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teodemir-21At some time in the first half of the ninth century an ancient mausoleum was discovered in a field in the isolated northern Spanish Christian kingdom of Asturias. A large number of stone tombs were found aligned in an east west position. The mausoleum was divided in two and the western end appeared to be designed as an atrium or entrance hall to the more substantial eastern half. This latter was decorated with mosaic tiles and marble and contained an impressive sarcophagus. Here was the burial place and shrine of a Christian holy man whose disciples were also buried alongside.

afonso-rex-1Theodemir, the local bishop was called to investigate the new discovery and very quickly pronounced it to be the tomb and the relics of the Apostle Saint James. The king of Asturias, Alfonso II, had a small church built over the site and on his death in 842, Theodemir was buried there.

The site was called Compostela, meaning little burial and very quickly a cult of veneration was established there which was soon known beyond the Pyrenees. In 865 when the monk Usuard of Saint-Germain-des-Près composed his Martyrology, listing the lives of the martyrs he was already aware of the cult at Compostela. Of Saint James he wrote: “his most holy remains were translated from Jerusalem to Spain and deposited in its uttermost region, they are revered with the most devout veneration by the people of those parts”.

One Comment

  1. The etymology of Compostela remains a matter of uncertainty. Many follow the idea that it is derived from Campus Stellae or the Field of Stars. With its reference to the legend of the Milky Way and the story of the shepherd who discovered the tomb when a falling meteor led him to the spot, this is an attractive idea. Compostela, derived from Componere, to bury, seems to reflect the word more accurately and suggests a name which preexisted the invention of the relics of Saint James.


16 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] the time of the discovery of the mausoleum at Compostela, the burial places of all the major Apostles were known with the exception of Saint James. Peter […]

  2. […] legend of the shrine of Saint James at Compostela familiar to medieval pilgrims is most likely the one described in the History of Charlemagne and […]

  3. […] legend of the shrine of Saint James at Compostela familiar to medieval pilgrims is most likely the one described in the History of Charlemagne and […]

  4. […] legend of the shrine of Saint James at Compostela familiar to medieval pilgrims is most likely the one described in the History of Charlemagne and […]

  5. […] legend of the shrine of Saint James at Compostela familiar to medieval pilgrims is most likely the one described in the History of Charlemagne and […]

  6. […] discovery of the tomb of the Apostle at Compostela a generation after Beatus  seemed an […]

  7. […] same plan which included Saint Martin of Tours, Sainte Foy of Conques, Saint Sernin of Toulouse and Santiago de Compostela itself. All these buildings were constructed to manage a very large flow of pilgrims and all […]

  8. […] along the pilgrimage roads, most notably at; Aulnay de Saintonge, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Saintes, Compostela itself  and most striking of all at […]

  9. […] According to one of the principle legends of Saint James, after his martyrdom in Palestine, his body was transported on a stone raft to its destination at Padron in Galicia. From there his disciples buried the Apostle’s body at Compostela. […]

  10. […] The Alyscans is the Provencal name for the Elysean Fields. This was the name given to the ancient burial ground on the edge of the city of Arles, which became the starting point of the Toulouse Road to Santiago de Compostela. […]

  11. […] to Compostela travelling along the Toulouse Road were admonished to venerate the relics of Saint Caesarius of […]

  12. […] Tours Road to Compostela was especially redolent of the legend of Charlemagne and his Paladins. Book Four of the Liber […]

  13. […] Lyons was a great hub of the vast Roman road system of Gaul, built during the first century BC. One of the roads led southwest towards Rodez where it separated, branching south towards Toulouse and west towards Cahors. It was this latter which was used by medieval pilgrims travelling the Puy Road to Santiago de Compostela. […]

  14. […] The same hand has been attributed to several capitals in the eastern end of the cathedral at Compostela and subsequently, to the celebrated Last Judgment tympanum at Conques […]

  15. […] of Saint Isidore. From there the road rises to cross the mountains of Galicia before reaching Compostela, a short distance from Finistera on the Atlantic […]

  16. […] the exception of the Santiago de Compostela. It reflects on the pilgrimage to the shrine of the Apostle James since this Biblical episode wherein Jesus assumed His divine form in the presence of His three […]

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