Many years ago, when I was living and working in Spain, I was in Santiago on the feast of St James. My abiding memory is of hundreds of Gallegan bagpipes being played, if that is the right word, in front of the cathedral. At the time, the Spanish economy was in the doldrums, the restoration of democracy after the Franco era was still fragile and no one seemed to be quite sure in which direction the Spanish Church was headed. To be young, British and female was to be an object of wonder to the locals, and one quickly learned that using castellano was not likely to endear one! Since then the economy has boomed and busted, there has been an extraordinary amount of immigration, a socialist government has crossed swords with the Church on several important issues, and the Church itself no longer wields the influence it once did. Demonstrations again fill Puerta del Sol, Madrid, and Spain has become, in name at least, a European country whose economy causes heads to shake in Paris and Bonn.
I am naturally sceptical about the legends surrounding St James and Spain, but they are an enduring element in the make-up of Spain’s self-understanding which I find fascinating. Henri Pirenne was only half-right when he said that Africa begins at the Pyrenees, but few would question the truth of the old Spanish tourist office poster slogan, ‘Spain is different’ . A nation with five languages, seventeen local governments, and more unemployed young people than any other country in Europe faces challenges most of us would baulk at. St James the Apostle was not an easy man but he seems to me an excellent patron for Spain. Today my prayers are for the peoples of Spain and their well-being.