12 September 2007


One of the interesting things about the Spanish language is that it is interwoven with the history of the Catholic Church so it is sometimes handy to know a little bit about Catholicism and especially the Catholic Saints. One interesting thing that I learned is that Santiago and San Diego are one and the same saint. Saint James the Greater, one of the original apostles of Jesus, is the patron saint of Spain and is called Santiago Matamoros, or in other words “Saint James the Moor killer”. As a matter of fact the church of Santiago in Queretaro here in Mexico has a large image carved into the front of the building of Saint James chopping off the head of a Muslim invader. Legend has it that the body of Saint James is buried in Compostela, Spain which is considered to be a very holy city in the realm of Spanish Catholicism. In Hebrew the name James sounds like Jacob or Yacob but in some places it was pronounced more like Iacob, pronounced with a long “o” (in Greek it is “Iakobos”) which later became corrupted to Iago (ee-YAH-goh). Santo Iago then became San Tiago and later Santiago. It became further corrupted by some to Sandiago and then San Diego.

In Mexico, as well as other Spanish speaking countries the saints have a significant place in peoples’ daily lives. Many people celebrate their saint’s day as much or more than they celebrate their birthday. Churches celebrate saints’ days too. On the feast day of a church that is dedicated to a particular saint they will start early in the morning before sunrise and shoot off rockets to announce to the parishioners that the feast day has begun. There are special masses and usually a procession where they carry a statue of the saint through the neighborhood preceded by young men setting off rockets that make a big BOOM when they reach an altitude of a hundred feet or so and they tend to shoot off a lot of them.. Rockets are a big thing in Mexico. They accompany just about every kind of religious celebration. The biggest expenditure of rockets is on October 4th which is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. There are over 200 parishes dedicated to St. Francis scattered throughout Mexico so he is one saint who requires a lot of gunpowder. Some saints even lend themselves to nicknames. For example, the Spanish nickname for José is Pepe. Supposedly, the name Pepe comes from the practice of labeling San José, the father of Jesús Cristo, as "San José P.P." to differentiate him from other saints named José. The letters "P.P." stand for "Padre Putativo" or in other words "regarded as the stand-in father figure for Jesus". The letter “P” is pronounced like “Peh” in Spanish and hence the nickname “Peh-Peh” or Pepe.

If you really want to be appreciated find out the saints' days of your Spanish speaking friends and acknowledge it with a phone call or a card or a little gift. You will be amazed at how much they will appreciate this gesture. You can find out all about the saints’ days in your handy “Calendario Del Más Antiguo Galván” which is an almanac that has been published in Mexico continuously without interruption since 1826. I buy a new one every year. After all, you can’t know the players without a program. According to my Galvan, the Saints for today are:

Saint Stephen V. (Pope)

Saint Silvino (Bishop)

Saints Guido & Macedonio (Martyrs)

Patriarchs Tobias (Padre) & Tobias the younger

Saint Sara, wife of Saint Tobias the younger

Blessed Maria Victoria Formari

Feast of the Holy Name of Mary

It also mentions that there is a new moon. How about that!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.