Saint James the Greater, painting by Guido Reni (created 1636-1638).Public Domain

Today, July 25, is the feast day of St. James the Apostle, the patron of pilgrims, laborers and haymakers. In medieval times, Dubliners would hold an annual drinking festival on this day in honor of the saint.  This is perhaps fitting as it is now difficult to think of St James without thinking of Guinness, but how did the saint get associated with the Irish stout?

St James the Greater was one of the first disciples of Jesus and is believed to be the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. He was the son of Zebedee and Salome and the brother of John the disciple.

James was fishing with his father and his brother John when Jesus came to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and called for the fisherman, who hadn’t caught any fish that day, to cast their nets once again in the water. When they did, the fisherman found their nets full. John and James followed Jesus to become fishers of men.

After Jesus’s crucifixion and Ascension, James spread the gospel of Jesus across Israel and the Roman kingdom. He made a pilgrimage to Spain, where he spread the Word for nearly forty years. He later returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD. He was not allowed to be buried following his martyrdom, so his remains were taken to Compostela, Spain, by some of his followers, who buried him there.

Guinness's St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin

Guinness's St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin

His remains, or relics, were discovered in the ninth century and moved to a tomb in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain). Santiago de Compostela is the most frequently visited pilgrimage site following Rome and Jerusalem. This may explain why Saint James the Greater is the patron saint of Spain. His remains can still be found in the Cathedral of Santiago.

So how did St James get associated with Guinness?

During the Middle Ages, St James’s Gate, on James’s Street in Dublin, was the western entrance to the city and was the main starting point for Irish pilgrims to begin their journey on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James). 

The same area has also been associated with the brewing trade since the 17th century. Arthur Guinness founded St James’s Gate Brewery in 1759 and St. James’s Gate has been the home of Guinness ever since.

Pilgrims can still get their passports stamped both at Guinness Storehouse and St James’ Church while on their way to Santiago de Compostela.