The Spanish legend tells us that on January 2, 40 AD, Saint James was near the newly-built Roman town of Caesaraugusta in the Roman province of Hispania. James was disheartened by the apparent failure of his evangelizing mission, so he stopped to pray on the bank of the Ebro River. While James and his few disciples were deep in prayer, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to them.
In the apparition, Mary stood on top of a marble pillar and she was accompanied by several angels. Mary assured James that he would soon have many converts to Christianity and that their faith would be as strong as the pillar upon which She was standing.
Further, Mary gave both the pillar and a small wooden statue of herself to James. Then, she instructed James to build a church on the spot where she appeared. Mary’s words were “This place is to be my house and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build.”
Local tradition tells us that it took James and his disciples about one year to build the first simple chapel over the pillar and the wooden statue. James happened upon a “planned community” that was established for retired Roman Army soldiers and their dependents. Soon, the chapel was filled to overflowing at every Holy Mass.
James the Greater left for Jerusalem at some time during the year 41 AD and he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 AD. His body was returned to the area of what would one day be known as Santiago de Compostela in North-Central Spain.