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The legend of saint James and Compostela

A brief overview of the major ideas of the Foundation


How saint James returned to Galicia


Compostela makes dreams. This distant galician town, extremely Northwest of Spain, owes its fame to saint James. In the Bible, Matthew presents the holy apostle Jacques as being " the son of Zébédée and brother of Jean ". Marc adds that Jesus gave both brothers the nickname of " Bonaerguès, that is son of the Thunder ". After the death of Christ, the Acts of Apostels site Hérode " killed James, the brother of Jean by the two-edged sword ". In the VIIth century, biographers inform that James previously " had preached the Gospel in Spain as well as in the other western countries ".
What is the origin of Compostela ? James was chosen in the VIIIth century as chief by catholic Spain then under the Saracen yoke. In his name, the church calls up for assistance to begin Reconquista, this long fight against the Moslem invader which will end only in 1492 with the grip of Grenada.

A beautiful legend was worked out telling how the body of saint James was returned in Galice after its torture, " by a raft without sail nor rudder ". The arrival was followed by a series of weird adventures : the followers who had accompanied James asked to a heathen queen, Luparia, to to deposit the body of the Apostle in her lands. She refused and the unfortunates fled. They were pursued by the royal troops who, conveniently, died, by drowning thanks to the collapse of a bridge. Then Luparia proposed to them wild oxen guarded by a dragon. They killed the dragon and tamed the oxen. Luparia converted and finally allowed the burial in a place which was soon forgotten.
††? e`eD??Te?t?u Then, says the legend, it was rediscovered at the beginning of the IXth century : " While he was in prayers, the hermit Pélage was warned by angels that he was near the grave of the saint. Then neighbours perceived lights indicating the precise place. They warned the bishop of Iria who asked them to fast for three days. Afterwards, he found the grave of saint James. Since this time, people of these countries came there in big numbers ". The first foreigners to go to Compostela were most probably knights and soldiers. Between these first pilgrimages and that of the pope Jean-Paul II in 1982, a lot of imaginations were formed and are still evolving, until now.

The founding text : the chronicle of Turpin

During a dream, saint James appears to Charlemagne and tells him to go along the Milky Way and deliver his grave

The chronicle said by Turpin (then Pseudo-Turpin), written by the bishop Turpin, tells the story of Charlemagne, Roland and the knights, who, in the name of saint James, left to deliver Spain. It starts with the vision of saint James asking Charlemagne to come in Galice by following the Milky Way. It then develops the story of the fights ending in the death of heathen king Aigolan, after long pursuits. It ends on the defeat of the Roncevaux and Charlemagne's death. This text was used as an authentic document in France, in Spain and in the Germanic Empire to justify their claims to be the successors of Charlemagne. In fact it is a pure invention, the first doubts on its subject appeared in the XVIIth century.

The soul of Charlemagne escapes Satan thanks to saint James who takes it, because of the good actions he made in his name.

Men and women on the roads to Compostela

 Real pilgrims
For centuries, the mentality of the pilgrims did not really evolve, in spite of the inherent evolutions of each period of time. They always left to Compostela for religious motives but also for very different ones :
- A desire of nobility, to become famous for actions justifying the war, to participate in the Reconquista, and or in the fight against England. In the XVth century, an educational treaty explains it as “bienséant” that the young people of noble families made the pilgrimages of Jerusalem or Saint Jacques. And at the same time they fight against the Saracens and the other non-believers .
- Diplomatic missions, which are sometimes guessed behind official reasons : in 1192, the king of France Philippe-Auguste’s uncle, archbishop of Reims leaves for Compostela. A person this important does not leave his seat for a distant pilgrimage without a serious reason ; or the Church will disapprove of him.

 - Of business, which sometimes brings traders to visit Compostela : the roadguides of the XVth century mention the road of sanctuaries as well as the places of international fairs. Some traders are paid to make pilgrimages instead of persons not wanting or not being able to pilgrim themselves.
- A desire to take advantage of the hospitality said to ††? e`eD??Te?t?ube reserved to the " poor passers-by, the travelers and the pilgrims ", especially during the difficult periods (The One Hundred Year War and also the wars of Louis XIV) - An excuse to leave home, or to have an alibi …
- Very rarely, an obligation of pilgrimage made by a civilian or religious court. They are the famous “pénitentiels” pilgrimages whom created the false idea that the roads of pilgrimage were crowded by very dangerous individuals. In fact those to whom these measures applied were rather people whom it was good to take away for a while from their place of residence, without putting the society in danger.


  Pilgrim signs, staff, pouch, shell ...

 Literary pilgrims

The pilgrim of Compostela occupies a modest place in literature, no doubt proportional to reality. The portraits which are made give a better image than the real pilgrim.The chansons de geste are inspired by the Legend of Charlemagne (chronicle of Turpin) : the Chanson de Roland develops the disaster of Roncevaux, Gui de Bourgogne reports the French victories in Spain, where Charlemagne lived twenty seven years without removing his armor. Novels add love stories and weird adventures. Blancheflor begins with the attack of Norman pirates on the Cantabrique coast, the Fille du comte de Pontieu,, who left with her husband to ask saint James for a child, is violated in the galician forest. The Dits des annelés illustrates the dangerous situations met by a fair pilgrim. The Dit des Trois Pommes tells the pilgrimage of a rich trader’s son.
In the XVIIIth century the noble people like the pilgrim’s attire whic ††? e`eD??Te?t?uh they borrow or sometimes rent to the colleagues of Saint James to be disguised to attend popular festivities and also for secretive rendez-vous.


Symbolic crowds

a recent frech translation of the Codex Calixtinus,
manuscript of the XIIe century kept in Compostela

Whatever has been said, the foreign pilgrims never rushed in crowds to Compostela. The calculations made from the borders, hospitals or brotherhoods documents, show very few pilgrims on the roads of France. The pilgrims by sea were no doubt much more numerous. The first texts which mention these crowds of " foreign people, coming from all the continents " were issued in Compostela. In that city was invented, in the XIIth century, THE ROAD OF SAINT-JAMES, a brilliant promotional campaign whose results crossed the centuries. Compostela represents itself as the image of Paradise on earth, a Paradise to which a very symbolic crowd walks on that road.
During the former rationalist centuries this vision was forgotten. This lead to long and disappointing calculations of the pilgrim numbers. The revival of this vision gives a more enthousiastic representation to the pilgrims of today in comparison to walking behind millions of preceeding ghosts. pilgrims are now beeing suggested that they are walking in the light of the Elected members of the Apocalypse, or walking for all those who have never been able to undertake this pilgrimage.


  the Codex Calixtinus and the Apocalypse
where do the millions of pilgrims come from ?

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