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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Parthenay-GV-1-WPThe town of Parthenay lies approximately thirty miles west of Poitiers and the great shrine of Saint-Hilaire on the Road of Tours, the pilgrimage way to Santiago de Compostela. It is just to the south of the abbeys of Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes and Airvault.

Treasurers to the abbey of Saint-Hilaire who counted archbishops of Bordeaux among their number,  the lords of Parthenay were prominent figures in medieval Aquitaine.

 At the crossing of the river Thouet a fortified bridge was built and was named the Pont Saint-Jacques after the Apostle of Compostela. The main town is perched on heights above.

 Parthenay-Fac-3-WPSaint James was also the designation given to one of the suburbs of the town. These toponyms suggest that the authorities were keen to identify Parthenay with the passage of an important artery on the pilgrimage to Spain from an early date.

The town benefitted from two churches. Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre was in the elevated quarter.

In the late eleventh century a new quarter was established known as Parthenay-le-Vieux around the priory of Saint-Pierre which was a dependency of the Benedictine abbey of La Chaise-Dieu.

Both churches, Notre-Dame and Saint-Pierre, feature the same iconographic programme. A relief of an equestrian figure to the left and on the right a man wrestling a lion.

Parthenay-64The latter figure has most often been identified as a representation of Samson in a story from the Book of Judges.  This image was intended to evoke Christ triumphing over Death and His representative on earth, the Church.

Similar riders to those featured at the Parthenay churches are a recurrent motif on twelfth century Poitevin facades such can be found at Airvault and elsewhere. Many have been lost, disfigured and dismantled as at Aulnay or replaced as at Melle. The rider at Parthenay-le-Vieux is the most complete that remains.

The continuing association of the Parthenay family with high ecclesiastical office led to them adopting the name Parthenay-l’Archevêque. The secular function of local lord was passed onto the brother or son of the cleric, who assumed the title of Vidame. The church of Saint-Pierre was possibly founded by either by Joscelin Archbishop of Bordeaux or by his brother Ebbo, Vidame of Parthenay.

Having originally shared and then contested the role of Vidame with another brother Gelduin, Ebbo Parthenay-45committed fratricide to take over as sole ruler of Parthenay. It was in this capacity that he travelled to Jerusalem and fought with the First Crusade.

The sculpture on the facade of Parthenay-le-Vieux may be a way of rendering the dual role of the local lords. The one representing the Archbishopric and the Church, the other the Vidame of Parthenay, secular Defender of the Faith.

Biblio Y. Labande-Mailfert, Poitou Roman

Caesarius-of-ArlesPilgrims to Compostela travelling along the Toulouse Road were admonished to venerate the relics of Saint Caesarius of Arles.

Despite of the extreme brevity of his entry in the Pilgrim’s Guide, through his many writings and celebrated life, Saint Caesarius was remembered as the leading man of the church during one of its most defining periods in the first half of the sixth century.

He was archbishop of Arles for forty years during a particularly tumultuous time in its history. During his tenure which began in 503, four separate Germanic peoples vied for control of the region. First the Burgundians and the Visigoths and then Ostrogoths controlled the city which was finally ruled by the  Merovingian Franks from 536. In particular, a war of 507 was particularly harsh on the inhabitants.

In this difficult environment, Caesarius managed to combine strong qualities of statesmanship with a common touch which endeared him to the people. He was known to free captives by selling church ornaments to pay ransoms. Even during his lifetime he had a considerable reputation as a miracle worker.

On one occasion, in order to relieve a period of drought, he was said to have trapped the wind from the sea in his hand glove and released it over a dry valley which then became fertile.

Caesarius’ life is well documented because of his own prolific writing and the hagiography written by his disciple Saint Cyprien.

Lerins ChapelBorn  into the fifth century Gallo-Roman landed gentry, Caesarius left his family home in Burgundy to enter the monastic life on the island of Lerins off the coast of Provence. Saint Honoratus had founded the first community of monks there in 410 and the monastery was soon established as an important academy for illustrious men of the church.

The fervour with which he applied himself to his devotions caused the young Caesarius to fall foul of his fellow monks. When acting as the monastery’s cellarer he decided that the meals offered to the monks were not sufficiently frugal and Caesarius withheld rations accordingly.

He was sent to Arles where he was taken under the wing of bishop Aeonius and made prior of a monastery on an island in the Rhône.

After Aeonius’s death, Caesarius was elected archbishop. He soon found himself in conflict politically and theologically. On the political front  he was exiled by the Visigothic ruler Alaric II, after being accused of siding with the Burgundians. _Arles-Cl-TS-3After a year Caesarius managed to clear his name and was reinstated. It was not long before he ran into trouble with the new Ostrogothic ruler Theoderic, who had him imprisoned in 512. Again, he was released after he had pleaded his cause.

Caesarius was very active in the debate over the heresy of semi-Pelagianism, arguing at the Council of Orange in 529, that man could not be predestined to evil.

Generally considered to be the first western cleric to receive the Papal pallium, this was a mark of the exceptional esteem Caesarius enjoyed at Rome.  This attribute, a woollen band worn over the head and draping down in the form of a Y, was originally reserved for the Papacy only.

During his long term in office, Caesarius was very active in defining the nature and role of the Church in society at a time when Western civilisation was at a crossroads.

Among his numerous works, he established a monastic rule for convents which was the most widely used until it was superceded by the Benedictine Rule.

The Guide erroneously tells us that Caesarius was a martyr, however this is not the case. After the Franks had succeeded in taking over Arles, he retired from public life. His relics were kept at the cathedral of Saint Trophime at Arles.

Biblio. W Melczer, The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela

Lyon 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.

After passing through Le Puy-en-Velay, the way traversed the high volcanic plateaux of the southern Massif Central.

The old road made its way through dense forest which was home to wolves and boar. The way was often obscured by dense fogs and in winter, sudden snowstorms. Harsh winds blew regularly through this desolate region. Bands of thieves were known to lay in wait, pilgrims were easy pickings.

Aubrac-Dômerie-1At the highest point on the desolate plateau of the Aubrac stood the celebrated hospital of Notre-Dame-des-Pauvres which was dedicated to the care and protection of pilgrims. Above the western door of its church were engraved the words: “This place of horror and immense solitude”

Travellers on the road could hear the five bells of the hospital church tolling from several miles distant.

One bell was engraved with the Latin inscription: “Deo giubila, clero canta, doemones fuga, errantes revoco”. She praises God, sings for the priest, chases away the demons, recalls the lost ones.

The prior of the hospital was known as the Domus or lord and the site came to be referred to as the Dômerie. The first Domus was named Adalard in 1120. Legends of later centuries told that he was a nobleman of Flanders. Versions of the story vary in whether he was travelling to Compostela or returning home. After he became lost on the Aubrac plateau and narrowly escaped a fatal end at the hands of brigands, Adalard made a vow to return and found an establishment to protect pilgrims.

Aubrac-Dômerie-2Another story tells that Adalard, with his retinue of 30 knights were travelling back from Compostela as night began to fall. Searching for a suitable shelter, they came across a cavern. Inside they were horrified to find the decapitated heads of twenty to thirty men. These they recognised to be pilgrims who had been waylaid. A vision of Christ appeared and ordered Adalard to found a refuge for pilgrims in this dangerous place. Adalard  returned later to fulfill the command and established Notre-Dame-des-Pauvres  on the site.

It was a substantial monastic establishment surrounded by protective walls. The monks followed the Augustinian Rule and there was a garrison of Knights Hospitaller to guard the road. The facilities comprised a wash house, a kitchen and a dormitory of fourteen beds for pilgrims. On the first floor was a hospice of eight cells for the care of the sick. This level also housed a contingent of noble ladies who washed the pilgrims and attended to their wellbeing. Outside was a pilgrim cemetery.

After Aubrac, the road descended gradually towards the more hospitable climes of the Lot Valley where Espalion beckoned.

Biblio: J.C. Fau, Rouergue Roman. A. Shaver-Crandell, P. Gerson: The Pilgrims Guide to Santiago de Compostela. Denise Péricard-Méa, Compostelle et Cultes de Saint Jacques au Moyen Âge.

Pilgrims journeying to Compostela on the Toulouse Road were able to venerate the mortal remains of a major saint who had been, according to tradition, a disciple and  travelling companion of Saint Paul.Arles-Fac-Apostles-L It was written that Trophimus had been directed by the Apostle Peter to evangelise Gaul. He was the first bishop of Arles and his relics were held in the cathedral.

As a direct link to the original Apostolic Mission, Trophimus was held in the highest esteem. This perception is graphically rendered in the sculpture of the west facade of the cathedral where Trophimus is admitted into the college of the Apostles standing alongside James of Compostela.

The Pilgrim’s Guide declares that travellers: “Must visit in Arles the remains of the Blessed Trophimus the confessor.”

Arles-Fac Troph 1-

Trophimus was ordained by Saint Paul himself. “He was the first one to be directed to the said city to preach the Gospel of Christ”, continued the text of the Guide.

Arles had long been an important Roman administrative centre and in 412 its bishopric became the Metropolitan See for the whole of Gaul.

Trophimus is mentioned by name in the Acts of The Apostles.After Paul was driven from Ephesus he travelled with a select band of eight disciples whom he joined at Troas.

From there they journeyed on to Miletus where, Paul wrote in his Second Epistle to Timothy that he was obliged to leave behind Trophimus who had fallen sick.

The twelfth century tradition held that Trophimus had rejoined Paul in Spain when Saint Peter intervened and directed him to evangelise Gaul.

Trophimus’ bishopric had in reality occurred at some point in the third century. A general tendency to idealise the evangelisation of Gaul and antedate it to the time of the first Apostles  meant that during the medieval period, his conflation with Paul’s disciple was accepted. Trophimus-Canon-1-WP Such a direct and intimate link to the original Apostolic mission meant that Trophimus’ mortal remains were highly revered. Initially his relics were kept in a tomb at the cemetery of Honoratus, part of the Alyscans.

During the tenth century they were transferred to the cathedral of Arles, then under the patronym of Saint Stephen but shortly to be renamed the cathedral of Saint Trophimus.

Trophimus was a confessor saint who had, according to Gregory of Tours, passed his life “In great holiness, winning many people over to the church”.

In the twelfth century a large new cathedral church was constructed and the relics of Trophimus were ceremoniously translated there in 1152.

The four roads to Compostela were described according to the reliquary shrines of the saints to be found on the way.

Chapter eight of the Pilgrim’s Guide contained a list of twenty-three shrines which pilgrims were expressly told to visit on their journey. Consisting of twenty-seven saints in all, it included Saint James and the Paladins of Charlemagne among them.

Such a text  in a hagiographical work is unique in the medieval world. This is what made the pilgrimage to Compostela the pan-European phenomenon that it was.

One may wonder to what purpose such a list was made and whether it represented the actual contemporary  importance of these saints or whether they were selected for other reasons.

FontenayWere they chosen as signposts to mark the way or rather to persuade travellers to visit relics they would otherwise have ignored? Some shrines clearly benefited from their association with the pilgrimage such as Conques and others such as Saint Sernin of Toulouse were very likely in competition with Compostela.

Pilgrims taking the Puy Road would have had to make a significant detour over rough terrain to reach Conques rather than follow the Lot valley which was the easiest way to reach Cahors from Espalion. Yet Conques was plainly an integral part of the Compostelan pilgrimage long before the Book of Saint James was ever conceived.

Road-@-St-Guilhem-3Similarly, pilgrims travelling from Saint Gilles towards Toulouse, undertook an onerous digression when they followed the Guide’s recommendation to visit the shrine of saint Guilhem at the abbey of Gellone, which was located in a rugged area of the Cevennes. Yet Guilhem’s reputation as the hero of extremely popular epic tales preceded the writing of the Pilgrims Guide.

The shrines are listed in their geographical order beginning with the Toulouse Road. This road joined together the shrines of Trophimus, Caesarius, Honoratus and Genesius at Arles and tombs of the Alyscans at the entry to the city.  After Arles came Saint Gilles and Saint Guilhem.

Montpeyroux-2The brief sketch of the four roads in chapter one dictated that this road went via Montpellier. Thus the inclusion of the shrine of the martyrs of Agde; Tiberius, Modestus and Florentius, is appropriate although it is unclear whether this was a variant of the road or whether pilgrims did indeed visit this site as well as the shrine of Saint Guilhem.

 The final shrine listed on the Toulouse Road was that of Saint Sernin itself, at the city which gave its name to this route. Again, we know from chapter one that this road continued southwards from Toulouse towards the Somport Pass.

Chanaleilles-belltower-2-coThe Puy Road was next to be described but by the shrine of a single saint only, Foy of Conques. The celebrated shrine of the Black Madonna at Notre-Dame du Puy was not included but like Moissac, mentioned merely to indicate the course of the road.

The Limoges Road records only Mary Magdalene at Vézelay and Leonard in the Limousin and Front at Périgeux.

The Road of Tours was considerably more replete with saintly relics. Isle-d'AugerBeginning with Euvertius at Orleans, the pilgrim was exhorted to pass via the shrines of Martin at Tours, Hilarius at Poitiers and that of the head of John the Baptist at Angely. At Saintes the tomb of Eutropius, at Blaye; Roland and Romanus, at Bordeaux; the Olifant of Roland and the tomb of Seurin. At Belin, a single grave contained the burial of Olivier, Ogier, Arastain, Garain and other paladins of Charlemagne.

Aragon-PyrenneesOn the Spanish side of the Pyrenees a mere four shrines received the Guide’s approval; Santo Domingo de la Calzada near Logroño, the relics of Facundus and Primitivo at the Cluniac abbey of Sahagun and  Saint Isidore at León, before the ultimate destination of the shrine of the Apostle James at Compostela.

 This list certainly included the most important shrines of the day. By their inclusion in such a list however, several seemingly minor saints were elevated into the most select pantheon.

One abiding puzzle remains the lack of any mention of Martial of Limoges, whose shrine merited a major pilgrimage church which rivalled the dimensions of Tours, Toulouse and Compostela. His absence from the text is especially  remarkable because the city of which he was patron gave its name to that route and was undoubtedly a major halt on the road.

saintes-crypt-ls-tomb-vaul1It is now acknowledged that there were numerous variants to the four roads described in the Pilgrim’s Guide and logic insists that it was not intended as a travel guide in any modern sense.

Such a consideration may lead us closer to the real intent behind the hagiographical register of the Book of Saint James. The idea that all of these illustrious shrines were mere waystations on the road to the ultimate goal in Galicia could only serve to promote the prestige of Compostela and elevate the Apostle to a status which superceded all others in the celestial hierarchy.