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Category Archives: Compostela

The emergence of the pilgrimage to Compostela in the eleventh century combining with the Great Schism which separated the Orthodox and the Catholic church in 1054 led to a redrawing of the sacred topography of the Christian world.

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With Rome now in the centre and Jerusalem under an orthodox patriarchate, the West was henceforth defined by the shrine of the Apostle James at Compostela.

The main altar at the cathedral was surrounded by eleven chapels which radiated around the tomb along the transepts and ambulatory. These formed a symbolic geography of the pilgrimage road itself by recalling some of the major stations along the way. The two chapels of the north transept were dedicated to Saint Nicholas and The Holy Cross, those of the southern transept, Saints Martin and John the Baptist.

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Around the ambulatory were chapels dedicated to Sainte Foy, Saint John the Evangelist, the Holy Saviour, Saint Peter and Saint Andrew. Behind the main altar was an oratory of Mary Magdalene and in an upper chamber above the chevet there was a chapel dedicated to Saint Michael.

This deployment of chapels was a microcosm of the Compostelan pilgrimage. The most prominent saintly shrines of the road were hereby recalled, Saint John the Baptist at Angèly near Saintes, Sainte Foy of Conques in the southern Auvergne, Saint Martin of Tours on the Loire, Saint Peter of Rome and at Bari, Saint Nicholas.

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The central position of the saint of Vézelay, Mary Magdalene was consonant with her function as Apostle to the Apostles and the positioning of her chapel pointedly alluding to the similar plan at the church of the Holy Sepulchre

The upper chapel dedicated to Saint Michael referred similarly, to the sanctuaries of the Archangel on the pilgrimage road on elevated sites of Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe at the Puy-en-Velay, Monte Gargano and the Mont Saint Michel.

Although the Italian shrines are not included in the Pilgrim’s Guide which limits itself to the French routes, they are mentioned repeatedly elsewhere in the Jacobus. Book One makes reference to the Italian stations along the Via Francigena to Rome and the Via Traiana which led from Rome to Bari and thence by ship to Jerusalem.

Platerias-Col-9-WPMore than any other saintly shrine of western Europe, Santiago de Compostela, being on the periphery, depended on the very notion of pilgrimage. When the Jacobus defined the road in terms of the saintly remains along the way, it was implicitly posing a challenge to the great sanctuaries of Christendom. The tombs of Saint Trophimus at Arles, or Saint Saturninus at Toulouse, were ultimately mere stations on the road to the ultimate goal.

This idea was perfectly realised by the layout of the chapels at Compostela, surrounding as they did the main altar of Saint James situated above his tomb.

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-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.

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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 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”.

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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

Christian writers, from the earliest years were keen to set down in writing the lives of the saints and the miracles which they performed, whether during their lifetime or through their relics after death. Many of these texts failed to survive the ravages of religious warfare and revolutionary zeal. At the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela there exists in complete form the full twelfth century text of the cult which was venerated there.

The Liber Sancti Iacobi or the Book of Saint James is often referred to as the The Codex Calixtinus after Pope Calixtus II by whom it was purportedly written, although it is clearly derived from a number of sources. Scholars are agreed that it was written  around the middle of the twelfth century and comprises five books.

Book One consists of liturgical material. Book Two consists of the accounts twenty-two miracles performed by Saint James. Book Three consists of the story of Saint James’ translation from Palestine and burial at Compostela.

Book Four is called the History of Charlemagne and Roland and is a Latin version of the Chanson de Geste known as the Song of Roland with a strong emphasis on the pilgrimage to Compostela.

Book Five is today often referred to as the Pilgrim’s Guide. It is a curious manuscript whose intention has been much disputed. It is ostensibly a guide to travellers to the shrine of Saint James via four roads which cross France and meet beyond the Pyrenees  in Navarre where they join to form a single road to Compostela.

There is advice on matters concerning pilgrims such as the inhabitants of the countries they must pass through, which rivers are poisonous, but above all which saintly relics to visit along the way.

Modern historians have attempted to recreate the old pilgrim roads using these locations as markers and filling in the rest with reference to surviving buildings, most often the many eleventh and twelfth century churches which still exist. How well they have succeeded is open to opinion, as is the more difficult question of how much the Pilgrim’s Guide can be said to reflect a true picture of twelfth century pilgrimage.

Santiago de Compostela lies only twenty miles inland from the Atlantic ocean at the far western extremity of the European landmass, known by the Romans as Finis Terra, the end of the earth. For them the ocean was the Mare Tenebrosum, the dark sea. Since ancient times this coastline, known as the Costa da Muerte, the coast of death, had been finisteraused by traders who sailed along it towards the tin mines of the Scilly Isles and Cornwall. It was an important trade route linking the classical mediterranean world with the Celtic.

It was via these old trade routes that cultural and religious ideas were transmitted. For the Greeks the far west was considered the mythical Land of the Dead and they dubbed the inhabitants the Keltoi  after Caillaech, their mother goddess.

Galicia, a remote land bordered by the sea to the north and west and the mountains to the  south and east retained her Celtic heritage long after the surrounding area had been Christianised. Still today, the landscape contains occasional druidic dolmens.

At Finisterra the Celts had a major pilgrimage site, the Ara de Solis, the altar of the Sun. The cardinal points had symbolic meaning too. The East represented Birth and Resurrection, the West: Death and the Afterlife.

Combined, these elements indicate that the area around Compostela had from prehistoric times been a significant place of pilgrimage associated with funeral rites.

isidorean-mappamundi-11th-sMedieval maps depict a circular area surrounded by water with Jerusalem at its centre and Galicia at its western point. Christian conceptions of the world also regarded the west coast of Spain as the limit of the earth. Considered in the context of the Mission of the Apostles it was a significant location. According to widely held belief the End of the World could only happen when the Apostolic Mission had been accomplished, that is the Gospel had been spread to the furthest reaches of the world.

The Arab invasion of Spain at the beginning of the eighth century seemed to fulfill the prophecy of the Book of Daniel concerning the fourth empire of the World. This empire would be the final one, culminating in the Apocalypse.

The Asturian abbot Beatus of Liebana was a refugee from Islamic Andalusia and the illustration of the Earth in his celebrated Commentary on the Apocalypse  confirms the Apostle James as evangeliser of Spain.  A number of prophetic ideas were now coming together.

Had the Mission of the Apostles been completed? Was the perceived threat to Christendom posed by the Arab invasion that prelude to Apocalypse prophecied in Daniel and Revelations? If so, what more fitting place to go in pilgrimage than that remote corner of the world.

The discovery of the tomb of the Apostle at Compostela a generation after Beatus  seemed an inevitablity.

As the Book of Saint James tells us with Apocalyptic foreboding: “As the Eastern Apostolic See was established by St. John at Ephesus, so was the Western established by St. James. And those Sees are undoubtedly the true Sees. Ephesus on the right hand of Christ’s earthly kingdom, and Compostela on the left, both which fell to the share of the sons of Zebedee”.

Saint James the Greater was one of Jesus’ twelve Apostles. A Galilean fisherman, he was with his brother of John and their friend Peter the first disciples recruited by Jesus and they formed his inner circle. Always closest to him, they alone witnessed the Transfiguration on mount Tabor when Jesus revealed his divine aspect for the first time.

According to the Acts of the Apostles he was executed on the orders of Herod Agrippa in AD 44 , the first Apostle to be martyred.

By 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 and Paul at Rome and John at Ephesus. It was generally believed that the Apostles were buried in the lands which they had evangelised.

Already before the discovery of the tomb, there had been a growing interest in the cult of Saint James in Spain and a tradition that he had fulfilled his Apostolic Mission there.

santiago-48In the first century, the apochryphal Gospel of the Twelve Holy Apostles describing the gift of tongues which had been given to the Apsotles at the Pentecost so they could carry the gospel to the the world, ascribed to each one the language of the land he was destined to evangelise. James was given the gift of Latin, implying lands to the West.

A Greek language account of the Apostles and the lands where they had preached was written and translated into Latin some time in the seventh century and was known as the Breviary of the Apostles. Here it records that Saint James had preached in Spain. A short time later another text, again of indeterminate date and attributed at the time to Isidore of Seville dealing with the lives of the Apostles and Prophets confirmed the belief that James had preached:“to the peoples of Spain and the western places, at the world’s edge”.

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”.