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Category Archives: Pilgrimage


The four French Roads and the Spanish Road according to the Pilgrim’s Guide


The Camino Francès and the Camino Primitivo


The French routes Southern France


The French routes Northern France

LSJ-Calixtus-2-Authorship of the text of Book Five of the Jacobus, the so-called Pilgrim’s Guide is attributed to Pope Calixtus II and a certain Aimery and it’s colophon tells us that it was largely composed at the abbey of Cluny in Burgundy.

It goes without saying that such medieval attributions of authorship and provenance need to be treated with scepticism. The career of the Burgundian Calixtus, as a former monk of Cluny and eventual holder of the Papal throne did little to qualify him for the familiarity with the topography of northern Spain demonstrated by the text. Furthermore, Calixtus’ death in 1124 precludes him as the definitive author.

 Rio-PisuergaThe dates 1137, which marked the death King Louis VI of France and is referred to in the text and 1173, when the first known copy was completed, provide the time frame for the compilation of the Jacobus. According to the text, the cathedral of Compostela had already been under construction for sixty-three years at the time of King Louis’ death and building was still ongoing.

This close proximity of the text to the phenomenon it described is further evidenced by the mention of the continuing practice at Triacestela, Fromista-Corbels-1-WPof pilgrims gathering stones which they carried to Castaneda, eighty kilometres further on. These went into the making of the lime used in the construction of the cathedral, giving the modern reader a vivid sense of the contemporaneity of the text.

 It seems evident that the author had a firm grasp of the fine detail of the pilgrimage road, especially when one considers that Chapter III entitled “Of the names of towns on this road”, lists a total of fifty seven place names along the route. On this basis, an origin for the text of the Pilgrim’s Guide within the scriptorium of the cathedral of Santiago seems likely.

Biblio: J. Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83, W. Melczer – The Pilgrims’ Guide to Santiago de Compostela

Santiago-67During the great florescence of the Compostelan pilgrimage in the twelfth century, travellers reached Santiago by a variety of ways. Some came by sea,  others from El-Andalus and Merida up the Via de la Plata. Only one of these itineraries was set down in writing and that was the road from the Pyrenees, the so-called French Road or Camino Frances.

This route is recorded in the Jacobus, that twelfth century medieval manuscript devoted to the cult of Santiago de Compostela which contains a chapter entitled “The Day’s Journey on the Apostle’s Road”.

In contrast to the scant account afforded the four roads through France in the previous chapter, the level of detail here given to the description of the Spanish road is revealing by the manner in which it is so clearly defined.

 Aspe-River-10Stylistically the text takes its form from the itineraries which were drawn up for the Roman legions, which measured journeys in units of distances travelled per day.

It specifies two routes over the Pyrenees, either the Somport pass or the Cize and Roncevaux. Beginning at the village of Borce on the French side below the Somport Pass, the first route consists of three days journey to Puente la Reina in Navarre from where, the text tells us a “single road leads as far as Santiago”. From Borce to Jaca is the first day, Jaca to Monreal the second and Monreal to Puente la Reina, the third.

 Navarre_Aragon-The second route is described from the village of Saint Michel Pied-de-Port “at the foot of the pass of Cize on the Gascon side”. From there the journey is divided into thirteen uneven stages between way stations of a day’s length. It is worth noting that according to these instructions the pilgrim would cover an unlikely average of over fifty kilometres per day.

 Thus the first stage is between Saint Michel and the Navarrese village of Viscarret; the second, Viscarret to Pamplona, the third is Pamplona to Estella, the fourth, Estella to Najera, the fifth goes from Najera into Castile and the city of Burgos. The sixth is Burgos to Fromista. Across the meseta the road heads into Leon from Fromista to the Cluniac bastion at Sahagun which is the seventh days’ journey. The eighth is Sahagun to Leon, the ninth Leon to Rabanal, the tenth to Villafranca del Bierzo in Galicia. Villafranca to Triacestela is the eleventh, the twelfth goes as far as Palas and then finally the thirteenth to Compostela itself.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Silversmith’s Door to the southern transept at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. For more information on the cult of Saint James, click here.



Split screen rendering of the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela. For more information click here.

The final book of the Codex Calixtus  begins with these words: “There are four roads which, leading to Santiago, converge to form a single road at Puente la Reina, in Spanish territory”. Often referred to as the Pilgrim’s Guide, it is hard to consider that it was possible to use it in the form of a guide for travellers in any modern sense and indeed its purpose remains obscure. It would appear to be a collection of liturgical pieces, hagiographical texts and sections of practical advice. Nevertheless, it does maintain a certain cohesiveness in that it remains faithful to the idea of what a twelfth century pilgrim might have witnessed and as such must stand as a fascinating reminder of a bygone age.

The routes were defined by the location of the most important saintly shrines on the way and the pilgrimage to Compostela became a cumulative sacred experience.

In modern times, these four roads have been named according to the principal town on the route. Thus we have the Road of Tours which leads from northern France down the western side of France. The Road of Limoges passes through Burgundy and the centre. The Road of Le Puy crosses the Auvergne. The Road of Toulouse leads from Provence through the Languedoc region.

It is generally considered that each road began at a certain point, like a fountainhead where pilgrims congregated. The Tours route at the shrine of Saint Martin at Tours itself, the Limoges route beginning at the shrine of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, the Puy route beginning at the shrine of the black Madonna at the cathedral of Le Puy. Finally, the Toulouse route commencing at the necropolis of the Alyscans at Arles.

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.

cluny-bw-chevet-recon11088 is the date often given by historians for the start of construction of the great abbey church of Cluny which was to be the largest in Christendom. It was built to the same plan as the pilgrimage churches at Tours and Toulouse: four aisles and an ambulatory of five radiating chapels plus a further two chapels on each transept arm.  Although later Gothic cathedrals rose higher, it was not until the sixteenth century with the building of St Peter’s in Rome, that a church compared with Cluny in terms of actual space on the ground.

So vast was it inside that that all the monks of the Cluniac order which numbered over a thousand establishments could be fitted inside. The intention to do so has actually been given as an explanation for the building, but such an occasion would have been impractical to arrange and never took place.

Yet it remains a curious fact that such a vast edifice was constructed at vast expense in the middle of the Burgundian countryside where there was no pilgrimage traffic.

At Cluny there were no important saint’s relics as there were at the other great churches of the period which were comparable such as Santiago de Compostela or Saint Sernin at Toulouse.

Nevertheless it remains true that the third abbey church of Cluny matched the great pilgrimage churches of the Compostelan roads.

The Liber Sancti Iacobi – the Book of Saint James, which was compiled in around the middle of the twelfth century ends with the declaration that it was mainly written at Cluny. The real intention behind the writing of this manuscript has never been satisfactorily resolved but the inclusion of Cluny’s name in the colophon is at the very least indicative of some degree of patronage.

The bulk of the funding for the church building was in the form of an annual donation from the kings of León and Castile, most notably Alfonso VI who was also instrumental in construction the cathedral at Santiago.

A longstanding debate among historians concerning Cluny’s actual function with regard to pilgrimage, has ideas ranging from it being almost completely a Cluniac invention to a peripheral role only for the Burgundian abbey yet it would seem that the fortunes of Cluny and the Compostelan pilgrimage were strongly intertwined.

Evidence suggests that Cluny sought to extend it influence over three of the five major pilgrimage roads and to extend the Puy route north to Cluny, so making the Burgundian abbey the starting point for the route which passed through Conques. According to the Pilgrim’s Guide it is the “Burgundians and the Teutons who proceed to Santiago by the route of Le Puy”. Pilgrims from as far away as southern Germany, Austria and Hungary would have gathered at Cluny.

In 1062 Cluny acquired the abbey of Saint Martial at Limoges, the most prestigious shrine on the Vézelay route. In 1031 the patron Saint Martial whose relics were venerated there had been elevated to apostolic status by Papal decree. This was recognition that Martial provided a direct link with the original Apostles by virtue of having being directed by Saint Peter himself to travel from Rome to convert the pagans of the Limousin region.

Already several of the great shrines and stations were Cluniac establishments: Saint Gilles on the Toulouse route, Moissac on the Puy route and the shrine of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay.

In Spain, Cluny’s interest and influence was felt because of Ferdinand and Alfonso’s donations of important pilgrimage stations at Najera, Burgos, Sahagun and Carrion de los Condes.

The acquisition of Saint Martial was made with difficulty and ultimately required the use of force. The possession of Saint Martial together with Vézelay meant that the Via Lemivocensis was effectively dominated by Cluny. Of the other three routes in France, the Tours road was already under French royal control as the two major shrines, Saint Denis and Saint Martin de Tours were in Capetian lands. But Cluny already had footholds on the Puy and Toulouse roads at Moissac and Saint Gilles respectively. In order to consolidate its position to one of eminence, Cluny made a determined effort to acquire the major shrines on these routes at Saint Sernin of Toulouse and Sainte Foy of Conques.

Both of these attempts failed and the extension of the Puy road up to Cluny never fully materialized.

Sources and Biblio: OK Werkmeister Cluny III and the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – Gesta
J Williams Cluny and Spain – Gesta

The pilgrimage roads as defined in the twelfth century manuscript referred to as the Book of Saint James follow four distinct routes across France. As they reach Spain they join to form a single route, known today as the Camino Francès.pilgrim-routes-wpress1

The four French roads travel from the north, east and south. Each passed through the most important saintly shrines of their regions.

The Road of Tours took its name from the shrine of Saint Martin of that city. This route afforded its travellers the opportunity to visit the great shrines of Saint Denis near Paris,  Saint Hilaire at Poitiers, Saint Eutropius at Saintes and Saint Seurin at Bordeaux.

Those who travelled the Road of Limoges began their journey at the abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy which claimed possession of the relics of Mary Magdalene. In the Limousin they could visit the shrine of Saint Leonard of Noblat and Saint Martial at Limoges and in the Périgord that of  Saint Fronto.

chanaleillesThe Road of Le Puy began at the cathedral town of Le Puy-en-Velay, home to  a prehistoric healing  dolmen. At Conques was the reliquary statue of Sainte Foy renowned for her miracle working powers. Further on was the  abbey of Moissac on the banks of the Tarn river, the great centre of monastic power in southern France

The Toulouse Road began at the ancient Roman necropolis of Arles with its numerous saints’ tombs. On the other side of the great delta of the Rhone was the shrine of Saint Gilles. Travelling up into the mountains of the Languedoc, pilgrims visited the tomb of Saint Guilhem, the knight turned monk and hero of numerous epic legends. The road then headed west to Toulouse and the shrine of Saint Saturninus.

The Pilgrim’s Guide which forms the fourth section of the Book of Saint James, recommends over twenty saints relics to venerate, although there were many more. rioja1On the Spanish road there are approximately 600 kilometres from the Pyrenees to Santiago itself with the route passing through Burgos and across the flat parched meseta plateau  to Leòn and the shrine of Saint Isidore. From there the road rises to cross the mountains of Galicia before reaching Compostela, a short distance from Finistera on the Atlantic coast.



Everything goes back to the Jacobus, the Book of Saint James, a compilation of hagiographical texts dating from the mid twelfth century.

A strong wish not to include any anachronistic ideas and to attempt to grasp something of the culture of the world of that twelfth century pilgrimage, however impossible that may seem, is one the motivating forces behind the content below.

Time passed more slowly a thousand years ago. Ideas and stories which, with the passage of centuries would have lost any sense of contemporaneity in our modern world, still retained a vital hold on the imaginations of men in medieval times.

To look at a Romanesque sculpted image on a twelfth century church is surely to be stirred by conflicting impulses. On the one hand, there is the profound sense of the otherness of the culture being expressed, while at the same time there is an equally profound sense of connection to it.


Vézelay, Arles, Saint Gilles, León, Moissac, Conques, Toulouse and Santiago de Compostela are just the most illustrious names of places where one can be transported back to another time.

Amongst numerous others, they are the locations of twelfth century pilgrimage churches featuring large scale stone sculpture, bound together by being stations on the great pilgrimage roads across France and northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

The imposing stone carvings which can still be seen at these churches throw a light on a world as far removed from our own as it is possible to imagine. A world whose dominant cultural force was religious.

Pilgrimage was predicated on the cult of the saints and the miracles reported at their shrines. Massive movements of humanity took place as people flocked to venerate saintly relics. Within pilgrimage culture the world view and notion of time were ultimately defined by the certainty of impending Apocalypse.

This meant an ordering of society which involved a tripartite division, essential  in this eschatological scheme. Each constituent part providing a mutually beneficial role  for the others. The poor labouring to feed humanity, the aristocracy advancing the cause of Christendom by force of arms and the monks providing the possibility of salvation to the dead as well as the living.

The pilgrimage to Santiago interacted with the political order of twelfth century Europe in a complex web which is hard to untangle. The road to Compostela was the spine of the Christian kingdoms of Spain. Rulers promoted the pilgrimage to repopulate their regions, bring wealth and crusaders. They expressed their power through the construction of great Romanesque building programmes.

Perhaps the most emblematic expression of the inextricable connection between the spiritual and the political is the case of the Leonese census, whereby the kings of León-Castile contributed vast amounts of gold, extorted from the Moorish princes of Andalusia, towards the building programme of the largest church in Christendom at the Burgundian abbey of Cluny in return for the promise of continuing prayer for their personal salvation to be made there.

These concerns all find their reflection in one way or another in the great sculptural ensembles of the twelfth century which are the most resonant legacy of a disappeared world.