St. James Matamoros (detail), circa 1221–1567. Burgos Cathedral, Spain.
This detail from the altarpiece of St. James in the Burgos Cathedral depicts St. James Matamoros, or James the Moor-slayer. St. James Matamoros is a mythological figure based on the biblical James, apostle of Jesus. According to legend, St. James Matamoros appeared in a battle at Clavijo in 844 C.E. when Christians defeated the Muslims (or “Moors”). Historians do not believe the battle ever occurred; the legend was circulated many centuries after the supposed event. The myth suggests that during battle St. James the apostle came charging onto the battlefield, slashing at Muslims and destroying the Moors, resulting in victory for the Christian forces despite their being vastly outnumbered. The altarpiece shows St. James Matamoros charging on his white horse with raised sword as three fallen men helplessly raise their arms in defense.