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Category Archives: Compostela

Conques and Compostela formed an alliance early on. There has been much debate among medieval historians regarding the influence held by the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny over the political and religious life of Christian Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, particularly regarding the development of the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela.

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Less often mentioned is that of the southern French abbey of Sainte Foy at Conques.

Both Cluny and the independent Benedictine abbey of Conques were sponsors of the Reconquista and as towns fell to the Christians it was their monks who rose to occupy the new episcopal sees and found priories on the newly conquered lands.

When the taifa city of Barbastro finally fell in 1100 to the forces led by the Aragonese king Pedro Ist, he appointed Pons, an erstwhile monk of Conques to the newly created bishopric.

Conques-Cloister-WP-1The northern Hispanic kings benefitted from Cluny’s closeness to Rome and its ability to send out its monks to reform monastic communities. Cluny also benefitted from the relationship in the form of the massive financial contribution it received from Alfonso VI for the building of its great abbey church.

What was of possibly greater interest to the authorities in Galicia was that Conques, like Compostela was a pilgrimage shrine in a remote location whose cult of a miracle working relic had been spectacularly transformed into a pan-European phenomenon.

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As a result, Conques’ influence on the Galician shrine was more cultural, expressed largely in the fields of architecture and sculpture.

It’s abbey church was the prototype for the four other great pilgrimage churches which all began construction in the last quarter of the eleventh century, including the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

These churches featured side aisles along the nave and transept with an ambulatory around the apse allowing pilgrims to process continuously without interrupting the liturgical programme.

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When construction began at Compostela on the new cathedral in 1077, builders and sculptors from Conques were called upon.

Of all the evidence of a connection between Conques and Compostela the most obvious is the striking similarity between the figures carved on the great stone porch sculptures at the two shrines.

Although, separated by almost seven hundred and fifty miles, it is scarcely believable that the same hand was not responsible for both the twin tympana over the Puerta de las Platerías and the great west porch at Conques.

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Most probably the Conques master accomplished his work in Galicia before returning to France, as the monumental sculpture at Compostela dates from the years 1101-3, in other words, at the very birth of the large scale sculptural ensembles which were to come later.

The influence of Conques on Santiago was experienced in another way. This was in the development and transmission of legendary material which enhanced the prestige of the shrine as a pilgrimage destination.

Conques-Manuscript-WP-1A key figure in this process was Pierre d’Andouque, occasionally referred to as Pedro de Roda. Originally a novice at Conques, Pierre had subsequently been a monk  at the Languedocian abbey of Saint Pons de Thomières. He was was elected to the see of Pamplona in 1082.

Conques claimed its foundation from Charlemagne. Its treasury contained a reliquary known as the A of Charlemagne. According to legend the emperor had given each of his monastic foundations a similar reliquary in the form of a letter of the alphabet. Conques-Charlemagne's-A-WPConques had received the gold and gem encrusted reliquary, allegedly shaped in the form of an A and intended as a symbolic reference to the preeminent position the abbey held in Charlemagne’s esteem.

In 1101  Pierre d’Andouque, along with Pons of Barbastro obtained a donation of a church, almshouse and estate at Roncevaux, just below the Cize Pass over the Pyrenees on the Spanish side. These were then transferred to Conques which established a dependent priory and hospital overseen by the monks of Sainte Foy.

Roncesvalles-WP-3How and when this site was determined to be the location of the climactic scene of the Roland legend will remain difficult to confirm with any certainty.

This route would become the most popular pilgrim road over the mountains and references to the passage of Charlemagne’s armies are scattered throughout the text of the Pilgrims’ Guide.

A chapel was built over the only attribute of the legend which remained in situ, the rock on which Roland had attempted to break his sword Durendal.

Roland and Roncevaux were integral components in the Charlemagne mythology. They became the decisive element in that narrative which claimed the emperor as liberator and founder of the shrine of Compostela.

It was a fusion of history and geography which transformed the pilgrimage road from a simple terrestrial highway into a hallowed space.

historia-turpini-1This legend found its fullest expression in the fourth volume of the Book of Saint James, the History of Charlemagne and Roland, a manuscript composed under the pseudonym of Charlemagne’s archbishop Turpin, but which commentators believe can be attributed to an author from Navarre within the French circle of Pierre d’Andouque during his time as bishop of Pamplona.

Pierre d’Andouque was present at Compostela when the absidial chapels were consecrated in 1105 and one, dedicated to Sainte Foy, he consecrated himself.

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

Platerias-Santiago-2The iconographic programme of the three great portal reliefs at Compostela were intended as a combined expression of the full significance of the Apostolic shrine situated on the edge of the world.

The reason for this was engraved above the western entrance in a massive sculpted relief of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The Jacobus describes the emplacement there of the large scale depiction of the theophanic vision described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

According to the early Church Father John Chrysostom, the three disciples present at the Transfiguration, Peter, John and James were chosen because they were superior to the others. James, specifically because he had accepted the challenge of martyrdom.

Platerias-Santiago-MS

The Expulsion from Paradise of the north transept portal and the scenes of Christ’s Temptation and Passion over the Puerta de las Platerias would be completed by the great scene of the Transfiguration above the western entrance, covering the whole of Christian eschatological history.

The Transfiguration, rather than being simply an episode from the life of Christ would be a theophanic vision which was a prefiguration and typological equivalent of the Apocalypse, in keeping with its siting at the western end of the cathedral.

In Romanesque symbolism it was the west that was associated with Death and Resurrection and the use of the Transfiguration in this setting would have been eminently significant, placing the Apostle, whose shrine was located there, at the epicentre of an Apocalyptic image.

The north and south transept portal reliefs were preludes to the ultimate meaning of the shrine at Compostela: the presence of the relics of a saint whose intercessory power was second to none in its potential to restore man from the fatal consequences of the Fall.

The fifth book of the Jacobus, the Pilgrim’s Guide, gives us an extensive description of the cathedral at Compostela at the time of its composition. The author confirms that on the western façade, “We should notice on the top, the Transfiguration of the Lord as it occurred on the Tabor Mountain, and which is sculpted in marvellous workmanship”.

In the last quarter of the twelfth century, however, the west entrance to the cathedral was completed with a different programme, the Portico de la Gloria.

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It has been suggested that the west façade as described in the Guide was merely planned. This is an interpretation which is reinforced by the extremely scant description and absence of detail provided by the author concerning the front of the pilgrimage church.

Those completed reliefs intended for the Transfiguration were relocated to the south transept portal, even prior to the writing of the Guide. Most striking of these is a marble relief of Saint James and the surrounding inscription “Hic in monte Ihesum miratur glorificatum”, backs up the notion that it was intended for the western end programme.

Elsewhere on the frontispiece of the Platerias Portal and carved in the same marble and style as the relief of the apostle is an image of diminutive figure emerging from an enclosed space. Rather strikingly he bears a pair of horns on his head, leading to speculation that he was intended to represent some satanic or demonic force.

Platerias-Moses-1-WP-In the context of a possible Transfiguration scene this figure would more likely represent Moses who was present at the vision on mount Tabor standing beside Christ with the prophet Elijah.

Moses was commonly depicted as horned, an attribute which arose from Jerome’s Vulgate version of the Bible, which had taken the Hebrew text to imply horns emanating from his head rather than rays of light.

Also in the same marble and sculptural style, another relief from the presumed Transfiguration scene is to be found on the Platerias frontispiece: Abraham rising from his tomb with the inscription “Transfiguratio Ihesu surgit Abraham de tumuli”.

From these remnants, it is evident that the proposed Transfiguration scene was to have been very different from the traditional iconography seen in the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna and Sinai and other sites.

That formula had been used at La Charité-sur-Loire where Christ in a mandorla is flanked by Moses and Elias, The Law and the Prophets with the three apostles crouched at the sides.

The figure of James at the Puerta de las Platerias is upright with Gospel in hand, an image of the Evangeliser of Spain fulfilling his Apostolic Mission.

Platerias-Abraham-1-WPThe presence of Abraham locates the Transfiguration among the whole body of Biblical theophanic visions, essentially treating them as one. Abraham’s vision on the plains of Mamre in Genesis is linked to Jesus in John’s gospel.

Furthermore, by presenting the image of Abraham’s resurrection, as well as Moses’, this Transfiguration scene has been relocated to the Second Coming.

As the liturgical sermon attributed to Pope Calixtus II in the Jacobus puts it of James’ vision, it was “The Resurrection that you saw symbolically on Mount Tabor”.

 Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997 Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000 The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009 The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992 Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010. Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003 The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

The iconography of the reliefs on the double tympana of the Puerta de las Plateriás at Compostela was intended as a direct thematic extension from the scenes of the Expulsion from Paradise on the north portal. Platerias-Temp-3-WPWhere the former represented the victory of Satan in the form of the Serpent in the Garden, the Plateriás reliefs show Christ triumphing over Satan and Death

Discarding the elements added when it was decided to enlarge the space from its original lunette form, it is apparent that the subject of the left hand tympanum is the Temptation of the Lord

Depicted is the narrative in the gospels of Matthew and Luke where Jesus has gone into the wilderness for forty days and nights.

Platerias-Tempt-3-WPThere, he meets Satan who offers him three temptations; one to assuage his hunger by turning stone to bread, a second whereby he should jump from the pinnacle of the temple and depend on angels to rescue his fall and a third where he is offered all the kingdoms of the world in return for prostrating himself before Satan.

In a gesture which can be seen in Byzantine mosaics, Christ is turned towards his left where two winged demons, hands clasped in supplication implore him to surrender himself before Satan.

A tree stands between Christ and the demons alluding to the Tree of Knowledge, through which the serpent Satan is entwined. An image of Christ in dialogue with Satan, Christ’s gesture with his right hand is a visual representation of his words “Get thee behind me Satan”.

Platerias-Tempt-Demon-1-WPOn either side of the Christ figure angels are ministering, which according to Matthew’s Gospel they did after Satan had left, defeated. The angel immediately above is emerging from clouds waving a thurible just in front of the serpent’s head.

The angel behind Christ appears to be holding aloft items which may be liturgical appurtenances, corresponding to the thurible held by the first angel.

Elsewhere on the tympanum of the Temptation are reliefs carved by the Master of the Porta Francigena which were included when the design was enlarged.

Platerias-Temptation-2These include a slab with three ape-headed demons and notable a seated woman cradling a skull on her lap.

The author of the description of the cathedral in the Book of Saint James, makes much of this, referring to it as an image of a woman taken in adultery. The writer however has shown himself to be unreliable elsewhere in his readings of the sculptural imagery.

The Woman Bearing the Skull would seem to have been intended for the north portal where as Eve, the Mother of Death, the image would have complemented the others from the Genesis cycle.

Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997

Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000

The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009

The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992

Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003

The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

 

Thematically, the portal reliefs of the south transept entrance of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela follow directly from those of the Porta Francigena. Platerias-LS-2-WPEach of its two doorways has a stone carved tympanum relief sculpture, one of the Temptation of the Lord and the other of the Instruments of the Passion.

The original design for the twin reliefs at the Puerta de las Plateriás were for relatively small lunettes. However this plan was immediately revised and each lunette was enlarged into a more substantial tympanum. In the process the coherence of the iconographic programme was affected detrimentally.

The original reliefs were carried out by the same sculptor or workshop responsible for the capitals in the church and cloister at Conques. Platerias-Temptation-TympThe 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 abbey.

On the left hand tympanum the theme of these initial carved reliefs was of the Instruments of the Passion. These featured the Coronation of the Crown of Thorns, the Scourge, the Nails of the Crucifixion and the Pillar of the Flagellation. The Cross itself is included, borne significantly not by Christ but by Simon the Cyrenean, since the subject was not the Passion but its Instruments. These scenes were to be surmounted by the Adoration of the Magi.

Platerias-Flagellation-2The Incarnation was represented by the Epiphany and the Instruments of the Passion, which were known as the Weapons of Christ symbolised the Triumph over Death.

This programme, although still recognizable, was never realized in its original form when the decision was taken to amplify the spaces over the doorways. Additional reliefs were required for the enlarged space and some elements were repositioned. This is the case with the Adoration of the Magi, which was moved from an intended position towards the right in order to accommodate the new reliefs which were carved by the same sculptor responsible for the Porta Francigena.

An angel bearing a nailed crown was placed to the right of the Virgin and on the first register, the Instruments of the Passion now included additional reliefs of the Arrest of Christ and the Curing of the Blind Man. Platerias-Betrayal-2Above the Three Magi, a horizontal angel with star admonished Mary and Joseph to avoid Herod’s men.

The Plateriás entrance led directly to the chapel of Saint John the Baptist, inside the southern transept, which functioned as the cathedral’s baptistery and the theme of baptism was intentionally invoked in the tympanum’s sculptures by the Instruments of the Passion, an allusion to the blood of Christ washing the sins of humanity.

Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997

Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000

The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009

The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992

Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003

The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

The name of Platerías given to the south transept entrance of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is generally considered to refer to the silversmiths whose stalls proliferated on the square below, selling trinkets to pilgrims. Platerias-LS-WPThe basilica was an integral part of the urban topography of the town of Compostela and the two arms of its transepts connected the pilgrimage with the city as though it were a street.

Accordingly, there have been suggestions that the name Plateriás derives from the Latin word “platea”, meaning a public way and which by the medieval period had come to indicate a location where judicial ceremonies were performed. This was indeed the function of the space immediately in front of the south transept doors.

At the end of the eleventh century large scale sculptural ensembles began to be introduced over the doorways of Romanesque churches. In a practice long abandoned since the end of Antiquity, such images placed within the hemicycle formed between the lintel and arch over a doorway and known as a tympanum were now being revived.

St-Sernin-Miegeville-WP-1Controversy still exists with regard to the dating of these first large Romanesque programmes. Saint Sernin de Toulouse begun in 1070 at the eastern end, did not feature a carved portal relief at the south transept entrance. However by the time construction reached a second portal further west along the nave, a large scale relief was included. The tympanum of the Ascension of the Porte de Miegeville is a brilliantly accomplished work of sculpture and architecture with a fully realised iconographic programme. It is generally considered to have been created in the first half of the first decade of the twelfth century.

Platerias-GV-2-WPIn contrast, the double reliefs of the Puerta de las Plateriás believed to date from 1101, seem far less successful. It may be that the deficiencies of the tympana are due to poor planning and craft and that the technical problems of fitting sculpted stone slabs into the inherently problematic area afforded by a tympanum had not been fully considered. The result is a seemingly confused arrangement of differing styles and materials lacking any obvious coherent thematic significance.

Furthermore, the apparent confusion of the sculptural arrangements cannot be ascribed to the depredations of long centuries, since the description provided in the Pilgrim’s Guide is remarkably true to what remains to this day.

This is because major revisions had already been effected within the first decade of the initial work.

Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997

Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000

The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009

The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992

Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003

The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

Platerias-MajestyAccording to the Pilgrim’s Guide, the cathedral of Compostela had three great portals.

Expressed through the iconography of the sculpture above their double doorways, they combined to present a history of the Christian redemption narrative through the medium of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

The north portal was the entrance known as the Porta Francigena, and is described as the one used by those arriving from France. This was the way pilgrims arrived at their destination.

At the great cathedral of Compostela, the pilgrims were greeted by an image of everything which their long journey had been intended to overcome. This was nothing less than the Fall of Man, presided over by a Christ in Majesty, hand raised in benediction.

On the square immediately in front of the portal was a large stone basin.

Francigena-Basin-1-WPIt was surmounted by four lions whose mouths acted as water spouts, continuously filling the basin. Intended for the refreshment of the pilgrims, the fountain symbolised, after the completion of their journey, the transformation of the Four French Roads  into the Four Rivers of Paradise.

The lions alluded to Christ the Redeemer providing the Water of Life and the ribbed exterior of the basin was shaped to resemble a scallop shell, transforming the whole fountain into a symbol of the theme of Resurrection.

Platerias-ExpulsionThe fountain was the centrepoint of an atrium or parvis and an intentional evocation of the Paradisus of Constantine’s basilica of St Peter’s in Rome. This reminder of Eden was the prelude to the carved Genesis cycle of the Fall of Man depicted above the entrance to the cathedral. As the first volume of the Jacobus declares, “Adam is considered the first pilgrim”.

The depiction of the Fall on the north portal supplied the context for pilgrims arriving at the Apostle’s shrine. Their journey was one necessitated by Original Sin and that, through the intercession of the saint whose mortal remains where held beyond the portal, they could obtain a return to Paradise.

Platerias-SagittariusThe Pilgrim’s Guide provides a description of the iconographic programme. Above the right doorway a series of reliefs showed the Creation of Adam and Eve, the Reprimand after Original Sin and the Expulsion. According to the Guide’s account, this scene is surrounded by a multiplicity of images, “and other creatures whose aspect and characteristics we cannot provide here due to their great number”.

Platerias-PiscesSurviving sculptural elements suggest that these included the Signs of the Zodiac and the Labours of the Months. Representing the passage of earthly time, they were a discourse on the consequences of the Fall.

Thus a Sagittarian Centaur shoots arrows and pierces the heart of a Siren representing Pisces, an allegory of the destructive nature of passion. A Crossbowman preparing his weapon is a symbol of Discord.

A man rides a rooster indicating lust. An Eve suckling the baby Cain recalls the words of Genesis, “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”.

Platerias-King-David-P

The scenes of the Fall are counterpointed by Old Testament figures who were considered prefigurations of Christ. Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac and King David the Musician. This promise of future redemption was made explicit in a depiction of the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin which was located above the left doorway.

Maps of the world which were included in the illuminated manuscripts of Beatus’ Commentary on the Apocalypse featured depictions of Paradise. It was represented by the Four Rivers, the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates which the Book of Genesis mentions as emanating from Eden. The Beatus maps depicted the Apostles in those places where they had fulfilled their mission. The Beatus copy from the cathedral of El Burgo de Osma of 1086, features only two, Peter in Rome and James at Compostela.

The Porta Francigena was destroyed in 1757-8, however many of the reliefs found their way onto the Puerta de las Platerias, where they can be seen today.

Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997

Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000

The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009

The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992

Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003

The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

Hidden behind an eighteenth century baroque outer casing at Santiago de Compostela, is a vast and intact twelfth century Romanesque pilgrimage basilica. Platerias-Tymp-GV-1In its time it was a building which for size and prestige stood on equal footing with perhaps only four or five others in Western Latin Christendom.

Many commentators believe that in the twelfth century Compostela eclipsed all saintly shrines as a pilgrimage destination. Ultimately, the manner in which it acquired such prominence may remain a matter of conjecture, the fact remains that the authorities there, both secular and ecclesiastical believed they were in a position to elevate the shrine of Saint James to a status equal with that of Rome and Jerusalem.

Platerias-Col-7-WPFor a hitherto, dimly regarded and peripheral location in western Christendom, this seems on the face of it, a fairly startling presumption. In the preceding two and a half centuries only two fairly modest churches had successively existed at the site of the mausoleum which, it was said contained the relics of Christ’s Apostle.

For the pilgrimage, which had been long and arduous and was now a Europe wide phenomenon, a fitting goal was now required.

In 1075 the emperor king of León and Castile, Alfonso VI returned from a successful campaign against the Moors of Granada with a train of booty which he donated to the see of Compostela for the purpose of building a new church which would be commensurate with the status which was aspired to.

Construction began in 1077, as always at the eastern end and the finished building was consecrated in 1211. During that time there were several revisions to the original design.

Platerias-Col-13WPThe work commenced under the direction of bishop Diego Pelaez and was then continued, intermittently by his successor Diego Gelmirez who is regarded as the most dynamic promoter of Compostela, obtaining archiepiscopal status from Rome in 1120.

The fifth part of the twelfth century Book of Saint James offers us a detailed and extensive description of the church, its decorative elements and liturgical appurtenances even as it was under construction.

One of the intentions was to achieve a building whose symbolic expression was to represent the spiritual function of the shrine within. This would culminate in a massive stone relief of the theophanic vision of the Transfiguration, the New Testament scene attended by the same Apostle who was commemorated by the basilica, and which was a prefiguration of the Second Coming and the Apocalypse.

It was a narrative of redemption emanating from within the shrine itself, which contained that prodigious conduit with the celestial, the very body of the Apostle.

Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997

Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000 The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009 The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992 Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010. Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003 The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.

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.

 Torres-de-Oeste-1Like its Celtic counterparts in Brittany and Cornwall, the coast of Galicia is scored with rocky inlets and estuaries, known locally as Riás. These penetrated deep into the interior and it was up the narrowing channel of the Rio Ulla estuary, that the legendary stone vessel would have made its way towards its head at Padron.

 This was the most important of the Rias and led directly to Santiago de Compostela.

 From prehistoric times these inlets were the locations of trading stations which carried tin, the essential component of bronze from Cornwall, Brittany and Galicia to the Mediterranean. These routes were used by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and then Romans. Atlantic tin was exchanged for Mediterranean produce.

 As well as a trade in goods, these routes also provided a trade in legends, myths and religious beliefs. The story of a stone vessel transporting a dead hero across the sea was a myth repeated elsewhere on the Celtic coasts of western Europe.

Torres-de-Oeste-4Halfway down the estuary of the Rio Ulla one comes across the ruins of a substantial fortified settlement which guarded the entry inland. The Torres de Oeste, the Towers of the West.

 The Roman geographer Pomponius Mela locates the Turris Augusti at the mouth of the Ulla river. Originally built by the Phoenicians, Pomponius’ reference suggests that they were restored by the Romans during the reign of Augustus. The strategic location before the mouth of the river provided a perfect place for a defensive fortress and lookout.

 After the Romans, they fell into disuse but in the medieval period they were restored and enlarged as the threat of maritime Saracen raids grew. As the cult of Santiago grew, the importance of the Torres de Oeste as the gateway to Compostela increased correspondingly.

Normans first attacked in 844 and in 968 bishop Sisnando of Compostela was killed at the site having come to repulse a Norman force heading for Compostela up the estuary.

The Historia Compostelana, the epic recounting which aggrandised Compostela’s most celebrated prelate Archbishop Gelmirez, portrays him as the great patron of the Torres de Oeste. According to this account, Diego Gelmirez was responsible for the addition of a chapel, new walls, bridges and grand buildings to house the Galician court.

Torres-de-Oeste-WP-3In actual fact much of this building campaign was undertaken by Gelmirez’ predecessor bishop Cresconio in the 1040’s after he had successfully repelled a Norman force there. Cresconio was buried at Torres de Oeste in 1066.

The substantial nature of the building work at Torres de Oeste and the importance ascribed to it as a second home for the Galician nobility  suggest that its significance went beyond a mere defensive emplacement but also as an extension of the Compostelan pilgrimage. Padron and Fisterra were places associated with the extension of the journey to the sea itself and the association with the scallop shell. The Torres de Oeste facing the open sea remains a place of considerable mystical allure.

Biblio: Galice Roman, Dom Bernardo Regal

Saint Jacques à Compostelle, J Chocheyras