Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Alfonso III and the launch of the cult...

Alfonso III took an interest in St. James, however, and had very good reasons for doing so. At this point we are talking about the very late 9th century. Alfonso took it upon himself to build a church in honour of St. James in Compostela and along with it two monastic houses and a wall around. There seems to be conscious desire on the part of this monarch to magnify the importance of this church in contrast perhaps to Oviedo.

The first church, as we shall see later, was a very modest little building. Alfonso III decided that if the saint was buried there (or perhaps even if not...) then he would have to have something very much grander.
The Moors were at the door.

Let’s recap for a minute:

- There seems to be evidence of a Christian cult at Compostela focussed on the grave of some holy man between the late 4th century and the mid 7th century.
Around the latest period of these times, some churchmen are writing about St. James having preached in Galicia, but nothing about having been buried there. Jerusalem or possibly even Egypt are assumed. In other words, no rudderless boat miraculously blown to Galicia on the winds of Providence. Sorry.

- The Sueves who practiced Arianism, and later the Visigoths are esconced in the north. For the most part they are sympathetic to Priscillianism even though it has been more or less driven underground, The Visigothic Rite (as opposed to the Roman Rite) is still practiced in churches until the very late 11th century. (But replaced in the early 11th century with Diego Gelmirez the first Archbishop of Compostela, about whom I shall be writing much more.)

- The site of a burial place is discovered sometime in the vicinity of Compostela in the early 9th century and is immediately attributed to James. Bishop Theodemir confirms it relying on who knows what “evidence”.

- The Martyriology, the first to claim that James was buried in Galicia, was written in 865. This can hardly count as evidence as it begs the question at least 20 years after the discovery of the tomb.

- A late 9th century hymn to Santiago is written with connections to King Mauregato (an acrostic of first lines). This is the first association of a king with the idea of St. James’ burial in Spain. It has been suggested that this might have been written as a consecration hymn to the (2nd) church of Santiago.

- Battle of Clavijo: Assumed assistance of St. James “Matamoros”. Only one problem is that the supposed battle was claimed to be 844 in the reign of Ramiro the King when in fact it was 859 and King Ordoño was king. The story is an 11th century forgery (and not the first). Neither Ordoño nor Ramiro showed much interest in St. James. (In fact we find a chapter of the Historia Compostelum bearing Ramiro’s name is a later forgery.)

-The 9th century finds the potential for power in the idea of St James. The Moors have conquered most of Hispania at this time. The north is still more or less an exception, especially Asturias which was very powerful. James’ cult is centred on this area.

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