None of this means that the great treks of the Middle Ages are being repeated. Tens of thousands of tourists do come to Santiago de Compostela every year. Spain, after all, brimming with magnificent art, often basking in sun, charging little for sumptuous hotels and long meals, is one of the great tourist attractions of Europe. But, according to Jose Maria Ballesteros Rua, the director of tourism in Santiago, only 200 to 400 visitors a year can be described as pilgrims.
The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela came out of legend. According to Spanish tradition, James, a disciple described in the New Testament as the son of Zebedee, came to Spain for seven years and converted many to Christianity before returning to Judea. (St. James is known in Spanish as Santo Iago or Santiago, from "Iakovos," the Greek New Testament rendering of the Jewish name "Jacob.") There, he was beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa I, according to the brief account in the Book of Acts. Legend then says his followers carried off the body, its head miraculously intact, and fled to Spain, burying him in a village now known as Santiago de Compostela.
In the 8th Century, the legend goes on, St. James reappeared in a battle during the Spanish Christian struggle to drive the Moors out of Spain. Wearing the armor of a knight and carrying a white standard with a red cross that is now known as the Cross of Santiago, he stormed into the battle upon his horse, killing thousands of Moors. After that battle, the Apostle became the patron saint of Spain in the centuries-long Christian reconquest of Spain from the Arabs. His tomb was discovered in the 9th Century and soon became the center of a cult and then of the pilgrimages.