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Category Archives: Apocalypse

Ste-Quitterie-Monks-1Medieval pilgrimage and the monastic world went hand in hand. According to the tripartite feudal division of society only the clerics and monks could expect to enter Paradise on the Day of Judgment.

For the two other orders, those who fought and those who laboured, pilgrimage and Crusade held the potential to avoid the Leviathan’s Jaws and the portal to Hell.

The monasteries guarded the precious relics that pilgrims were ordained to venerate and they were also way stations providing alms and hospitality to pilgrims.

Ste-Quitterie-Monks-2The abbeys and priories which lined the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela thrived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Towards the end of the eleventh century a new monastic order began to assume an important role in the Compostelan pilgrimage. These were the Canons Regular of the Rule of Saint Augustine, ordained clerics who abided by the same strictures and practices as the Benedictine monks.

San-Pedro-de-las-Dueñas-3As the pilgrimage grew in importance during the course of the century, the Augustinians began to perform an important function in establishing infrastructure and providing relief for the travellers.

The abbot of Saint Pons de Thomières, Frotarius, a close ally of Pope Gregory VII was a keen proponent of the canonical life for priests which the Augustinian order embodied

Frotarius established the hospice at Santa Cristina where pilgrims to Compostela were cared for by canons on the Somport Pass over the Pyrenees.

San-Pedro-de-las-Dueñas-4Assigned as Papal Legate to Aragon and Navarre, Frotarius arranged for a certain Pierre d’Andouque to become bishop, first of the Aragonese town of Roda and then in 1082 archbishop of Pamplona.

Previously a novice of Conques and subsequently monk of Frotarius’ abbey at Thomières, Pierre d’Andouque, in his role as bishop of Pamplona became one of the most influential figures in Spanish affairs.

Through the influence of Pierre d’Andouque, the order of Canons Regular began to assume an increasingly active role in the pilgrimage to Compostela. They were installed at Saint Sernin at Toulouse and then in a number of key locations associated with the relics of the Carolingian past on the road to Compostela that passed through Pamplona.

Roncevaux-10-WPA concerted attempt was made to integrate the legends of Charlemagne, both into the Compostelan pilgrimage and the Crusader ethos of the Spanish Reconquista. The driving force behind this appears to have been Pierre d’Andouque and his entourage at Pamplona. The instrument for effecting this strategy was the Augustinian Order

At some point between 1101 and 1104, Pierre d’Andouque acquired an almshouse and a villa at Roncevaux, the location of the great battle between the Franks and Saracens culminating in the martyrdom of the hero Roland.

There he established an Augustinian priory and hospice which he donated to Conques.

This was a vital location, both mythologically and geographically, being just below the Cize Pass that led Compostelan pilgrims from France towards Pamplona.

Roncesvalles-WP-3A short distance from Roncevaux, a chapel dedicated to the Holy Saviour was renamed the Capella Carlomagni.

At Blaye on the Gironde estuary, the tomb of Roland at the abbey of Saint Romanus was served by a chapter of Augustinian canons.

The same was also true for the abbey of Saint Seurin at Bordeaux that held the celebrated Olifant, Roland’s ivory horn. The cemetery of the abbey contained the tombs of many of the fallen heroes of the battle of Roncevaux.

All of these sites were evoked in detail in the Pilgrim’s Guide as markers on the road to Saint James’ shrine. Even more, they were essential elements in the narrative of Turpin’s History that shows evident signs of being composed, in part at least by the circle around Pierre d’Andouque.

Historia-Turpini-1In the chronicle, a passage describes the Saracen leader, Aigolandus, visiting Charlemagne’s court. Aigolandus asks for an explanation of the different clerical and monastic orders he witness around the emperor.

Charlemagne himself explains that aside from the priests and bishops, there are two other orders, the monks in black who were the Benedictines and those wearing the white habit of the Augustinian canons whom he, significantly declares to be the most saintly of all.

The scene that Turpin describes is very much one that which would have been familiar at the courts and councils of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain in the early twelfth century at the time of the composition of the History. Bishops and abbots both played a vital role in affairs which were then indistinguishable: the political and the spiritual.

Sources and Biblio: Les Origines Méridionales de la Chanson de Roland, Frédéric de Gournay, Cahiers de St-Michel de Cuxa, XXXII, 2001

Une Abbaye de Pelerinage: Sainte-Foy de Conques et ses rapports avec Saint-Jacques. Georges Gaillard Compostellanum Sección des Estudios Jacobeos, 1965

Etude sur les sculptures de Sainte-Foy de Conques et de Saint-Sernin de Toulouse et leurs relations avec celles de Saint-Isidore de Léon et de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. Paul Deschamps

History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812

The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014

André de Mandach Naissance et Origines de la chanson de geste en Europe Vol. 1 La Geste de Charlemagne et de Roland Genève, Droz, 1961

Bernard Gicquel La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Tallandier 2003

Les sépultures des Français morts à Roncevaux, André Moisan, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 1981 Volume 24 pp. 129-145

Les légendes épiques : recherches sur la formation des chansons de geste. Bédier, Joseph, 1914

Barton Sholod. Charlemagne in Spain: The Cultural Legacy of Roncevalles, Geneva Droz 1966

In twelfth century Europe the Crusading spirit reached its peak. Remission of sins was granted by Pope Urban before an assembly of the Frankish aristocracy at Clermont in 1095 for all those who died fighting Holy War. In the legend of Charlemagne and Roland which was part of the Book of Saint James of Compostela, the emperor’s archbishop similarly granted remission to those who went to fight against the Saracens of Spain. The depictions of a victorious emperor riding over the vanquished enemy seen on the facades of churches along the pilgrimage roads to Compostela was intended to evoke the memories of the Christian Roman Emperors Constantine and Charlemagne and looked forward to the Last Emperor of prophetic legend. Using the Romanesque sculpted images of the churches of Aulnay de Saintonge, Parthenay-le-Vieux and Oloron-Sainte-Marie, this film considers the mindset of pilgrims and crusaders of the twelfth century as they travelled along the road to Compostela.


Much of Christian eschatological thought was predicated on the notion of the four empires of the world from the Old Testament Book of Daniel, an important text in the medieval period. This dictated that the span of earthly time was to be divided into the dominion of four empires, the last of which would be a tyrannical and evil power. Its ultimate destruction in a great battle would inaugurate the Apocalypse.

These empires variously consisted of The Greek, Persian, Babylonian, Roman. The advent of the Babylonian and Roman empires caused much stirring of Apocalyptic pronouncements for Jews and Christians as they were oppressed by each in turn. The Book of Revelation carries an implicit idea that it is Nero’s first century Rome which is the final evil empire, however with the conversion of Constantine  and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the empire that view was revised.

The sack of Rome by the Goths and the barbarian invasions of the early fifth century brought fresh prophetic proclamations however it was with the Arab invasions of the Eastern Roman Empire in the seventh century that the notion of a Last Roman Emperor took root.

Originating initially in a text attributed to a Bishop Methodius writing in the Byzantine empire then suffering the first wave of Arab conquests, the prophecy identified in dramatic terms its contemporaneous upheavals with the arrival of the last evil empire. It told of a sleeping emperor who would awake and lead an army against the forces of the Antichrist. As the victor of a great battle which brought an end to the strife endured under the evil empire, the Last Emperor would go to Jerusalem and place his crown on top of the Cross at Golgotha. By this act he would surrender his temporal authority, thereby ushering in the events of the Apocalypse and the millennial rule of Christ and the Saints on earth.

These beliefs concerning Apocalyptic prophecy were translated to the West as the Arab invasions progressed across the Mediterranean and, it can be reasonably speculated, partly informed the attitude of the medieval Christian church towards Islam and the Saracen presence in the Holy Land and Spain.

With Charlemagne’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800, the torch of responsibility for fulfilling these predictions seemed to be passed on to the Franks. Around the year 950, Adso the abbot of the Cluniac monastery at Montier-en-Der wrote a text in the form of a letter to the Frankish queen Gerberga on the subject of Origin and Life of Antichrist. Adso was an important writer of the tenth century and his manuscript made full use of the prophecies concerning a last emperor.

“Even though we see that the Empire of the Romans is for the most part destroyed, nevertheless, as long as the kings of the Franks, who possess the Roman Empire by right, survive, the dignity of the Roman Empire will not perish altogether”, wrote Adso, clearly identifying the Frankish kings as the inheritors of the Roman Imperial authority.

“Indeed, certain of our learned men tell us that one of the kings of the Franks, who will come very soon will the possess the Roman Empire in its entirety”, he continued,  “And he will be the greatest and last of all kings. He, after governing his kingdom prosperously will ultimately come to Jerusalem and lay down his sceptre and crown on Mount Olivet. This will be the end and the consummation of the Empire of the Romans and the Christians. And immediately, according to the aforesaid opinion of the Apostle Paul, they say that the Antichrist will soon be at hand.”

In Romanesque sculpture a recurrent theme is that of the Victorious Rider. There are numerous examples along the pilgrimage roads to Compostela. The horseman, always presented riding over a cowed figure beneath, represents the military strength of the temporal champion of Christianity with which the legends of Constantine and Charlemagne are endowed and which is assumed into eschatological thinking by the prophecy of the Last Roman Emperor, all of which fed into the Crusader mentality of the medieval world.

Notable examples of the Victorious Rider are to be seen at Oloron-Sainte-Marie and Parthenay-le-Vieux

loarre-copy When Pelayo and his band of warriors defeated the Saracen force at the battle of Covadonga in 722, it was a mere eleven years after the Arab conquest of Spain and the intention was to restore the Visigothic kingdom. As the centuries passed and the dominion of the Arabs continued, new Christian kingdoms were established in the north with shifting alliances and power struggles, each bearing less connection to the original Christian monarchy.

Pelayo’s victory established the small kingdom of Asturias with its capital at Ovideo and which soon expanded to include Galicia and the shrine of the Apostle at Compostela. In the late ninth century Alfonso III recovered the city of León and moved his capital there.

Nevertheless, as long at the Caliphate of Cordoba remained in place, the Christians of the north remained largely restricted to the narrow area between the Cantabrian mountains and the sea.

To the south was a no man’s land, an empty underpopulated region which existed as a shifting frontier between Islam and Christendom.quantanilla It was through these lands that the pilgrimage road passed, although for safety, pilgrims often preferred the more arduous, longer route north of the mountains.

Christian successes were few and far between, Santiago Matamoros had come to lead the Christians to victory at Clavijo in 844 but a century had elapsed before his vision reappeared at Simancas in 939. For  the rest of Europe after the battle of Poitiers, the Pyrenees marked the frontier between the two worlds. Crossing the mountains into Spain was bound to hold a symbolic importance for pilgrims.

For the Christian rulers no matter how long had passed however, the memory of the Visigothic kingdom was never forgotten.

chrismon-bwThe Reconquista began at the battle of Covadonga in the Cantabrian mountains in 722.

An eighth century chronicle recounts that, “A certain Pelayo, the swordbearer of the kings Witiza and Roderic, oppressed by the dominion of the Ishmaelites, had come to Asturias”.

Pelayo was a Visigothic nobleman who  had held high position at the court of the old kingdom and had refused to surrender to the new conquerors.

Along with many others, he had taken refuge from the Arab invasion in the mountain fastnesses of Asturias and had declared an independent Christian kingdom. They held their camp on a rocky outcrop named Covadonga

congas_de_onisPelayo met the Saracen force that was sent to quell his rebellion by an old bridge  at Congas de Onis. Carrying the banner of the Christian Chrismon into battle in imitation of the Roman Emperor Constantine at the battle of the Milvian bridge. To Constantine it had been told of the Christian emblem: In this sign you shall conquer.

Like Constantine, Pelayo was victorious and the people of Asturias rallied round his band of fighters and managed to keep the Moors out of the small, beleagured, nascent kingdom.

The Chrismon became the symbol of the kings of the Reconquista and can be found carved above the entrances of numerous twelfth century church in Aragon. It displays the first two Greek letters of the word Christ and the first and last words of the Greek alphabet alpha and omega. This is a reference to chapter 1 verse 8 of the Book of Revelation: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is and which was and which is to come.jaca-4

This placed the Reconquista within an eschatological narrative.  In adopting this paleo-Christian symbol, the Christians of Spain saw themselves as God’s Chosen People whose struggle against the Moors thus became an integral part of the working of Abraham’s covenant with God through history towards the Apocalypse

In 711 the Visigothic Christian kingdom of Spain was invaded by a Moslem army of Arabs and north African Berbers. In an incredibly short time, Spain was overrun and defeated.

The Saracens, as they were known to the Christians, continued northwards entering France and establishing their rule over the Frankish province of Septimania. In 731 they were defeated at the battle of Poitiers by Frankish forces under the leadership of Charles Martel. The Saracen foothold in France proved tenuous and they were soon expelled. In Spain, however the Arabs were destined to survive and prosper.

In Damascus, meanwhile, an internal power struggle led to the overthrow of the ruling Ummayad dynasty by the Abbasids who now took control of the Caliphate. The Ummayads were hunted down and killed, but one of their number, Abd ar-Rahman escaped to Spain and succeeded in taking power there.

Cord-Ext-Mosque-D1Designating himself emir Abd ar-Rahman Ist, he made Cordoba the capital of the autonomous emirate henceforth known as Al-Andalus. The Arabs soon developed Andalusia into what was probably  the  wealthiest and most developed region of the age. They evolved a highly refined culture combining scientific learning and the arts. Cordoba, itself became a model city of one million inhabitants.

Christian Europe lagged behind far behind. In Moslem Spain,  Christianity was tolerated by the authorities but the Christians of Andalusia, or Mozarabs as they were known, were second class citizens and many converted to Islam. Christian Spain was cut off from the rest of Europe and developed its own  special liturgy. Only a small enclave remained free from Arab rule in the region of Asturias in the north, protected as it was by sea and mountains. It was from here that the process of the recovery of Spain from the Moors began. It was called the Reconquista and it combined the desire for territorial gain with Holy War.

A chronicler of the ninth century could only reason that the misfortune of the Christian Visigothic kingdom of Spain was due to the iniquity of her rulers Witiza and Roderic: “The Saracens entered Spain on account of the treachery of the sons of Witiza”, he wrote.

Cord-Int-Mosque-1The caliphate of Cordoba ruled over Al-Andalus until 1031 when internal squabbling led to its dissolution. During the course of its hegemony over the Spanish peninsula, the Christian north remained impotent. The vizier Al-Mansur, was able to attack the towns of León and Compostela with impunity, razing the cathedral of Santiago in 997 and carrying its bells to Cordoba, as though to silence the growing cult of the Apostle.

cluny-bw-reconIn 1088 construction began, at a small hamlet in the Burgundian countryside, of the largest church in Christendom. It was funded with gold from West Africa which had been extorted from the Moorish states of Andalusia by the rulers of Christian Spain. The new building was the abbey church of the monastery of Cluny.

In return for prayers to be said at Cluny for the redemption of their deceased souls, the emperors Fernando Ist and his son Alfonso VI of Leòn-Castile had granted the gift of a massive annual census which provided the necessary funds for the great enterprise.

This is perhaps the most extraordinary illustration of the power and influence of the great Burgundian abbey and of its impact in the affairs of Christian Spain.

The Pilgrim’s Guide ends with the attribution that it was written “mainly in Cluny”. Was the abbey of Cluny the architect of the great rise in popularity of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela? The evidence that it was seems overwhelming.

la-celle-gv-1Along the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela were many monasteries which belonged to the Cluniac federation. Indeed many of the most important stations were closely affiliated to the great Burgundian abbey. On the Limoges road there was Vézelay, La Charité-sur-Loire and Saint Martial. On the Puy route the abbey of Moissac was the centre of Cluniac power and influence in the southwest of France and on the Toulouse route the important shrine of Saint Gilles. On the Tours road was the priory of Saint Eutrope.

In Spain, monks from Cluny were requested by the highest echelons of society to reform monasteries and particularly oversee the replacement of the Mozarabic rite by  the orthodox Catholic liturgy.

san-juan-1The Cluniacs were invited to take over the royal monastery of Aragon at San Juan de la Peña and after developing close ties with the emerging kingdom of Leòn-Castile, developed pilgrimage stations at Najèra, Burgos, Carriòn de los Condes and perhaps most notably at Sahagùn, the most important Cluniac monastery in Spain. When in 1085 the ancient Visigothic capital of Spain was reconquered from the Moors it was a Cluniac, Bernard of Auch who was appointed its archbishop over all Spain.

At the highest level were strong political ties between Burgundy and Compostela itself, in which the interests of Cluny were closely interwoven beginning with the marriage of Alfonso VI to the niece of Cluny’s abbot Hugh, Constance of Burgundy.

Alfonso’s bonds with Cluny were strengthened by his marriage to Constance of Burgundy, daughter of Cluny’s abbot Hugh and later his two daughters, Urraca and Teresa would marry the Burgundian counts Hugh and Raymond.

Ultimately, one needs to consider what was the driving motor of Cluny’s involvement in Spanish affairs and perhaps no greater reason existed than to promote Christian power to overcome what Cluny considered the “heresy” of Islam.

huesca-21The period between the beginning of the tenth century and the end of the twelfth was the great age of the monastery in European Christendom. During this time there was a development in monastic culture which saw a great increase in the foundation of new abbeys and the elevation of the monk to the highest rank of society.

Monks were of two main orders, the Augustinian who followed the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Benedictine who wore the black cowl. They followed the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia (480-547) which defined the role of the monks and their daily routine of prayer, labour and reading in equal proportions.

During the reign of Charlemagne and his successors, the Benedictine Order which had fallen into some decline was revived especially due to the efforts and influence of a leading reformer, the abbot Benedict of Aniane 747-821.

Increasingly it was understood that monks retired to the cloister not solely for their own spiritual benefit, but for that of the whole of mankind. Monasteries housed miraculous relics of saints which the monks guarded over. It was the quality of prayer, said before these relics which was valued.

aulnay-demons-tug-beard1The abbey of Cluny exemplified this process above all others. Any hope for humanity lay in the intercession of monks. Cluny had transformed the Rule of Saint Benedict accordingly, so that the liturgical provision made by its monks for prayer was developed to the exclusion of all else.

These developments in monastic culture were welcomed and promulgated by society at large. Donations from the wealthy, whose interest was for the wellbeing of their immortal soul, provided new foundations and gifts of lands.

Monasteries actively sought to join the the Cluniac reform and a network was established of Cluniac priories which looked to the mother house for direction. By the twelfth century the abbot of Cluny presided over a federation of around one thousand monasteries across western Europe.

However the days of Cluny’s prestige were numbered as some began to question the great wealth which it had accrued and its detachment from the world outside. By the middle of the twelfth century a new order, the Cistercian was becoming increasingly influential. The Cistercian movement valued the ideals of simplicity and labour.

Amongst the lush green grazing pasture of Burgundy, by the banks of a winding river lie the ruins of what was once the largest church in Christendom, that of the abbey of Cluny.

urban-launches-cluny-iii-br2The Benedictine abbey of Cluny was founded in 909 on the grounds of a hunting lodge donated by Duke William I of Aquitaine in the remote countryside  of eastern France. In his foundation charter William declared that “There the monks shall congregate and live according to the rule of St. Benedict.”

In his foundation, Duke William’s expressly put Cluny under direct Papal authority absolving it from any obligation to himself or his family.

This was unusual, for although the aristocracy were keen for the monks to pray on their behalf, there was also a wish to avoid handing over too much power. Monasteries would often be subject to the donor family or the local bishop who would also often be connected to the lay interests.

Thus the Duke’s charter read: “Through God and all his saints, and by the awful day of judgment, I warn and abjure that no one of the secular princes, no count, no bishop whatever, not the pontiff of the aforesaid Roman see, shall invade the property of these servants of God, or alienate it, or diminish it, or exchange it, or give it as a benefice to any one, or constitute any prelate over them against their will.”

le-puy-clpsd19Although this was not entirely unprecedented, a succession of four long-lived and brilliant abbots: Odo 926-944, Mayeul 944-994, Odilo 994-1048 and Hugh 1049-1109. These men used this autonomy to transform Cluny over the course of a hundred and forty years into an institution that wielded immense power and wealth and huge influence over its time. Odilo and Hugh were both canonised and Cluny produced four Popes from among its congregation of monks.

It was one of these, Urban II who called for the First Crusade and the Cluniac ideal of a powerful and militant Church was at the heart of the medieval world.

st-sernin-1-pc-7The story of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, from Luke’s Gospel is frequently repeated in the stone carved images of the churches on the pilgrimage roads and its theme that wealth and salvation are incompatible clearly troubled the medieval aristocracy.

Monastic establishments were founded and maintained by gifts from kings, queens, lords and ladies, often as they neared death themselves. The arrangement included the undertaking that the congregation of monks would pray for the souls of their benefactors. Monastic communities endowed with a powerful saintly relic were especially favoured thus.


According to the parable, Lazarus a poor leper, was denied crumbs from the table of the Rich Man. When each died, the Rich Man received the torments of hell and cried out to the leper he had refused in life to aid him now. Lazarus, already taken up into the Bosom of Abraham, was unable to hear his plea.

When Duke William of Aquitaine made his foundation for a monastery at Cluny he quoted the Book of Proverbs in his charter: “The riches of a man are the redemption of his soul”.