July 25 is the feast of St. James, of St. James the Great, of the Apostle James. What does this mean? In the case of the pilgrimage to Compostela it means a lot, because at a certain point the church created the possibility of a general pardon for all pilgrims during the year in which the feast of the Saint fell on the Sabbath day, or Sunday as it now called. Thus, the Holy Years were created based on that coincidence. But this was not always the case, so that for centuries the pilgrimage to Santiago did not benefit from these special years, which were probably3 created only in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, following in the tradition of the Roman Jubilee or “grande perdono”.
Before the Holy Years, during the Middle Ages, the feast of Santiago meant a special day on which St. James was worshiped in all churches of Christendom and certain privileges or "indulgences" could be obtained from attending the Mass in Santiago or churches dedicated to the Saint.
The feast of 25 July doesn’t celebrate the birth of St. James but commemorates his death, his death by martyrdom, an end that together with its proximity to Christ’s passion bestowed on him the character of saint and holy apostle. There are numerous data and traces which point to the year 44 as the date of the martyrdom of Santiago, but the choice of July 25 could have been more or less arbitrary. Although, according to some experts, it would have been due to the coincidence of this date with the Feast of San Cristobal, a highly revered saint in the Middle Ages with which church would have wanted to link the Apostle.
Today, the feast of Santiago is much more. It has political, religious and festive aspects that unite Galicians and pilgrims from all over the world. But fireworks and concerts should not make us to forget that we are repeating an ancient rite, because this feast was established in Rome perhaps as early as the tenth century and certainly in the eleventh, when we know from liturgical texts of its celebration at the Roman basilica of St. Peter.