is a symbol of the saint, and frequently the book that is the gospel message that he spread. Being icons they follow the rules of iconography in their designs, the gold leaf, and the wardrobe of an apostle.In those images the individual is presented to be venerated and the symbolism, colors, and objects tell the tale of that person.
Rembrandt’s painting off the Saint, while containing many of the elements associated with James, does not present him as an icon to be venerated, but instead very much as a person that Rembrandt would have known, perhaps weary from travel, and prayerful that their journey be made safe. His is a portrait of the Saint and not an icon.A portrait displays the likeness, the personality, and the mood of a person. Rembrandt would have little idea on the facial characteristics of a saint 1600 years before his time. This person could either be a representation of Saint James, or a representation of any pilgrim making the journey along “El Camino de Santiago.”His garb is not that of an ancient apostle, but that of someone from Rembrandt’s time.It is a painting of a pilgrim and a person; and that is what I like both about the painting of the the saint.A pilgrim is a traveler, who has come from afar, and who is on a journey to a holy place.Rembrandt’s portrait of James is expressed as a pilgrim travelling the way of saint James.The way of saint James, his true personal pilgrimage, starts at Galilee as a fisherman and ends as a martyr for Christ. It was his Journey that gathered all those pilgrims that have follow that famous European path since the middle ages: his pilgrimage still continues. Rembrandt’s painting depicts that pilgrim that is simply taking a rest from their journey. It does not show the Saint at the start of his trek, or at the end, or at a particularly glorious point in that journey. It simply shows him resting, and praying that as he continues his journey, he might be safe.Its not about the past,but about today.
Today prayers are especially needed for the victims of the train crash at Santiago de Compostela, the final destination of that pilgrimage.