Sunday, 3 January 2010

Part Three...

Enter Alfonso II “The Chaste”, the King of the Austres. From his city of Oviedo he ordered a church to be built at the site of the discovery. However, by all accounts it was no great shakes of an affair, built we are told of “wattle and daub” ("ex petra et luto opere parvo") and a bit of a disappointment when compared with the sumptuous churches in his city. This has always struck me as rather odd.

Being “Chaste” as he is, the Historia Compostelana (written on the authority of Bishop Diego Gelmirez, later the first Archbishop of Compostela, of whom you either have already read, or will be hearing much more about shortly) challenges the reader to attribute any duplicity on the king’s part. But I am getting ahead of myself...

A second church was built, this time it is Alfonso III who is responsible. Consecrated with great pomposity and ceremony. It is gradually visited by pilgrims including, if you really want a fairy story - sorry Shirley - Charlemagne.

Alfonso wrote to the clergy at the Shrine of St. Martin of Tours (a man who was absolutely scandalised by the execution of Priscillian and who refused to give Communion to anyone who had authorised it.) What Alfonso wanted to know was how one goes about promoting a Saint’s relics. He is adamant in response to a letter from the clergy that it is Santiago who is buried in Compostela, but he also asks for assistance. He wants details about St.Martin: who was this man that he became revered as a Saint? What were his miracles etc?

It would appear that what Alfonso is looking for is instruction into mythmaking.

Was he successful?

Remember the Moors? Well they are not sitting this out playing chess in Cordoba. The conqueror Al Mansur, who was to spend most of his time on the road subjugating the north, obviously learned of Santiago de Compostela, the Figurehead of Galicia and rounding up his forces travelled northwest with the sole intention of bringing the Christians to their knees.

Since he found the city deserted, it would seem that the only one he succeeded with was a monk at prayer, possibly the Bishop of Compostela, who somehow (you want miracles: this is one) persuaded this butcher to not only leave him alive, but to not disturb the Saint of Compostela (whose body Al Mansur had intended to destroy). Along with stone boats etc, I personally find this one a bit hard to swallow as Al Mansur was not exactly known for his compassion. Another story is that the bishop fled with the remains and that the city was completely deserted, so we don’t really know one way or the other. I like the first story best, but for reasons you will have to wait for the publication of “Compostela!” for!

Whatever the story, the tomb is left unmolested. Al Mansur raises the city and the cathedral and takes Christian prisoners who carry the doors and the bells of the church back to Cordoba where these are put to various uses depending upon whom you read.

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