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St. James Appears to Charlemagne

Hugh O’Reilly
This legend comes from the Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi (History of Charlemagne and Roland), which tells the story of Charlemagne's quest to liberate Spain and the tomb of St. James from the Saracens. The translation was made by Denis Murphy, Dublin.

The Apostle St. James is said to have been the first to preach in Galicia. After his martyrdom his followers recovered his body from King Herod and brought it from Jerusalem to Galicia.

charlemagne st Jasmes milky way

Charlemagne contemplating the Milky Way;
below, St. James appears to explain its meaning

charlemagne st Jasmes milky way
But afterwards the Galicians lapsed into their former evil ways, until the time of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Romans, French, Germans and other nations.

Charlemagne himself fought the Saracens in Saxony, France, Germany, Lorraine, Burgundy, Italy, Brittany and other countries, taking cities with great effort. After many years he was ready to retire from making war and to allow himself to live in peace.

Every night, however, he would look at the stars of the Milky Way, which begin at the Friezeland Sea, and pass over Germany and Italy, between Gaul and Aquitaine, in a straight line over Gascony, Bearne and Navarre, and through Spain to Galicia, where laid still undiscovered the body of St. James.

As he meditated on what it might all mean, a beautiful vision appeared to him, and asked what he was trying to discover.

"Who are you?" asked Charles.

"I am James the Apostle," was the reply. "Christ’s disciple, the son of Zebedee, and brother of John the Evangelist, whom the Lord, in His goodness, chose on the Sea of Galilee to preach the Gospel to His people and whom King Herod killed with a sword and whose body until now rests unknown in Galicia, which has been disgracefully oppressed by the Saracens.

"I marvel that you, who has conquered so many lands, have not liberated my land from the Saracens.

"Therefore I make it known to you that, since God has made you more powerful than all the Kings on earth, you must prepare my way, and rescue my country from the Moabites, so that you may receive an eternal crown for your reward."

The great St. James continued:

"The road of stars which you have seen in the sky signifies that you, with a great army, will journey to Galicia to conquer the pagan people and liberate my land, and visit my basilica and my tomb. And after you all the people of the world will travel there, asking forgiveness for their sins, praising God and His miracles performed in your time and in all times.

"Go then, as quickly as you can. I am your friend and helper. Your name shall become famous to all eternity, and a crown of glory shall be your reward in Heaven.”

Thus did the blessed Apostle appear thrice to the Emperor, who, confiding in his word, assembled a great army, and entered Spain to fight the infidels.

Milky Way

The Milky Way leading to Santiago


Blason de Charlemagne
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Adapted from Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi,
trans. by Denis Murphy, Dublin.
Posted February 26, 2022

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