Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Please Mister, can we have our Codex back...?

Like the Historia Compostelana, the Codex Calixtinus was written at the behest of Archbishop Diego Gelmirez of Compostela. By this time the archbishop was aging but he lived long enough to see the completion of the work which was composed between 1135 and 1139. It is believed that the main writer was the French ecclesiastic Aymeric Picard who may have been connected with the abbey of Cluny, although it is likely that a work of this size had many authors. As I have mentioned here often in this blog, Cluny at that time was by far the most powerful order and was establishing many churches in the north of Spain. Gelmirez had close ties with the Cluniacs (who produced more than one pope at the time). Perhaps in order to lend special credibilty to the book, the authors prefaced the Codex (also known as the Liber Sancto Jacobi – The Book of St. James) with a “letter” supposedly signed by Pope Calixtinus (himself a Cluniac). The letter of Pope Callixtus II which opens the book. The author, who claims to be Callixtus II, tells how he collected many testimonies on the good deeds of Saint James, "traversing the cruel grounds and provinces for fourteen years". He also describes how the manuscript survived many hazards from fire to drowning. The letter is addressed "to the very holy assembly of the basilica of Cluny" and to "Diego, archbishop of Compostela".

The problem is that Calixtinus died in 1124 and most scholars today maintain that this letter is spurious. (Like the rest of the St. James' story, ed.) Accuracy never really bothered our friend Diego Gelmirez.

The book itself comprises five parts: the first in Book I is the largest by far and contains sermons and homilies concerning St. James and describes his martydom. Book II contains stories – often from pilgrims – abut miracles attributed to the intervention of St. James.

The third book contains the life of Saint James and the supposed miracle of the discovery of his tomb. It is the shortest but perhaps in many ways the most important as it was this part which launched the phenomenon of pilgrimage in the 12th century. In order to bring wealth a prestige to his city, Diego Gelmirez knew that pilgrims were essential and in his 40 years as first bishop and then archbishop he devoted his life to increasing the wealth and prestige of Compostela.Book III tells of the death and martyrdom of St. James and how his body was transferred “by stone boat, rudderless and without sails” to Galicia and subsequently to the burial place discovered in the early ninth century. It also tells of the custom started by the first pilgrims of gathering souvenir sea shells from the Galician coast. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Santiago pilgrimage even today although many pilgrims acquire their shells before starting out whereas in the Middle Ages at first it was proof that the pilgrimage had been made. Later enterprising shell sellers realised that these shells could be used to hold morsels of food and to scoop water from rivers and streams.

Book IV tells the History of Charlemagne and Roland. It is attributed to Archbishop Turpín of Reims, although in fact it is the work of an anonymous writer of the 12th century. It describes the coming of Charlemagne to Spain, his defeat against the Moors at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and the death of the knight Roland. It relates how Saint James then appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the route of the Milky Way. This association has given the Milky Way an alternate name in Spain of Camino de Santiago.

In fact it was far more likely that the attack against Charlemagne’s army came from the Basques. The story, however, did a lot to promote the idea of holy intervention on the part of “Santiago Matamoros” at a time when, as the Moors called upon the Prophet Mohammed when going into battle, the French (and Spanish) forces had no such protector.

In point of fact it was all very convenient.

The story of Pilgrimage to Heresy claims that St. James is NOT buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. In fact it is unlikely that he ever preached in Spain or if he did he made nine converts at the very most. I have told this story in some detail if you care to go back a year or so. It is far more likely that the occupant of the tomb, still venerated by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year, is a “heretic”, Priscillian Bishop of Avila, executed in Trier with six of his followers (one a woman) by the Roman secular court with the condonement of the Roman Church in 385 or 386 A.D. His body was brought back to Galicia by his disciples and buried there in an unknown place. As Compostela was already established as a Roman cemetery (hence the name) it is likely that this is where they brought him. Around the tomb many late 4th century graves have been found all oriented to the East as was the custom of the Priscillianists. The Vatican of course, resists carbon dating of the body.

St. James’ Rooster, which is due for publication later this year (also in Spanish as El Gallo de Santiago) tells the story of Bishop Gelmirez and his quest for fame and glory for his cathedral of Compostela.

The stolen Codex Calixtinus is priceless and irreplaceable. It is the earliest copy (not the original which has been lost) dating to perhaps 1150. A copy of the Santiago edition was made in 1173 by the monk Arnaldo de Monte and is known as The Ripoll (after the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia). It is now kept in Barcelona. The book was well-received by the Church of Rome, and copies of it were to be found from Rome to Jerusalem. This widely publicized and multi-copied book describing the legend of Santiago Matamoros or 'St. James the Moorslayer' is considered by scholars to be an early example of propaganda by the Catholic Church.

The idea that it is to become pride of place in some wealthy collector’s mansion makes me very, very angry indeed. We can only hope that it will be found and the perpetrators locked up in some medieval gaol for life!

In some things I am not merciful!!!

Off to the Camino next week and the week after. I’ll keep you all posted.

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