Thursday, 11 June 2009

Who was Priscillian...

So who was Priscillian? I was walking on the Camino de Santiago in September of 1999 when a fellow pilgrim and Gnostic priest, Dr. Lance Owens, innocently dropped the name into conversation. It was like a lightbulb going on: the name had seeming significance, but I didn’t know why. What Dr. Owens said to me was that there was very little historical evidence for St. James being buried in Compostela and that if I wanted to know more I should read a book by Henry Something-or-another. I even found it difficult to remember either name but luckily wrote it down as an “out-take” in my pilgrim diary. (Every pilgrim on the Camino keeps such a diary.) When I got back to Málaga I began to do some research on line. There wasn’t (in those days) very much, at least in English, but I did try to order the book by Professor Henry Chadwick called “Priscillian of Avila: The Occult and the Charismatic in the Early Church”.

I had little success. Even Amazon couldn’t locate it. It took a good deal of diligence (and love) on the part of my good friend in Canada Sylvia Baago (to whom the book is dedicated) to find it. Once Priscillian did finally step out of his wrappers (and very elegantly I may add) I was hooked into his story. Everything was there: alleged heresy, witchcraft, injustice, scandal; a decapitation of a man of the cloth seemingly with the condonement of many members of the newly established Roman church; Gnostic beliefs which only recently we have been able to learn(see The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels and the Naj Hammadi Library by James Robinson). Priscillian’s story was one which simply had to be told, and seemingly by me!

I admit to having taken liberties with the material presented by Dr. Chadwick. Even he only hints in his closing pages that Priscillian may be buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela although I have since been told that it is not unknown in the north of Spain, especially Galicia which may have been his birthplace. The truth is that we don’t know much about this enigmatic bishop: where he as born, whom he married (if anyone), but his beliefs are very much in evidence in the Wurtzburg Tractates discovered in Germany in the late 19th century and illuminated in Priscillian of Avila, Dr. Chadwick’s very fascinating study of the man.

I have simply filled in the blanks: “fleshed out” this charismatic bishop whom the Catholic Church would prefer was forgotten. Pilgrimage to Heresy is above all a work of fiction; but it is based on fact.

I think Priscillian’s time has finally come. What an irony if the pilgrimage to the third most important pilgrimage site in Christendom is to the burial site of an alleged heretic! Most especially when the world is questioning the roots of Christianity as never before.

No comments:

Post a Comment