The discovery of the tomb of the Apostle, which took place around the second or third decade in the 9th century, was the logical end of an oral and written tradition that, after Jesus’ death, placed St. James the Greater as an evangeliser in the land of ancient Hispania, as suggested by the Breviarum Apostolorum in the 6th-7th century and texts signed by the Anglo-Saxon Beda Venerabilis and the Asturian Beato de Liébana in the 8th century. The historical fact of the beheading of the Apostle by Herod Agrippa in the year 44 AD is followed by explanations provided by the Codex Calixtinus or the Legenda Aurea regarding his transfer to this corner of Europe, where he had preached the teachings of Christ. St. James’ lifeless body was brought by two young disciples in a boat led by angels, which crossed the Mediterranean and sailed up the Portuguese coast as far as the Roman port of Iria, located in the province of Gallaecia. There, after a series of miraculous events, St. James was finally buried on Monte Liberum Donum, in a place vaguely designated as Arcis Marmoricis.
Almost eight hundred years later, continuing with the tradition, a hermit saw heavenly lights that led him to a sacred place, whose history was shrouded in mystery during the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the creation of the Swabian kingdom and the Visigoth domination. The hermit notified Teodomiro, the bishop of Iria, about the discovery and, later on, King Alfonso II had a small church built, which he left in the care of Benedictine monks. Before the end of the 9th century, Alfonso III commissioned the construction of a larger basilica, worthy of the phenomenon that was beginning to move the European faithful.
The news coincided with an important political moment for the consolidation of the kingdom of Asturias-Galicia, where the discovery had taken place. Once the Moor troops had been expelled from the north of Spain, it was essential to repopulate the territory and set up a solid network linking with the rest of Europe for the movement of people, goods and ideologies. A decisive factor regarding this huge task was having a religious centre on a par with Rome or Jerusalem, which, to a certain extent, made the emergent kingdom “independent” from Charlemagne’s extensive empire.