Archive Nota Bene Steven Wedgeworth

St. James the Killer

Ballandalus is a site dedicated to Iberian Islamic studies. The author, though still concluding his studies, already seems to be something of a Muslim counter-part to Remi Brague, and the whole site is full of fascinating historical material. This article on how Santiago Matamoros became Santiago Mataindios is especially interesting. Matamoros, as some readers will know, means “Moor Slayer” or perhaps even more generally, “Muslim Killer.” Santiago, of course, means Saint James.

Santiago Matamoros became a sacral-political icon during the Reconquista, and he embodies the larger Spanish sense of a holy empire defending both faith and country at once. But what we see is that this was not really limited to some sort of “local” or “defensive” mindset at all, but was readily translatable to other struggles. Ballandalus explains:

[T]his icon of the “Reconquista” was appropriated by the Spanish empire as it expanded into the New World and renamed Santiago Mataindios (“St. James the Indian/Native Slayer”). As an obvious evolution of the Santiago Matamoros, which dominates medieval Iberian Christian art, this figure became prominent in Spanish imperial art in the seventeenth century.

…Detailed description of altarpiece:

It shows Aztec Eagle and Jaguar Warriors. It is located in the Church of Santiago Tlatelolco (Mexico). The brutal scene that substitutes Muslims by indigenous tribes tries to be a didactic instruction for the Indian audience about the victory of Christianity against the native religion. The militant Santiago wears a plumed helmet and mounts his white warhorse, brandishing a sword above a scene of fearful butchery. On the left, Spanish troops dressed as Roman soldiers are attacking indigenous warriors, many wounded and bloody, with their severed limbs around them. Even Santiago’s horse bites the vanquished natives and tramples them beneath his iron hooves. A very interesting detail is that next to the head of the horse are the images of Aztec eagle and jaguar warriors that are being crushed by the hurricane-like image of Santiago.

This ought to be a sobering lesson in the darker points of Christianity. We are just as capable of terrible deeds in the name of sacred empire as any other world religion. Protestants have their own sins in this regard, of course, but it is important to point out that, theologically at least, they are forbidden from ever declaring a holy war.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.