IN OLD Testament times the year after seven periods of seven years was a Sabbatical Year of forgiveness, restitution and atonement.
It was on this basis that the interval between Jubilee and Holy Years, particularly in Rome, was later computed. Subsequently many variations were introduced and local Holy Years became subject to their own special rules.
One of the most unusual ways of spacing out a Holy Year is that which was adopted no less than eight centuries ago for the shrine of Santiago at ( ompostela. It is still in operation.
There is a Holy Year there only when the feast of St James's Martyrdom (July 25) happens to fall on a Sunday. This last occurred in 1976 but is happening again this year. In a sense the point is academic since ( ompostela attracts so many pilgrims every year that the average attendance figures vary little.
There will not, however, be another Holy ear until 1993. The idea of Pope Alexander III, who contrived this system of recurring incidence in 1179, was said to have been that rich Christians went on pilgrimage too often. sometimes to the detriment of their other duties, while poor ones could not go enough. So he hoped for something like a communal effort at certain set intervals.
Post, if not propter, this Papal decision, Compostela became, in the early middle ages, one of the greatest of all Christian shrines.
St James, from the little we know of him, was a man of particularly attractive character. He eschewed the strident and heated attack and thus worked wonders. ( Would that some of today's ecclesiastical controversialists would take him as their model!) Perhaps the most endearing story about him is that which originated with Clement of Alexandria and was passed on by Eusebius.
For although St James was the first apostle (as opposed to close follower) to suffer martyrdom, he did not meet his death alone.
Such had been his courtesy and courage in defending his beliefs against his accuser (according to Clement of Alexandria ) that the latter was instantly convinced and became a Christian himself.
Both men then met their execution together. Before dying St James embraced his former prosecutor and they exchanged the greeting of "Peace be with you" before being beheaded.