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Story of St. James of Galicia, The

Of greater interest is a legend of St. James the Elder, the patron-saint of Spain, a pilgrimage to whose shrine at Santiago in Galicia was so popular during the Middle Ages. The only popular version which we have found is in a Sicilian story in Gonzenbach, No. 90.


THERE was once a king and queen who had no children, and who longed to have a son or daughter. The queen prayed to St. James of Galicia, and said: "O St. James! if you will grant me a son, he shall make a pilgrimage to your shrine when he is eighteen years old." After a time the queen had, through the favor of God and the saint, a beautiful boy who was as handsome as if God had made him. The child grew rapidly and became larger and fairer every day. When he was twelve years old, the king died, and the queen remained alone with this son, whom she loved as dearly as her eyes. Many years passed and the time drew near when the prince should be eighteen. When the queen thought that she must soon part from him to send him alone on the long pilgrimage, she became very sorrowful and wept and sighed the whole day.

               One day the prince said to her: "Mother, why do you sigh all day?" "It is nothing, my son, only some cares of mine," she answered. "What are you concerned about?" asked he. "Are you afraid that your farms in the Plain (of Catania) are badly tilled? Let me go and look after them and bring you news of them." The queen consented and the prince rode to the Plain, to the property that belonged to them. He found everything in good order, and returned to his mother and said: "Dear mother, rejoice, and cease your care, for everything is going well on your property; the cattle are thriving; the fields are tilled, and the grain will soon be ripe." "Very well, my son," answered the queen, but she was not cheerful, and the next day began to sigh and weep again. Then the prince said to her: "Dear mother, if you do not tell me why you are so sad, I will depart, and wander out in the wide world." The queen answered: "Ah, my dear son, I am sad because you must now part from me. For before you were born, when I longed for you so much, I vowed to St. James of Galicia, that if he would grant you to me, you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine when you were eighteen years old. And now you will soon be eighteen, and I am sad because you must wander away alone, and be gone so many years; for to reach the saint, one must journey a whole year." "Is it nothing but that, dear mother?" asked her son. "Be not so sorrowful. Only the dead return not. If I live, I will soon come back to you."

               So he comforted his mother, and when he was eighteen he took leave of the queen, and said: "Now farewell, dear mother, and, God willing, we shall meet again." The queen wept bitterly, and embraced him with many tears; then she gave him three apples, and said: "My son, take these three apples and give heed to my words. You shall not make the long journey alone. When, however, a youth joins you and wishes to accompany you, take him with you to the inn, and let him eat with you. After the meal cut an apple in two halves, one large and the other small, and offer them to the young man. If he takes the larger half, part from him, for he will be no true friend to you; but if he takes the smaller half, regard him as your brother, and share everything that you have with him." After these words she embraced her son and blessed him, and the prince departed.

               He had already travelled a long time, and no one had met him. One day, however, he saw a youth coming along the road who joined him and asked: "Where are you going, handsome youth?" "I am making a pilgrimage to St. James of Galicia;" and he told him of his mother's vow. "I must go there, too," said the other, "for the same thing happened to my mother as to yours; if we have the same journey to make, we can make it together." They continued their journey together, but the prince was not confidential towards his companion, for he thought: "I must first make the trial with the apple."

               As they were passing an inn, the prince said: "I am hungry: shall we not have something to eat?" The other was willing, so they went in and ate together. After they had eaten, the prince took out the apple, cut it in two unequal halves, and offered them to the other, who took the larger half. "You are no true friend," thought the prince; and to get rid of him, he pretended to be ill, and obliged to remain there. The other said: "I cannot wait for you, for I have far to go yet; so farewell." "Farewell," said the prince, and was glad to be rid of him.

               When he continued his journey again, he thought: "Ah, if God would only send me a true friend, so that I should not have to travel alone!"

               Not long after, another youth joined him and asked: "Handsome young man, where are you going?" The prince answered him as he had done before, and everything happened the same as with the first young man. After the prince had got rid of him he resumed his journey and thought: "O God, let me find a true friend who shall be to me a brother on the long journey!" While he was uttering this prayer he saw a youth coming along the way, who was a handsome lad, and appeared so friendly that he liked him at once, and thought: "Ah, may this be the true friend!" The youth joined him, and everything passed as before, except that this time the youth took the smaller half of the apple, and the prince rejoiced that he had found a true friend. "Fair youth," said he to him, "we must consider ourselves as brothers now; what is mine shall be yours also, and what is yours, shall be mine. We will travel together, until we come to the shrine of the saint; and if one of us dies on the way, the other must carry his body there. We will both promise this." They did so, and regarded each other as brothers, and continued their journey together.

               To reach the shrine of the saint requires a whole year; imagine, then, how long the two must travel. One day when they came, weary and exhausted, to a large, beautiful city, they said: "We will stay here and rest a few days, and afterwards continue our journey." So they took a small house, and dwelt in it. Now opposite it was the royal palace, and one morning as the king was standing on the balcony, he saw the two handsome youths, and thought: "Oh! how handsome these two youths are! one is, however, much handsomer than the other. I will give him my daughter in marriage." Now the prince was the handsomer of the two. In order to attain his aim, the king invited them both to dinner, and when they came to the palace received them in a very friendly manner and had his daughter called, who was more beautiful than the sun and moon. When they retired for the night, the king had a poisonous drink given to the prince's companion, who fell down dead; for the king thought: "If his friend dies, the other will remain here willingly, and think no more of his pilgrimage, but marry my daughter."

               The next morning, when the prince awoke, he asked: "Where is my friend?" "He died suddenly last night, and is to be buried at once," answered the servants. The prince said: "If my friend is dead, I cannot remain here longer, but must depart this very hour." "Ah! do remain here," begged the king. "I will give you my daughter for your wife." "No," said the prince, "I cannot stay here. If you will grant me a wish, give me a horse, and let me depart in peace; and when I have completed my pilgrimage, I will return and marry your daughter." The king then gave him a horse, which the prince mounted, and took his dead friend before him on the saddle, and thus completed his journey. The young man, however, was not dead, but lay only in a deep sleep.

               When the prince reached the shrine of St. James of Galicia, he dismounted, took his friend in his arms like a child, and entered the church and laid the body on the steps of the altar before the saint, and prayed: "O St. James of Galicia! behold, I have kept my vow. I have come to you and have brought you my friend, also. I confide him now to you; if you will restore him to life, we will laud your mercy; but if he is not to come to life again, he has at least kept his vow." And behold, while he was still praying, his dead friend rose, and became again alive and well. Both thanked the saint, and gave him costly presents, and then started on their journey home.

               When they reached the city where the king lived, they occupied again the little house opposite the royal palace. The king was greatly rejoiced to see the handsome prince there again, and much handsomer than before; he arranged great festivities, and had a splendid marriage celebrated, and thus the prince married the fair princess. After the wedding they remained several months with her father, and then the prince said: "My mother is expecting me at home with great anxiety; therefore I cannot stay longer here, but will return to my mother with my wife and my friend." The king consented and they prepared for the journey.

               Now the king had a deadly hatred against the poor, innocent youth, to whom he had before given the fatal drink, and who had nevertheless returned alive, and in order to cause him sorrow, he sent him in great haste on the morning of the departure into the country with an errand. "Hasten," he said. "Your friend will not start until you return." The youth hastened away, without taking leave, and performed the king's errand. The king, meanwhile, said to the prince: "Hasten your departure, otherwise you cannot reach your quarters for the night before evening." "I cannot depart without my friend," answered the prince. The king, however, said: "Set out on your journey; he will be here within an hour, and will soon overtake you on his swift horse." The prince allowed himself to be persuaded, took leave of his father-in-law, and departed with his wife. The poor friend could not fulfil the king's commission before several hours, and when he finally returned, the king said to him: "Your friend is already far from here; see how you can overtake him."

               So the poor youth had to leave the palace, and did not even receive a horse, and began to run, and ran day and night until he overtook the prince. From his great exertions, however, he contracted leprosy, so that he looked ill, wretched, and dreadful. The prince, nevertheless, received him in a friendly manner and cared for him like a brother.

               They finally reached home, where the queen had awaited her son with great anxiety, and now embraced him with perfect joy. The prince had a bed prepared at once for his sick friend and summoned all the physicians of the town and state, but no one could help him. When the poor youth grew no better the prince addressed himself to St. James of Galicia and said: "O St. James of Galicia! you raised my friend from the dead; help him now this time also, and let him recover from his leprosy." While he was praying, a servant entered and said: "A strange physician is without, who will make the poor youth well again." This physician was St. James of Galicia himself, who had heard the prayer of the prince and had come to help his friend. You must know now that the prince's wife had had a little girl who was a pretty, lovely child.

               When the saint approached the bed of the sick youth, he first examined him, and then said to the prince: "Do you really wish to see your friend well again at any price?" "At any price," answered the prince; "only tell me what can help him." "This evening, take your child," said the saint, "open all her veins, and anoint with her blood your friend's wounds, and he will be healed at once."

               The prince was horrified when he heard that he himself must kill his dear little daughter, but he answered: "I have promised my friend to treat him like my brother; and if there is no other remedy, I will sacrifice my child."

               At evening he took the child and opened her veins and anointed with the blood the sores of the sick youth, who was at once cleansed from his foul leprosy. The child became pale and weak, and looked as if it were dead. Then they laid it in its cradle and the poor parents were deeply grieved, for they believed they had lost their child.

               The next morning the physician came and asked after the patient. "He is well and sound," answered the prince. "And where have you put your child?" asked the saint. "There it lies dead in its cradle," said the poor father, sadly. "Just look at her once and see how she is," said the saint; and when they hastened to the cradle, they saw the child in it alive and well again. Then the saint said: "I am St. James of Galicia, and have come to help you, because I have seen what true friendship you have displayed. Continue to love one another, and when you are in trouble turn to me and I will come to your aid." With these words he blessed them and disappeared from their sight. They lived piously and did much good to the poor, and were happy and contented. [1]

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               There are several interesting legends found only in Gonzenbach's collection. They can be mentioned but briefly here. The first (No. 87) is entitled: "The Story of St. Onirià or Nerià." Two huntsmen lost their way in a wood and found at night a hut in which was a table set for supper, and a fire which emitted a heavenly odor. They examined it and found in the coals a heart, which they took with them when they departed, the next morning. After they had travelled a while, they stopped at an inn, and the pious and virtuous daughter of the innkeeper waited on them, and noticed the odor which came from the jacket that one of the huntsmen had laid aside on account of the heat. In the pocket she found the heart, which she kept for a time on a table in her room. One day she was seized with a great longing to eat it. She did so, and it soon was evident that she was about to become a mother. Her father treated her cruelly, for the shame she was going to bring on the family, but her godmother interfered, and one night had a strange dream. There appeared to her a saint, who said: "I am St. Onirià, and was consumed by fire. Only my heart was left, so that I might be born again. This heart the host's daughter has eaten, and she will, in due time, give birth to me." The child was born as predicted, and grew handsomer every day. The grandfather, however, could not endure him, and ill-treated him as well as his mother.

               One day, when the child was five years old, the grandfather took him to the city. On the way they passed a place where there was much filth, and the child said to his grandfather: "I wish you might wallow in it." Afterwards they saw a poor man being carried to the grave on a ladder, without any coffin. The child here wished that his grandfather, when he died, might be like this one. Next they met the long funeral procession of a rich man, and the child wished that his grandfather might not be like this rich man. The grandfather, of course, in each case was very angry, and was only restrained from beating the child by the mother's godfather, who had accompanied them.

               After they had finished their business in the city they set out for home; and when they came to the spot where they had met the rich man's funeral procession, the child made his grandfather put his ear to the ground, when he heard a great noise, as if of iron pestles and lamentations. The child explained that what he heard were the devils tormenting the rich man's soul. When they came where they had seen the poor man on the ladder, the grandfather listened again and heard the rejoicings of the angels on receiving the poor man's soul.

               When they came to the place where the filth was, the child made his grandfather dig and find a pot of money which he told him to use better than he had done his own. The child then said he was St. Onirià, exculpated his mother, and said his grandfather would see him again when the dead spoke with the living. Then he was taken up into heaven.

               Years after, two men spent the night in the inn, and one murdered the other and hid the body under the straw, where it was afterwards found by other travellers, and the innkeeper accused of the murder. He was condemned and was on the scaffold when a beautiful youth came riding in hot haste, crying: "Pardon!" The youth led the people into the church, before the coffin of the murdered man, and cried: "Rise, dead one, and speak with the living, and tell us who murdered you." The dead man replied: "The innkeeper is innocent; my treacherous companion killed me." Then the youth accompanied the innkeeper home, revealed himself as St. Onirià, blessed them, and disappeared. [2]

               Another legend (No. 92), "The Story of the Hermit," has as its subject the mystery of God's Providence, and is familiar to English readers in the form of Parnell's Hermit. The substance of the Sicilian version is as follows: A hermit sees a man wrongfully accused of theft and shockingly maltreated. He thereupon concludes that God is unjust to suffer such things, and determines to return to the world. On his way back a handsome youth meets him and they journey together. A muleteer allows them to ride his beasts, and in return the youth abstracts the muleteer's money from his wallet and drops it in the road. A woman who keeps an inn receives them hospitably, and on leaving the next morning, the youth strangles her child in the cradle. All at once the youth becomes a shining angel, and says to the hermit: "Listen to me, O man who has been bold enough to murmur against God's decrees;" and then explains that the person who had been wrongfully accused of theft had years before murdered his father on that very spot; the muleteer's money was stolen money, and the child of the hostess, had it lived, would have become a robber and murderer. Then the angel says: "Now you see that God's justice is more far-sighted than man's. Return, then, to your hermitage, and repent if so be that your murmuring be forgiven you." The angel disappears and the hermit returns to his mountain, does severer penance, and dies a saint. [3]

               The legend in Gonzenbach (No. 91) entitled "Joseph the Just" is nothing but the story of Joseph and his Brethren, taken from the Bible. In the Sicilian version Joseph has only three brothers; otherwise the story follows the account in Genesis very closely. Another legend in the same collection (No. 89), "The Story of Tobià and Tobiòla," is the story of Tobit and Tobias, taken from the apocryphal book of Tobit. The Sicilian story differs in the names only.

               There are several other Sicilian legends the heroes of which are pious, simple youths, the religious counterparts of Giufà. One (Pitrè, No. 112), called "The Poor Boy," tells the story of a simple youth who asked the priest the way to paradise, and was told he must follow the strait and narrow way. He took the first one he came to, and reached a convent church during a festival, and imagined he had reached paradise. He was found in the church when all had departed; but he persisted in remaining, and the superior sent him a bowl of soup, which he put on the altar; and when he was alone he began to converse confidentially with the Lord on the crucifix, and said: "Lord, who put you on the cross?" "Your sins!" and so the Lord responded to all his questions. The youth, in tears, promised he would sin no more, and invited the Lord to descend and partake of his repast with him. The Lord did so, and commanded him to tell the monks in the convent that they would be damned unless they sold all their property and bestowed it on the poor. If they would do so and come and confess to the Lord himself, he would hear their confession and give them the communion, and when it was finished they would all die, one after the other, and enter the glory of paradise. The poor youth went to the superior and gave him the Lord's message. The superior sold the property of the convent, and everything turned out as the Lord had said. The monks all confessed and died, and all who were present or heard of the event were converted and died in the grace of God. [4]


[1] See Köhler's notes to Gonz., No. 90, and Sacre Rappresentazioni dei Secoli XIV.-XVI. raccolte e illustrate di A. D'Ancona, Florence, 1872, III. p. 435. There is another legend of St. James of Galicia in Busk, p. 208, entitled "The Pilgrims." A husband and wife make the usual vow to St. James that if he will give them children they will make the pilgrimage to Santiago. When the children are fifteen and sixteen the parents start on the pilgrimage, taking with them the son, and leaving the daughter in charge of a priest, who wrote slanderous letters about her, whereupon the son returned suddenly, slew his sister, and threw her body in a ditch. A king's son happened to pass by, found the body, and discovered that it still contained life. He had her cured, and married her, and they afterwards became king and queen. While the king was once at war, the viceroy tempted the queen, and when she would not listen to him, killed her two children and slandered her to the king. The queen took the bodies of the children and wandered about until she met the Madonna, who took the children, and the queen went to Galicia. The king and viceroy also made a pilgrimage to the same place where the queen's parents had dwelt since the supposed death of their daughter. All met at the saint's shrine and forgave each other, and the Madonna restored the children alive and well.

               There are two or three other stories in Pitrè and Gonz. in which saints appear in the rôle of good fairies, aiding the hero when in trouble. One of these stories, "The Thankful Dead" (Gonz., No. 74), has already been mentioned in Chapter II. p. 131; two others may be briefly mentioned here. The first is Gonz., No. 74, "Of one who by the help of St. Joseph won the king's daughter." A king proclaims that he will give his daughter to any one who builds a ship that will go by land and water. The youngest of three brothers constructs such a vessel by the help of St. Joseph, after his two brothers have failed. The saint, who is not known to the youth, accompanies him on the voyage on the condition that he shall receive the half of everything that the youth receives. During the voyage they take on board a man who can fill a sack with mist, one who can tear up half a forest and carry the trees on his back, a man who can drink up half a river, one who can always hit what he shoots at, and one who walks with such long steps that when one foot is in Catania the other is in Messina. The king refuses to give his daughter to the youth in spite of the ship that goes by land and water. The youth, however, by the help of his wonderful servants and St. Joseph, fulfils all the king's requirements, and carries away the princess. When the youth returned home with his bride and treasures, St. Joseph called on him to fulfil his promise to him. The youth gives him half of his treasures, and even half of the crown he had won. The saint reminds him that the best of his possessions yet remains undivided,--his bride. The youth determines to keep his promise, draws his sword, and is about to cut his bride in two, when St. Joseph reveals himself, blesses the pair, and disappears.

               This story is sometimes found as a version of the "Thankful Dead," see Chapter II. note 12. The second story is Pitrè, No. 116, "St. Michael the Archangel and one of his devotees," of which there is a version in Gonz., No. 76, called, "The Story of Giuseppino." In the first version a child, Pippino, is sold by his parents to the king in order to obtain the means to duly celebrate the feast of St. Michael, to whom they were devoted. The child is brought up in the palace as the princess's playmate; but when he grows up the king is anxious to get rid of him, and so sends him on a voyage in an unseaworthy vessel. St. Michael appears to the lad, and tells him to load the ship with salt. They set sail, and the rotten ship is about to go to pieces, when the saint appears and changes the ship into a vessel all of gold. They sell the cargo to a king who has never tasted salt before, and return to their own country wealthy. The next voyage Pippino, by the saint's advice, takes a cargo of cats, which they sell to the king of a country overrun by mice. Pippino returns and marries the king's daughter. In the version in Gonz., Giuseppino is a king's son, who leaves his home to see the world, and becomes the stable-boy of the king whose daughter he marries. The three cargoes are: salt, cats, and uniforms. On the last voyage, Giuseppino captures a hostile fleet, and makes his prisoners put on the uniforms he has in his ship. With this army he returns, and compels the king to give him his daughter. St. Joseph acts the same part in this version as St. Michael in Pitrè's.

               The story of "Whittington and his Cat" will at once occur to the reader. See Pitrè's notes to No. 116, and vol. IV. p. 395, and Köhler to Gonz., No. 76.

[2] Köhler has no note on this legend, and I have been unable to find in the list of saints any name of which Onirià or Nerià may be a corruption.

[3] The references to this story will best be found in Pauli's Schimpf und Ernst, ed. Oesterley, No. 682, and in the same editor's notes to the Gesta Romanorum, cap. 80. To these may be added a story by De Trueba in his Narraciones populares, p. 65, entitled, "Las Dudas de San Pedro;" Luzel, Légendes Chrétiennes, I. 282, II. 4; Fiore di Virtù, Naples, 1870, p. 68; Etienne de Bourbon, No. 396 (Anecdotes historiques, légendes et apologues tirés du Receuil inédit d'Etienne de Bourbon), pub. pour la Société de l'Hist. de France par A. Lecoy de la Marche, Paris, 1877.

               Since the above was written, several important contributions to the literature of this story have been made. The first in point of time and importance is a paper by Gaston Paris in the Comptes Rendus of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, vol. VIII. pp. 427-449 (reprinted in La Poésie du Moyen Age, Leçons et Lectures par Gaston Paris, Paris, 1885). Next may be mentioned "The Literary History of Parnell's Hermit," by W. E. A. Axon, London, 1881 (reprinted from the Seventh Volume of the Third Series of Memoirs of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, Session 1879-80). An Icelandic version is in Islendzk Aeventyri, Isländische Legenden, Novellen und Märchen, herausgegeben von Hugo Gering, Halle, 1884, vol. II. p. 247. The legend is clearly shown by Gaston Paris to be of Jewish origin.

[4] There is another version of this story in Gonz., No. 86, "Von dem frommen Kinde" ("The Pious Child"), Köhler in his notes cites Grimm's Children's Legends, No. 9, and Schneller, No. 1. In this last story a pious child is cruelly treated by his step-mother, and leaves his home to live in a convent. One day he notices in a corner a neglected crucifix covered with dust and cobwebs. He sees how thin the figure is, and at meal-time brings his food where the crucifix is and begins to feed the image, which opens its mouth and eats with appetite. As the image grows stouter the pious child grows thinner. The Superior learns one day the fact, and tells the child to ask the Lord to invite him and the Superior to his table. The next day both die suddenly after mass.

               In a story in Gonz., No. 47, "Of the pious youth who went to Rome," the youth talks to the image on the crucifix in a familiar way, and receives information about questions put to him by various persons. The youth also dies suddenly at the end of the story.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of St. James of Galicia, The
Tale Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas
Book Title: Italian Popular Tales
Book Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas Frederick
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin and Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1885
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 516C: Amicus and Amelius

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