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Roncevaux-11-WPPamplona was such a vital location, as well as being one of the first cities to be reconquered by the Christians from the Moors, that it was inevitable it should become the locus of legendary material.

In the epic poem known as l’Entrée en Espagne, Pamplona is described thus: “From one side it views the way to Gascony, from the other gate one sees towards Aragon, another guards the way towards Spain and the fourth faces the Ocean”.

Pilgrims to Compostela were directed to cross the Pyrenees using the Cize Pass and the first major station after the mountains was Pamplona.

The Royal Frankish Annals of 805 and 829 tell us that the Navarrese and Basques had allied themselves with the Saracens to form an enclave in the city.

Having been repudiated at Saragossa, Charlemagne and his army razed Pamplona, destroying “the walls of this city down to its foundations so that it might not rebel”.

As the Chronicle of Turpin has it, Pamplona was the first city which Charlemagne besieged in Spain after he had been admonished by the Apostle James to free his shrine in Galicia.

Chartres-Charl-Pyrenees-WPLike Joshua at the siege of Jericho, it was the impregnable strength of the walls which prevented him from taking the city.

So it was with Charlemagne before the city of Pamplona, “The first city Charlemagne besieged was Pamplona, he invested it for three months, but was not able to take it, through the invincible strength of its walls.”

Like Joshua, Charlemagne enlisted divine aid to bring down the walls. Where Joshua blew his horn, Charlemagne invoked the intercession of Saint James who, ”hearkening to his petition, the walls utterly fell to the ground of themselves”.

Such was the vital importance of the city, that once captured, the rest of Moorish Spain surrendered totally and the emperor proceeded unhindered to Compostela and then to Padrón, where he dipped his lance in the ocean in a symbolic gesture of dominion over the whole of the Hispanic peninsula.

Chartres-Franks-Pamplona-WPAfter the military reversals which followed the arrival in Spain of the African Saracen leader Aigoland, battle was once more joined in the field outside Pamplona where one hundred and thirty-four thousand Franks faced a hundred thousand Saracens.

The second battle of Pamplona now assumed not merely Biblical, but Apocalyptic proportions.

“So great indeed was the effusion of blood that the Christians waded in it to their knees”, declared the History of Charlemagne and Roland, of the slaughter of the Saracens at Pamplona.

This description echoed the chronicles of the taking of Jerusalem in 1099. The Gesta Francorum told of “such a slaughter that our men were wading up to their ankles in blood”. The other medieval descriptions by Fulcher of Chartres and Guibert de Nogent repeated the same, almost identical, trope to emphasise the brutality of the carnage.

Jacobus064All these writers, whether describing the capture of Jerusalem or Pamplona, were making a calculated reference to the Book of Revelation, which in chapter fourteen tells of the winepress of the wrath of God, whose wine would be reserved for those who worship the Beast.

“And the wine press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine press even unto the horse bridles”.

The Apocalyptic signification attributed by the chroniclers of the First Crusade to the capture of Jerusalem and of the authors of the Turpin manuscript in describing the taking of Pamplona, were made with the same intention. It was to incorporate the twelfth century conflict against the Saracens into an eschatological mythology.

After his victory at Pamplona, the emperor made his way towards Puente la Reina, “Charlemagne then regrouped his armies, greatly rejoiced at this victory and marched forward, and came to the bridge of Arge on the Compostela road.

Sources and Biblio: Jean Passini, Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques, Cahiers de Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, XXX 2000 pp. 75-83

Thomas F Madden Saint Louis University, Revista Chilena de Estudios Medievales Número 1 enero-junio 2012, 25-37, Rivers of Blood: An analysis of one aspect of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099

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

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

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

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


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

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.


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.


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.


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.

For the Saracens of Andalusia, Jesus was merely a prophet among others. The beleagured Christians of Moorish Spain accomodated the Arabs by accepting the Adoptionist Creed which denied the Trinity and claimed Christ as God’s adopted son. This form of Christianity was a variant of Arianism, the heresy which had been denied at the Council of Nicea, presided over by the Roman Emperor Constantine.

In 794, reprising the role of his predecessor, Charlemagne convoked the council of Frankfurt and called upon the spokesman of bishop Elipandus of Toledo, Felix of Urgel, both proponents of Adoptionism, to debate with his scholar Alcuin and force a retraction.

The sculptural programme of the abbey of San Zeno is devoted to the triumph of the Catholic Trinitarian Creed over the Arian heresy and the defender of the true faith is Charlemagne’s own champion, Roland.


San Zeno arrived at Verona in the early fourth century, apparently from Africa and according to legend became bishop of the city.

On his death he was entombed in the necropolis which lay outside the city walls through which ran the Via Gallica.

A new church was endowed, it was said by Charlemagne. Pepin, Charlemagne’s son and ruler of Italy was present when the body of Zeno was translate into a new marble crypt in 806.

San-Zeno-T-WPZeno was celebrated as a thaumaturge in his lifetime. According to his legend he exorcised the devil from the daughter of the Roman emperor Gallienus among many miracles.

It was said that he had converted many of the local populace of the region of Verona from Arianism to Catholicism.

His role as protector and patron of the city is represented on the tympanum sculpture of his church. In the garb of bishop he stands between the townsfolk bearing his crozier.

The inscription around the relief informs the reader that Saint Zeno confers the banner upon the people of the city with a serene heart.

San-Zeno-OT-1-WPOn either side of the bronze doors of the basilica are large scale sculpted reliefs. On the right a cycle representing the Fall of Man and on the left a Redemption cycle.

At the base of each of these are a pair of diptychs representing scenes of warriors.

Beneath the scenes of the Fall there is a hunting scene. The hunter on horseback is blowing a horn and chasing a stag which is being attacked by dogs.


Beyond the stag a demonic figures stands waiting. An inscription informs us that the king has been presented with a horse, a stag and a dog and that he is riding towards Hell never to return.

The inscription which accompanies the relief refers us to the legend of the Hunt of Theoderic which narrates a tale of the Ostrogothic ruler who rode to Hell.

San-Zeno-Theoderic-1-WPTheoderic was an Arian Christian who had ordered the execution of the Christian philosopher Boethius. A legend recounted how, after his death, the soul of Theoderic had been transported in the air by the soul of Boethius to mount Etna where it had been dropped into the fiery furnace below.

The relief programme to the left of the entrance presents a Redemption cycle with scenes of the life of Christ. Below this the diptych shows two combat scenes.

San-Zeno-Roland-4-WPTo the left mounted warriors are charging each other, lances poised. The right hand scene depicts the same two combatants on foot. In each, the left hand warrior is a Saracen, identifiable by the round shield and the trailing headdress.

The long shield and helmet identifies the second as a Frankish knight, corroborated by the banner he wields, the Oriflamme.

San-Zeno-Roland-2-WPThese scenes represent Roland’s duel with the Saracen Ferracutus which is described in the History of Charlemagne and Roland. Ferracutus is a giant who has challenged the assembled Frankish army to single combat outside the city walls of Nájera.

Several paladins try their hand but it is Roland who succeeds by killing Ferracutus in the only way possible, by a sword thrust to the navel. This is the scene on the right side of the diptych.


The combat between these two involves a lengthy respite during which Ferracutus questions Roland about his religion, prompting the Frank to expound on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Two figures are adjacent to the combat scenes. One, on the far left is a kneeling figure which represents Roland praying before engaging Ferracutus. A figure in the centre is the feminine image of Ecclesia, the Church whom Roland defends by killing the giant.

San-Zeno-NT-1-WPThe Saracens were considered in the twelfth century to be heretics in the way Arians had been and Islam rather than being a separate religion was seen as a heresy.

Theoderic, the Arian is associated with the Fall and Roland with Christ and the promise of Redemption.

In addition, the Trinitarian conception that God and Christ are one is represented by the depiction of a Christ figure, identifiable by his cruciform nimbus, in the scenes of the Genesis cycle.

Sources and Biblio:

Vénétie Romane, Gianna Suitner-Nicolini, La Nuit des Temps Zodiaque 1991

Sermon Against Jews, Pagans and Arians, Concerning the Creed, Trans EN Stone Inviersity of Washington Publications in Language and Literature Vol. 4 No. 3 pp. 195-214 March 1928

SG Nichols Romanesque Signs Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography Stephen G Nichols Jr 1983 Yale University

La Chanson de Roland dans le décor des églises du XIIe siècle, Deborah Kahn,  Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 1997 Volume 40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Turpin’s account of Charlemagne’s conquest of Spain presents us with a seemingly arbitrary succession of victories and defeats.

After winning Pamplona, the whole of the peninsula is opened up and liberated by Charlemagne.

The emperor then travels to Compostela where he orders the construction of a new basilica.

However, with total dominion seemingly assured, a new Saracen leader, Aigolandus emerges from North Africa and proceeds to recover the lands Charlemagne had previously conquered.

In 1085, the Christian armies of Spain finally broke the seven year long siege of Toledo and took back the ancient Visigothic capital from the Saracens.


This appeared to be the decisive turning point in the centuries old reconquest of Spain, which had begun with Pelayo’s first victory at Covadonga in 722.

Buoyed by this success, Alfonso VI endowed the church of Saint James at Compostela with the funds to build the great Romanesque cathedral, which still stands there today.

However, the Moorish principalities turned for aid to North Africa and appealing to the Berber fundamentalist tribes of the Almoravids, invited them to invade the peninsula. In 1086, the Berbers landed in Spain and led by Yusuf-Ibn-Tashfin, reversed Alfonso’s victory by inflicting a crushing defeat on the Christian forces at Sagrajas.

The tide of Christian advance had been checked and a stalemate remained for a generation.

alfonsovi_of_castileThis is the most obvious and striking of the numerous parallels to be found in Turpin’s History between the account of Charlemagne’s campaign and the actual historical conflict between the Christians and Moors in eleventh century Spain.

From 1077, after a period of intense conflict with his two brothers, Alfonso VI emerged as the sole ruler of Christian Spain and was dubbed emperor. On his death in 1109, he was buried at the Cluniac monastery at Sahagún.

It seems to have been the intention of the authors of the History, a text compiled a short time after Alfonso’s death to conflate the personalities of the two emperors.

Just like the Charlemagne of Turpin’s History, Alfonso was an assiduous promoter of the pilgrimage to Compostela, contributing greatly to its infrastructure by means of numerous charters for the improvement of bridges, the establishment of hostelries, hospices and monastic endowments for the benefit of pilgrims.

Rio-PisuergaIn 1085 Alfonso had famously dreamt of the Milky Way and the narrative of Turpin’s History begins with Charlemagne’s own dream of that same celestial phenomenon, followed by a visitation from Saint James the Apostle who explains its significance. The dream was an injuction to the emperor not only to liberate the shrine at Compostela but also to establish the road leading to it.

The similarities continued. Following his victory at Toledo, Alfonso had descended to Gibraltar and symbolically dipped his lance in the sea to signify his complete dominion over the Hispanic peninsula.

Rio-CeaTurpin’s account records that Charlemagne after liberating Compostela had journeyed the short distance to the ocean at Padrón and placed his lance in the water in similarly symbolic gesture.

Finally, the conflation of the two emperors is confirmed by the long and detailed list of Charlemagne’s conquests and victories, a list almost identical to the one Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo had provided for Alfonso’s campaigns.

By associating Alfonso with the most revered of all medieval figures, those who worked on the production of the manuscript were not merely performing a simple exercise in aggrandising the reputation of a recently deceased monarch. They were placing the recent past in a mythological and legendary context.

San-Zeno-Roland-2-WPIn the same way that Biblical exegesis determined that narratives from the Old Testament were precedents and prefigurations of those, which were recounted in the New Testament, so the wars of Alfonso against the Saracens were by inference, assumed into an ongoing teleological process, which had originated in the time of Charlemagne.

This notion is encapsulated in chapter four of the History, which is devoted to a description of what was presumably the antique statue of Hercules which still stood in those times at Cadiz and held a key in one hand.


Turpin attributes the statue to Muhammad. To the Saracens, Turpin also attributes the prophecy that the “certain key, so the Saracens themselves say, would fall from his hand in the year that a future king would be born in Gaul who would subjugate the whole land of Spain to the laws of the Christians in the end times”.

This is a clear invocation of the Apocalyptic thrust of the Reconquistá and evocation of the legend of the Last Roman Emperor who was to defeat the forces of the Antichrist before depositing his imperial crown on the Mount of Olives, an act which would herald the Apocalypse.

Saragossa had been the goal of Charlemagne’s campaign of 778 when he crossed the Pyrenees in his failed bid to take the city.

Three centuries later, Saragossa also successfully resisted the armies of Alfonso VI. The city was eventually captured in 1122 by a combined Crusader force led by one of Alfonso’s successors, Alfonso el Batallador, who also dubbed himself “imperator”.

Sources and Biblio: History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812. The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014. André de Mandach Naissance et Origines de la chanson de geste en Europe Vol. 1 La Geste de Charlemagne et de Roland Genève, Droz, 1961. Bernard Gicquel La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Tallandier 2003. Barton Sholod. Charlemagne in Spain: The Cultural Legacy of Roncevalles, Geneva Droz 1966

Estella-GV-1The pilgrimage road passed through the Navarrese town of Nájera, where in the time of Charlemagne’s Spanish expedition, Roland had vanquished the Saracen giant, Ferracutus.

In the History of Archbishop Turpin, Roland, the hero and martyr of the climactic battle of Roncevaux is presented early in the narrative as a Christian knight in his role of defender of the faith. This is not only by force of arms but also by force of words, so that Roland earned the status of both confessor saint and military martyr.


This episode is commemorated on a twelfth century capital situated on the pilgrimage road and located on the exterior of the Royal Navarrese palace at Estella.

Echoing the Biblical Old Testament story of David and Goliath, Roland is pitted against the Saracen giant who has been sent by the Emir of Babylon along with a force of twenty thousand, to wreak havoc in the region of Nájera.

Ferracutus challenges the champions of Charlemagne’s army to single combat. One by one the great warriors of the Franks are summarily despatched by the giant: Ogier, Renaud d’Aubespin, Constantine of Rome and Hoel. Finally, Roland puts himself forward. More successful in fighting Ferracutus than his predecessors, Roland nevertheless fails to kill the giant who appears to be invincible. Their combat lasts all day and into the next, when the giant becoming tired is given a stone by Roland to act as a pillow.


Echoing Jacob in Genesis who has a theophanic vision when he sleeps with a stone beneath his head, Ferracutus receives a similar revelation on waking when he engages Roland in a discourse on the Christian faith.

Significantly, Jacob’s vision concerns his destiny and that of his descendants as God’s Chosen people, a sense of national identity which was reprised by the Spanish Christians of the eleventh and twelfth centuries and notably in the legendary accounts of the Franks of the Chansons de Geste. It is a theme which runs through the whole of the History of Charlemagne and Roland.


First, Ferracutus reveals the secret of his invulnerability: he can be killed only by a wound to his navel.

The form of the discourse between Ferracutus and Roland is a reiteration of Christ’s Conversation with Nicodemus in chapter three of John’s Gospel. The narrative of the history of Charlemagne’s campaign against the Saracens is interrupted while Roland answers the giant’s doubts over the Christian faith and the doctrines of the Trinity, the Passion and the Resurrection are treated by Roland using allegorical references.


The giant, however cannot submit himself to the faith and demands that a fight to the death will determine the truth of the matter. Invoking the aid of the Son of the Holy Virgin, Roland strikes Ferracutus through the navel. His victory over the giant, a reiteration of David’s over Goliath which itself was a prefiguration of Christ’s victory over death on the Cross and by extension of Roland’s own martyrdom at Roncevaux at the climactic point of the History of Charlemagne and Roland.

Sources and Biblio: History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812. The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014. Bernard Gicquel La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Tallandier 2003. SG Nichols Romanesque Signs Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography Stephen G Nichols Jr 1983 Yale University

historia-turpini-1The History of Turpin is the early twelfth century Latin manuscript which forms Book Four of the compilation known as the Jacobus, the hagiographical texts devoted to the cult of the Apostle James of Compostela.

The narrative, occasionally interrupted by homiletic passages, is an account of the emperor Charlemagne’s Spanish expedition. Each episode contains a miraculous dimension and the whole text is in ultimate service of the Galician shrine.

Written in epistolary form, the text is purportedly written by Charlemagne’s archbishop Turpin of Rheims and addressed to a dean of Aix-la-Chapelle. It claims to be a first hand report.

For this reason most historians refer to it as the Pseudo-Turpin although it is also commonly known as the Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi or History of Charlemagne and Roland.


It was an exteremely popular text during the medieval period with numerous manuscripts being copied. Using an episodic structure and divided into approximately thirty chapters, the History is an account of the Franks’ fourteen year campaign, climaxing with the battle of Roncevaux. Although some of the names are different the essential components of the Roncevaux episode are identical to those recounted in the vernacular Song of Roland.

LSJ-KaroliMagni-1-WPThe narrative begins with a vision of Charlemagne’s in which he receives a visitation from Saint James who urges him to free Spain and his tomb in Galicia from the Saracens.

The emperor assembles a Frankish army and after taking the city of Pamplona, the Saracens of Spain surrender the whole of the peninsula.

Victorious, Charlemagne then visits the shrine at Santiago de Compostela to fulfil the demand imposed on him by Saint James.

Converting the Saracens to Christianity, they remain for three years receiving tribute from the Moors which they use to build a series of magnificent churches including a new cathedral at Compostela.

Turpin-Illum-1-WPThe emperor’s campaign appears victorious and he returns to France, however a new Saracen leader, Aigoland emerges from Africa and retakes Spain.

Charlemagne, obliged to return then defeats the Saracens once more on the plain outside Sahagún before departing once more for France where the focus of the campaign enters a new stage as Aigoland seizes the town of Agen. After a seven month siege, Aigoland escapes up the river Garonne and the process is repeated at Saintes.

Charlemagne then follows the fleeing Aigoland to Pamplona with an even greater army. Again, Charlemagne defeats the Saracens in a battle outside Pamplona and this time Aigoland himself is killed.

At Mont Garzim in Navarre a battle is fought with that Saracen king of Navarre named Furra.

Saracens-2-WPThe war enters a new phase with the arrival at Nájera of a giant leading an army of twenty thousands Turks of Babylon. The giant challenges the Franks to single combat, defeating allcomers until challenged by the paladin Roland, who kills him with a sword thrust to the navel, his only vulnerable spot.

Following this the Franks capture Nájera.

The war now moves south to Cordoba where six thousand Franks are confronted with ten thousand Saracens assembled from the principalities of Andalusia. The Saracen soldiers wearing demonic masks, and beating loud drums terrify the horses of the Frankish cavalry who are forced to beat a retreat. The problem is solved by blindfolding the horses and blocking their ears.

LSJ-Paladins-WPVictorious again, Charlemagne generously divides Spain among his people and holds a council at Compostela, decreeing it to be the Metropolitan See.

The culminating drama now unfolds, the ambush at Roncevaux and the martyrdom of Roland, Charlemagne’s nephew and most illustrious warrior. With the Franks finally returning to France, Roland is placed in command of the rearguard as it crosses over the Pyrenees. Meanwhile, the treacherous paladin Ganelon has plotted with the Saracens, Marsile and Beligant. After the main Frankish army has gone over the Cize Pass, they ambush the rearguard. Roland, wounded and dying becomes a martyr.

Distraught, Charlemagne rushes back too late and then destroys the Saracen force near Saragossa. Ganelon is executed by being torn limb from limb by four wild horses. The returning Franks bury their dead at various hallowed sites

Finally at Saint Denis, Charlemagne is absolved of his sins in a dream on his deathbed and receives the crown of martyrdom.

The last chapter of the book consists of a letter by Pope Calixtus II which is a call to arms for a crusade in Spain.

Biblio: History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812. The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014. La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Bernard Gicquel, Tallandier 2003

At the same time that the culture of pilgrimage was growing another, vernacular tradition developed. This was the oral storytelling known as the Chansons de Geste or epic tales of heroic knightly deeds. These centered largely around the figure of Charlemagne and his twelve paladins.

The tales of these Christian heroes wove in and around the hagiographies of the saints and the pilgrimage. These fed upon the Crusading ideals of the day as they harked back to the glory days of olden times when Charlemagne had liberated the road to Compostela from the Saracens and Roland had died the martyr’s death at the great battle of the Roncevaux Pass.

The cycle of Chansons revolving around the person of Saint Guilhem of the abbey of Gellone in Provence was especially popular in the twelfth century. In particular the poems Charroi de Nîmes and Alyscans relate tales of battles against Saracens at the site of the legendary Roman necropolis at Arles which is mentioned at length in the Pilgrim’s Guide and recognised as the start of the Toulouse Road.

The Chanson of Girart de Roussillon features an extended account of how the relics of Mary Magdalene where transported from Provence to Vézelay.

Throughout the Pilgrim’s Guide there are allusions to the epic tales related in the Chansons such as the burial places of the Paladins of Charlemagne and the passage of the Emperor’s army towards Compostela.

The Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi constitutes Book Five of the Codex Calixtinus in a version ascribed to Charlemagne’s Archbishop of Rheims, Tilpinus and is designated as the Historia Turpini. This is a Latin version of the Chanson de Roland

The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela as well as linking so many reliquary shrines along its highways and byways, was also the source of numerous legends of a mystical nature and the terrestrial road itself, was invested with an inherent and immanent sacred character. This is perfectly expressed in the legend of the Milky Way, wherein the road to Compostela could be traced by following the course of the stars of that galaxy across Europe to its furthest edge in northwestern Spain.lsj-milky-way-1

The legend of the shrine of Saint James at Compostela familiar to medieval pilgrims is most likely the one described in the History of Charlemagne and Roland which originally was included in the Codex of Calixtus, the twelfth century manuscript devoted to the cult of the Apostle.

According to this story, Charlemagne was visited in a dream by Saint James who urged him to liberate his forgotten tomb from the Saracens who then occupied the land. Follow the course of the stars of the Milky Way, the emperor was counselled by the apparition of the Apostle, to its end in Galicia and there he would there find the abandoned burial ground containing the saint’s body.


The pilgrim road mirrored the heavens on earth. The stars of the night sky representing the saints ascended to the celestial realm, were reflected on earth by their shrines where the remains of their physical bodies were kept as relics. Conduits between Heaven and Earth. The myriad numbers of reliquary shrines along the pilgrim roads corresponded to the Milky Way, which Charlemagne was ordained to follow so that it might lead him to the lost tomb of one of the mightiest saints of the heavenly firmament, James the Apostle.

charlemagnes-dreamHeeding the call of the Saint, Charlemagne set forth for Spain. The Holy Roman Emperor’s army took the road over the Pyrenees and besieged the Saracen town of Pamplona. Echoing the feats of the Israelites  at Jericho, the thunder of the Frankish trumpets caused the walls of the city to crumble to dust.

Charlemagne, his twelve Paladins and his army of Frankish warriors, liberated the road to Compostela and took possession of Saint James’ tomb at Compostela, the emperor constructing the first church above it.


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