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Italica Press, who have previously published translations of the Pilgrim’s Guide and the Miracles of Saint James have recently announced a new translation of Book IV of the Book of Saint James, the Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin by Yale University Assistant Professor of Spanish and Medieval Studies, Kevin R. Poole. This is the account of the legend of Saint James and Charlemagne.


The History of Charlemagne and Roland recounts how the emperor and his Frankish army, returning after their victorious campaign to liberate Spain and the shrine of Compostela, were challenged by Furra, king of Navarre at a place called Monjardin.

Monjardin-WP-1The pilgrimage road between Estella and Najera near Los Arcos passes between the Sierra Montejurra to the south and the steep eminence of mount Monjardin immediately to the north. Monjardin dominates the road and the countryside for miles around. At its crown is the old castle of San Esteban de Deio which played a vital role in the Reconquest of Navarre in the very early tenth century.

Captured from the Saracens by Sancho Garcia Ist in 908, the Navarrese Christians were then able to use it as a base to control the valley of the Rio Ega and then advance south of the Ebro. Monjardin-WP-3When the Moors returned in force under Abderrahman III and razed Pamlona in 924, only the defensive position of Monjardin was able to resist.

The survival of Monjardin was attributed to a legendary cross which miraculously appeared during battle. The cross came to be venerated by the local populace who covered it in silver and can be seen to this day in the church of Villamayor de Monjardin.

When Charlemagne accepted the king of Navarre’s challenge at Monjardin, he prayed on the eve of battle to know which of his men were to be slain the next day. “Charlemagne therefore prepared for battle, but desiring to know who should perish in it, he entreated the Lord to show him”. In the morning these were miraculously designated by ”a red cross which appeared on their shoulders behind”.

The emperor ordered that these men should be confined to a chapel and the fight should take place without them. Monjardin-WP-2Furra and three thousand of his army were killed, “these were all Saracens of Navarre”. Although victorious,  Charlemagne was dismayed to find on his return to the chapel that all those held inside were now dead, their status as martyrs was not to be denied. “Christian warriors” declared the emperor, ”though the sword slew you not, yet did you not lose the palm of victory or the prize of martyrdom”.

The castle of San Esteban de Deio was renamed Monte Gargiani in memory of Sancho Garcia Ist, who was buried in the chapel of the castle. When in 1090 the town of Estella was founded by Sancho Ramirez king of Aragon and the French bishop of Pamplona, Pierre d’Andouque, Monjardin’s defensive role was revived, this time as a bastion between the competing interests of Aragon and Navarre and the strategic role of the pilgrimage road. Monte Gargiani was renamed Monjardin.

Biblio:  Dom L-M Lojendio, Navarre Romane ed. Zodiaque

Rio-CeaSahagún stood firmly on the pilgrimage road which traversed bridges on either side of the town.

It was here that, according to the History of Charlemagne and Roland, the Frankish army fought a pivotal battle in its campaign to liberate Spain.

On the banks of the Cea, Charlemagne faced the Saracen army of Aigolando in a lengthy contest. As at Monjardin and ultimately, Roncevaux, the battle of Sahagún developed the theme of the martyrdom of the Christian warrior which runs through the whole narrative.

Sahagun-Chartres-WP-1“Then did this miracle happen. Certain of the Christians who carefully had been furbishing their arms against the day of battle, fixed their spears in the evening erect in the ground before the castle in the meadow, near the river and found them early in the morning covered with bark and branches”.

The spears, dead wood returning to living wood were alluding to the afterlife in Paradise and Christ as the Vine, a common image in Romanesque sculpture. The miracle of the spears was also part of the continuing process of denoting the Franks as God’s chosen people, taking its source from the story of Aaron’s rod in the Book of Numbers.

In that Old Testament account, the overnight flowering of the rod signified the preeminence of the House of Levi among the twelve tribes of Israel, marking them out as being the only ones to be elected to the priesthood.

Espalion-Rider-1In the crusading era the epic legend of Charlemagne and Roland exalted the role of the Christian warrior to a privileged position whose death in battle would guarantee election to Paradise, where they might join that other caste in the tripartite division of medieval society, the priests and monks. An equation was thus made between the priestly caste of the Old Testament House of Levi and the medieval warrior martyr.

The Frankish warriors cut their spears to the ground, but the vine continued to flourish. They eventually grew into tall trees which, the legend assures us, could still be seen by pilgrims in twelfth century.

In the ensuing battle forty thousand Christians were slain including the general Milo, father of Roland. Reinforcements of soldiers from Italy, caused Aigolando to retreat to León and Charlemagne then returned towards France.

The Pilgrims Guide informs us also of Sahagún that, “Next to the town there are wooded meadows in which, as one is told, the planted poles of the warrior’s lances bloom”.


Loire-@-La-ChariteFifty miles from Vézelay pilgrims reached the crossing of the mighty Loire river. Visible on the far shore stood the immense church and surrounding complex of the priory of Notre-Dame de la Charité-sur-Loire.

There, a semi-derelict eighth century monastery had been donated to Cluny in 1059. The new priory was established with the primary intention of being a major halt on the Compostelan pilgrimage. This objective was achieved with evident rapidity when the site, which had never fully recovered from being destroyed by Saracens in 743, quickly developed into one of the most important monastic centres in Western Europe.


By 1070 it was designated by the name Caritate which conveys the sense of the function it performed in receiving pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

The greater part of these pilgrims had come from the shrine of Mary Magdalene and were headed towards Spain by way of Limoges.

Two hundred monks performed the liturgy and La Charité had jurisdiction over fifty dependent priories across Europe, further extending the power and influence of the great abbey of Cluny over the region and generally over the Limoges Road to Spain. Over one hundred churches in Burgundy and the surrounding regions were also dependencies of La Charité.

La-Ch-Int-2The priory church was was the longest structure after Cluny itself and in its second building campaign during the first quarter of the twelfth century was intentionally modelled after the mother church at Cluny.

It had five radiating chapels and a nave measuring one hundred and fifteen metres in length.

A profusion of sculpture marked it out as one of the highest achievements of Romanesque stone carving.

Deep cut relief sculptures of apostles and prophets were set in niches which line the exterior of the nave, the crossing tower and the chevet.

La-Ch-Ext-4-WPThe western end of the church was flanked by two towers. The façade featured five porches each with a sculpted tympana, of which only two now survive. The central tympanum would most likely have been a depiction of Christ in Majesty.

La Charité was dedicated to the Virgin and in keeping with its status as a Marian shrine, each tympanum was paired with lintel scenes of the Incarnation.

Of the two remaining sculptures, one presents a singular Ascension scene with the Virgin gesturing towards Christ in a mandorla and the archangels Michael and Gabriel in attendance, an image of the Mother of God as intercessor. The lintel beneath shows the Annunciation and the Nativity.

La-Ch-Trans-5-WPThe other surviving tympanum relief is of the Transfiguration above a lintel of the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple.

In 1132, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny had introduced the feast of the Transfiguration into the Cluniac monastic calendar and it was about this time that the porch sculpture at La Charité was done.

The subject of the Transfiguration for a large scale west porch relief was unique to La Charité with the exception of the Santiago de Compostela. It reflects on the pilgrimage to the shrine of the Apostle James since this Biblical episode wherein Jesus assumed His divine form in the presence of His three closest disciples, Peter, John and James, was also a commentary on the primal importance of the Galician saint.

N.B. This is a revised version of an earlier post

Biblio: A Propos du tympana de la Vierge à Notre-Dame de la Charité-sur-Loire, Yves Christe, Cahiers de Civilisation Medièvale 9. 34 1966

La-Ch-Trans-14-WPThe tympanum sculpture of the Transfiguration at the Cluniac priory church of Notre-Dame de la Charité-sur-Loire in Burgundy ranks as one of the masterpieces of Romanesque sculptural art evincing similarities with the Languedocian style of Moissac.

It is the only large scale Transfiguration in twelfth century Romanesque sculpture, apart from the putative remnants now situated above the Platerias Portal at Compostela.

The Transfiguration was a rare subject for art. It was a late addition to the liturgical calendar celebrated only in monasteries belonging to the Cluniac order from 1132.


The subject of commentaries by Saint John Chrysostom and Peter the Venerable, the twelfth century abbot of Cluny, it was considered by them a prefiguration of the Second Coming.

According to the accounts described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the vision was witnessed by three disciples only, Peter, John and James.

This narrative of the New Testament was key to the importance attributed to Saint James in the medieval world. That he was witness to the appearance of Christ’s divinity was of huge significance.


There is little variation in the three gospel accounts: the disciples were led up a mountain by Jesus, which although unnamed in the Gospels was recognised by medieval tradition as the Mount Tabor situated a few miles from the shore of lake Galilee.

There, Jesus was seen talking to two men, Moses and Elias and “transfigured” becoming bright as the sun. A hand emerged from the clouds and a voice was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.

Afterwards, Jesus bound the three disciples to a vow of secrecy as to the scene they had witnessed telling them, “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again”.

The disciples are confounded by this remarking that Elias, according to the Book of Malachi was to return before the Day of Judgment. Whereupon Jesus tells them that Elias has already returned in the form of John the Baptist.


Surviving from the sixth century only three large scale Byzantine mosaic representations are known. At Ravenna at the church of Saint Apollinare in Classe at Ravenna, the Christ is represented by the Crux Gemmata, the bejewelled cross which had been set on Golgotha by the emperor Theodosius in the early fifth century. He is attended by Moses and Elias while beneath the disciples are depicted as sheep.

As at Ravenna, the mosaic at Saint Catherine’s monastery at Sinai is set in the vault of the apse. The disciples are in human form crouching beneath a Christ in mandorla. Another mosaic depiction exists at the Euphrasian basilica at Parenzo in modern Croatia.

A contemporaneous account mentions a Transfiguration mosaic scene in Constantine‘s church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople. In the destroyed cathedral of Naples it was associated with the Twenty-Four Elders of the Apocalypse.

Biblio: Les Grands Portails Romans, Yves Christe, 1969

A Propos du tympana de la Vierge à Notre-Dame de la Charité-sur-Loire, Yves Christe, Cahiers de Civilisation Medièvale 9. 34 1966


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