Thursday 31 December 2009

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be...

Or is it?
It's the last day of the year and the last of a decade which for me has been full and satisfying. Amongst many other personal gifts, I have published Pilgrimage to Heresy in not one but two languages with Germany, Holland and even possibly Korea in the wings! As Peregrinos de la Herejía especially, Priscillian has gained a wide following and I am busy at work on Compostela, the next book in the Camino Chronicles.

And so like all of us, I am reflecting on the decade and what it has brought: for me - many good people into my life, work that I love doing (I am a psychotherapist and teacher of psychology), a home in which I have finally found the peace and beauty I have craved for many years, and the continued health to enjoy it. Material things, money? Enough to not have to worry most of the time; not enough to be completely free of anxiety about the future. But I am not complaining. My life is a good one: I am creative and fulfilled, and next year will bring me my first grandchild. If I could be happier it would be hubris to contemplate it.

Yesterday, after back treatment on Monday (not the same since the Camino in Portugal last year: not that it’ll stop me from walking again this year!) I decided to take it easy and finish the book I treated myself to for Christmas called The Story of Santiago de Compostela by Catherine Gasquoine Hartley. I didn’t realise it when I ordered in but it is a facsimile of the book written in 1910. Along with many cups of tea (and left over mince pies!), I read it in its entirety and transported myself back to the Galicia of 100 years ago. Not surprisingly, most of it I recognised as “my” Galicia, but there were some changes in names and details which made me think: “If these things have changed in 100 years, imagine the variation in 1000 years”. I realised how one person’s “facts” are another’s distant memory or not known at all.

The Alameda she describes as a grassy hill devoid of any buildings at all. And my favourite walk towards the "Seminario Belvis" is both recognisable and yet,not. As you may know, walk across the road from the Market and you will come to a valley area and from there the pathway climbs steeply up to the Seminario Menor, (now a semi-commercial enterprise). I have often wondered what may flow there, under the ground. In her chapter on the Colegiata de Santa Maria la Real de Sar (in which she gives some interesting theories about the “sloping columns”), Gasquioine Hartley writes the following:

“At the foot of the hill an old bridge crosses the narrow stream of the Sar. Here you will see the women washing their linen in the clear water; the clothes spread in the sun to form dry patches of bright colour upon the grass. Girls come to and fro with their pitchers to fill with water…It is the same scene, the same primitive work, that has lived on for centuries.”

Anyone familiar with Santiago and the cathedral might temporarily become a little lost when she mentions places such as the Coro, the Plaza de Alfonzo Doce, The “Royal Hospital”, and the Plaza de los Literarios (“re-named” from the Plaza de la Quintana, by which name we know it today). The Coro, which in Catherine's day would have blocked the complete view from the Portico, is gone, probably dismantled when the excavations took place in the 40's and 50's. Those of you who have visited the cathedral museum will have had the good fortune to have seen Master Matteo's beautiful stone Coro, though this, of course, is only a reconstruction of part of it. While you might recognise the Hospital Real as the Parador de los Reyes Catolicos (former pilgrims' hospital, now affordable only by rich Americans it would seem....!), you might wander for hours searching for the first only to return to the Obradoiro to ask directions. Were you to ask in 1910 you would be looked at askance: “¡Pues, tio, estas aqui!”. The plaza of your dreams was re-named after the west façade of the cathedral. Our author, of course, does not know when!

This struck me as I was reading: neither does she know of the First World War, nor the Spanish Civil War which split families and mobilised the International Brigades against Fascism. She knows nothing of Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin; …George Bush (W). Neither does she know of penicillin, television, the Space Programme…the Internet. Certainly, while she writes eloquently and knowledgably about the Way of St. James and the Cathedral in “Compostela” (she only mentions Santiago de Compostela in terms of the cathedral), she could not envisage a time when, 100 years after she was writing, the Junta de Galicia was preparing for at least 350,000 pilgrims on a Camino which has become almost a household word.

Having walked the Camino Portuguese last year (see posts in July and August especially), I immediately recognised the view approaching the city when she writes:

“…its situation is entirely surrounded by hills, which are just near enough, but not too near, to form a charming background, is exceedingly impressive; a well chosen site has been made the most of by the happy skill of the men who have reared here the great mass of buildings, with the Apostol’s mighty cathedral in the centre, forming a charming skyline, and rendered doubly beautiful by the breaks in its outline, caused by the groups of towers and steeples that stand up so grandly from the old churches and convents. I have seen no city in Spain which is more impressive in the distance.”

Today, the cathedral is almost lost amongst the city, and the “churches and steeples” are dwarfed, but nevertheless the view she describes is the one I photographed from the bridge over the main highway south of the city (see above: "Spot the Cathedral!") last July 23rd, and just as impressive.

All in all, this is a book I recommend highly to anyone who wants to know more about the city of the past and can be ordered on Amazon…
oh, and speaking of the past: while you are there, you might want to check out Pilgrimage to Heresy where you can not only learn an alternative “history” of the origins of the Cult of St. James, but go on a Virtual Camino yourself!

We’ll talk some more in 2010. Coming up: further machinations of Diego Gelmirez, and an unholy theft...!

Happy New Year, Feliz Año Nuevo to all.

Sunday 27 December 2009

5,000 Pipers Piping...

I posted this on my favourite pilgrim Forum on the 26th, after dinner, with wine (see note re editing below!). The mere idea of pipers piping has set my toes a'tapping. ("Ten toes a'tappin?...?) It has made me a bit nostalgic.

More about the Camino in the New Year.

What a wonderful time of year to realise how much we all really have!
Never mind the gifts: it is the love of the giver that counts
Concerning a post about 5000 pipers on

(Say hello in any language to Ivar; he's a really great guy who works very hard to put pilgrims in touch.)

"I would have loved to have seen this. But there are bagsmen and there are Bagsmen and this is probably a story about Parental Influence. I want to share it with you. It's Chrismas, after all...My mother, God bless her Special Soul this Christmas, HATED the sound of Bagpipes. I thought as a child I did too. My mother's opinions were law. But I think she had never heard the sound of the "Irish pipes" which I heard when I was in my teens and a friend of such geniuses as Finbarr and Eddie Furie of Ireland.

I ran an "Irish Folk Club" (The Denbigh Arms Folk Club between Coventry and Rugby at a handful of houses called Monk's Kirby. Roger Bray and I as "Threshold" even had a minor following in the Midlands. Ralph Mctell used to drink coffee with the "after club crowd": sitting on an old mattress in my living room, and he wrote the words of Steets of London on a beer mat for me in a Wolverhampton club 'cos I loved it so long before it became a guitar student's standard. Roger and I may have even been the first to sing it on the circuit.

At the club we would sing "We are off to join the IRA and we are off tomorrow morn..." until such songs were frowned upon in England. So sad that time. We were a part of the following in the name of "Jasper Carrott": a man who though obviously incredibly talented never knew what was in store for him. (Jasper above with hair, as I remember him!) Jasper's club was called The Boggery in Solihull, near Birmingham. For me, my best memory of Jasper was when he "coaxed " (forced me out of shame: the bastard) on to the roller coaster in Blackpool on a "Boggery Day Out". For ten minutes afterwards I couldn't speak! True story!

At the Boggery, many great talents were showcased: Davey Johnstone (who went on to be Elton John's guitarist), Ralph McTell, and the Gaels, Fairport Convention, and there was a duo called Threshold (before called The Candlelight Folk but I won't admit this to everyone, just you guys: Tracy and Roger...gone into the mists of musical history. One at least of my friends of the 60's went on to be a member of the Chieftans. There were others: Magna Carta were special friends of mine. Others are no longer with us: Sandy Denny, Nick Jones, John Martyn whom I once booked at the Denbigh for 12 pounds. (Ralph Mctell ditto - ah, those were the days.) They were heroes of 60's folk all...they were my friends of my life long ago.

As to that "Gaellic" sound: I never expected many years later to hear its equal in Galicia. THEN I knew I was home! So many pipers, in my beloved Santiago: Holy Moly, I would loved to have been there. That would truly been the icing on a long layered cake...!

Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year to you all and Happy Hogmanay, you Scottish lot! (I might be one of you, but I think it's more likely the Welsh ancestry that brings out the Celt in me!)"

I originally posted this on Boxing Day and now recognising the perhaps only slight influence of the after dinner brandy have now edited it to make it comprehensible where before it was barely!
P.S. Who is my fan from Coventry? I lived there from 1960 - 1971. Went to school at Lyng Hall! Do please leave comment.
Tracy Saunders


Monday 21 December 2009

Happy Winter Solstice...

As a sort of Christian Gnostic/Unitarian Universalist type, I guess I am a bit of a pagan at heart. This morning while trying to find something I liked that I could send out with "Season's Greetings" (with little success) I came across this simply stunning and extraordinary video. It seemed just right for today and so I am hoping to share it.

There are so many of you out there for whom I have no means of contact. This is my Christmas present to you to thank you all for your warm wishes and continuing support. I never dreamed when I wrote Pilgrimage to Heresy/Peregrinos de la Herejía that I would be sharing my words with readers from Korea to Canada, from Australia to Alaska, from Belgium to Bahrain. It is truly humbling.

Today is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere and the longest down south. It is a day when the sun takes on a significance which perhaps we do not consider at other times of the year. The winter solstice isn't just for druids (though Happy Alban Arthan to any druids out there...hey, you never know: there's an unlikely one in my book). Today I noticed that "Winter Solstice" was placed within the top 10 of Google searches. This is the day when we in the north consider the Birth of the Light and of course, for Christians, this means the birth of the Christ child. Here in Spain, on the evening of the Feast of John the Baptist - which is the night of the 23rd June: the summer solstice - an old tradition is to light bonfires on mountaintops, another way that the Christian and pagan messages have become intertwined and of course, for those of you have read it, Pilgrimage to Heresy hopes to show a very early foundation for such thinking.

I do hope you enjoy the video and that you feel that you would like to leave a message for the person who posted it on YouTube. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on-line.

Sunday 20 December 2009

and more time...

In the meantime, Compostela remained without a bishop and, to all intents and purposes, a cathedral. The masons had long since left to seek work elsewhere, and the new cathedral's master builder was occupied with the construction of the cathedral at Pamplona not far away from the eventual place of exile of his patron, Diego Pelaez.

A long-standing tradition was for the king of Leon-Castille to divert the revenue from the church if the see was vacant. It was not in Alfonso's interest to fill the vacancy straightaway and perhaps he wavered in his decision for longer than necessary. Certainly with Diego Pelaez still claiming that he had been improperly deposed, there was no hurry.

According to the Historia Compostelana, both of Diego Gelmirez' predecessors as "vicarios" had taken their role a little too seriously and in the case of Arias Diaz had virtually starved the canons and clergy! Not surprisingly, Diaz' death was welcomed rather then mourned. If any tears were shed, the Historia neglects to mention them.

Perhaps remembering the good works of Diego's father in a similar post, Diego Gelmirez's name was put forward as the "unanimous" choice and he administered the "honor", as it was called, for a year.

Finally, a new bishop - acceptable to both king and pope - was selected: the pope, Urban II, having ceased attempting to bring about a reconciliation between Alfonso and Diego Pelaez.

Dalmatius, the new bishop, was a former Cluniac monk and he had formerly fulfilled the role of the administration of all the houses of Cluny in Spain. The French influence was even more entrenched now in Galicia and not surprisingly, the Visigothic rite had long since been superceded by the Roman one (even if it was still not entirely accepted by everyone).

Dalmatius, however, was not to enjoy his role for long. He died within a year of taking office.

Here was Diego Pelaez last chance to appeal for re-instatement and he went to Rome to see the Pope; however, no ruling was made and Diego had no other choice but to return to the Monastery of Leyre in Aragon - empty-handed.

We end as we began: Compostela is once more with no man as a bishop; but not without one whose dearest wish was to be one.

Monday 14 December 2009

Biding time...

Diego's great opportunity came with the appointment of Raimond of Burgundy as Count of Galicia. Raimond (or Raymond) it may be recalled, was married to Alfonso's only legitimate daughter, Urraca, and Diego was a great Francophile. Supposedly on the recommendation of the cathedral community, Diego Gelmirez' name was put forward for the post of Chancellor. This would have been sometime between 1087 and 1093. Diego would most likely have been in his twenties - an important role for such a young man, but our hero, as we have seen, was both capable and ambitious. And, like all succesful men, he knew how to develop good connections.

In the Historia Compostelana, Diego Gelmirez is described variously at this time as the Count's scribe or notary. His service to the Count no doubt broadened his experience and he travelled with him extensively, at one point accompanying his patron on campaign to the battle lines against the Moors during which he only just managed to escape with his life. Diego was very good at getting out of scrapes.

One real advantage to this role was that those who served prominent members of the royal family were often rewarded with ecclestical preferment and it wasn't long before Diego's potential was recognised. Raimond appointed him administrator of the "Temporalities" or assets of the Church of Santiago. No-one could have fitted the post better.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

The Making of a Bishop...

We do not know when Diego Gelmirez was born. We don't even know where. But it was quite likely at the Torres del Oeste, the formidable fortress towers administered by his father, Gelmirio, in the service of Bishop Diego Pelaez whom we have already met. His date of birth was also most likely sometime during the 1060's.

Diego's father was greatly trusted by Diego Pelaez. The geographical area he governed on the River Ulla was particularly important strategically being vulnerable to periodic Viking and Norman raids.(During July every year there is a re-enactment of one of these at the site of the Torres which still exist.) Gelmirio, though likely of no great social rank, was considered by all as a "rising man" and young Diego most likely witnessed many comings and goings of the high and the mightly. Perhaps this fuelled his young ambition to rise higher than his father.

Diego attended the Cathedral school at Compostela and it seems he was destined for an ecclesiastical career from very early on. After his schooling, in which he was given a good grounding in church matters, the scriptures, and the law, he spent some time at the royal court, most likely during his late teens. Here, travelling with the royal retinue, young Diego had the perfect chance to watch, listen, and learn and to ingratiate himself into the company of those who may at some point be able to give him a leg up the ladder of preferment.

Sometime before 1085, Diego Gelmirez was back in the household of Bishop Diego Pelaez where we can be sure his listening skills were put to great advantage. What he did with what he learned one can only guess.

What is clear, however, is that Diego survived his patron's downfall and disgracein 1087. Perhaps he saw his career at stake and fought hard to secure it. Maybe as Fletcher suggests, he "...may not have been able to keep his hands clean". Diego, as you will learn, had a habit of coming up smelling of roses no matter what he did. Certainly his extreme reluctance in later years not to travel through the Kingdom of Aragon where Diego Pelaez was living in exile certainly makes us wonder if Diego Gelmirez had a guilty conscience...?

Monday 7 December 2009

After Diego Pelaez...

Alfonso couldn't allow Galicia to remain without a bishop, that was for sure, and so he appointed Pedro of Cardena to fill the vacant post. Trouble was this was not exactly his job...that is to say the Pope knew nothing about it. This was simply Not Good.

Once he found out (the Pope at the time was Urban II) Alfonso's choice was outright rejected and we can be sure that letters had been flying back and forth from Diego Pelaez and the Vatican at this time also (Diego Pelaez had found refuge at the court of the King of Aragon, not exactly a friend to Alfonso VI). Pope Urban rejected outright the deposition of Diego Pelaez and chastised Alfonso most resoundedly for having the gall to remove, seize, and imprison a bishop. Alfonso was forthwith instructed to reinstate Diego and no backchat! Urban then backed up his demands with a letter to the clergy and people of Compostela which said: "We forbid you to accept or obey this upstart so-called bishop, Pedro," or something more ecclesiastical and Latin to that effect, and poor Pedro, who likely had had little choice but to obey his king, was summoned to Rome toute de suite!

In the meantime, Alfonso himself had other problems to consider. For one thing he was surrounded by the Moors on virtually all sides; for another, his Queen, Constance, had produced the Infanta Urraca, but so far there was no male heir. And everyone around him was very aware of it. He was obliged to hold on to what he had so far gained and turn a blind (though watchful) eye to Galicia for the time being.

In Compostela, the building of the cathedral came to a grinding halt, and in the words of historian Bernard Reilly, it was: "scarcely more than a handful of piers, melancholy and silent in the winter rains of the northwest".

Never had Galicia needed a champion more.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Preyr for Charlies Mum

Sorry not to have written for a while but I have been in London. I was invited by my friend Mary to 1) dogsit while she was away, 2) sing with The American Choir of London on Thanksgiving Day. Both were delightful experiences. The latter involved a lot of security checks and was attended by the American Ambassador to the UK who gave a rather ethnocentric speech.

That being as it it may, the chance to sing in St. Pauls, from the original church choir stalls was a bit too much for this (soprano) pilgrim and I jumped at the chance. (Carpe Diem indeed.)

It was truly a "once in a lifetime experience" and, getting up into my late fifties, I decided I had to take seriously this voice that said "do it!".
So I did it. And hope (now as an "Honorary American" - note spelling -) I hope to do again next year.

But that is not what this blog is about.

While staying at Mary's I began to read a bit more about the Wren churches and was determined to visit one or two. Which I did. The second was called St. Magnus the Martyr which I found in the rain. It is close to London Bridge, and the sort of northern end if you like. Very close to The Monument (the Great Fire of London started close to here). I was having the time of my life: getting on this bus, getting off, getting on another. And so I found St. Magnus. Martyrs of all stripes are my interest right now.

Now I don't know very much about St. Magnus (actually I don't know anything about St. Magnus other than he has a horned helmet so presumably was a Viking), but I really did love the church especially as they had a booksale. On the first day I went (I went twice) I had intended to go to the Tate but never made it as just as I was about to leave the organist came in to "practice" and that took an hour or so of my London time.

On the second day I went back to pick up a book I regretted not buying the first time and it was then I decided to light a candle. Above the candles were yellow slips of prayers (I added one) and one in particular caught my eye.
And this is the purpose of this blog. It asked, in very childish writing:
"Plese say a preyr for Charlies Mum she has a brane tuma".

Now I don't know who wrote this. Nor do I know who Charlie is, nor his Mum. But it did touch me very deeply. I lit a candle and felt very humble and not a bit ashamed for complaining about the weather.

So, I am asking you to please say a "preyr", especially for Charlie's Mum. Maybe if you label your prayer "Charlie's Mum" it might have a special delivery, and while you are at it think of all the mums in the world who might have a brane tuma, and may never see their children grown.

Back to the 11th century next week, but thought this worth posting.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

The bishop rebels...

By 1080, the Roman Liturgy was beginning to replace the old Mozarabic (Visigothic) rite. The influence of the Order of Cluny was starting to change the way that people in Galicia would worship from henceforth. And not all welcomed this change.

We are not sure if Bishop Diego Pelaez was one of these, but there can be no doubt that he would have felt the winds blowing from France. King Alfonso VI made Constance of Burgundy his queen, and as often happens, this seemed to involve importing a few relatives as well.

Up to this point, Toledo had been the capital of the old Visigothic kingdom for many hundreds of years. By the late 11th century it was still in Moorish hands, but this was all to change. Alfonso captured Toledo, making Bernardo, a Frenchman, its archbishop. Perhaps Diego Pelaez felt that Galicia was to slip into the backwaters with the new changes with the shrine of St. James assuming less and less importance.

The Infanta Urraca, Alfonso and Constance's only issue, was promised to Raymond, also of France. In the absence of male heirs, this meant that Raymond, a foreigner, would become king.

Perhaps it was all too much got the independent Galicians to bear. This increasing hegemony threatened a vanishing way of life. Before Galicia had been effectively cut off from the rest of the kingdom, yet retained its autonomy, even its king, in this case the imprisoned Garcia. Now, although the pilgrim road had opened Compostela up to the world, instead of achieving its rightful place as the Spanish rival to Rome, it was slipping behind the newly captured Toledo.

In 1087 Count Rodrigo Ovéquez led a rebellious force into Lugo, capturing the city, and his accomplice, it would seem, was none other than our own Diego Pelaez, Bishop of Compostela.

Of course, it was doomed from the start, a daring plan simply destined for failure.

Thirty years later, whilst Diego Gelmirez was archbishop, one of his clerics wrote that charges against Diego Pelaez had been that he had sought the assistance of William of Normandy, "The Conqueror" of England, and although it was not stated, it is impossible not to add: perhaps to free Garcia and re-establish him as the King of Galicia.

This is not as far fetched as it may sound. No less than three of William's daughters had been suggested as marriage partners for the three brothers. Prior to his bethrothal to Constance, Alfonso was to marry Agatha, but she died on route to her bridegroom. Another daughter, one Alberta, was mentioned in connection with Sancho, and may even have married him. What is interesting is that her name (William had a lot of daughters) also comes up in connection with Garcia, the youngest, the dispossessed king of Galicia. Was there some rivalry between the two brothers which history has swallowed up? A romance lost and forgotten? We will never know.

The rebellion lasted for two years. As it was it was all to come to naught. William died unexpectedly when a riding accident threw him onto the pommel of his horse. The ringleaders of the rebellion, including Diego Pelaez, were rounded up and thrown into prison.

The Historia Compostelana tells us that Diego Pelaez was brought in front of his accusers in chains. He was forced to declare himself unworthy of his office, to surrender his pastoral ring and staff. Much later he was banished, exiled, and he spent the rest of his days in Aragon at the court of Pedro who was no friend to Alfonso, and subsequently none to Diego Gelmirez either. But I am getting ahead of my story.

Building on the cathedral stopped. Maestro Esteban followed Diego Pelaez east and began to work on a new cathedral to be built at Pamplona. The masons dispersed. An angered pope tried to re-instate his bishop who meanwhile languished in the dungeons, but with no success. And the bishopric stayed empty for 12 whole years while Diego Gelmirez, moving his way up through the ranks, was happy to bide his time.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Diego Pelaez...

Ask most people connected with the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and they will say that it was the child of the first archbishop, Diego Gelmirez, and in many ways this was so. What you may not be told, however, is that it was Gelmirez’ predecessor, Diego Pelaez, who first conceived of enlarging the basilica, nor that the first architect was one Maestro Esteban, most likely a Frenchman.

If we know little enough about Priscillian of Avila, we know even less about Diego Pelaez. We don’t know when he was born, nor where. It seems likely that he was a native of Galicia, but Pelaez (of the family of Pelayo) was a common enough name and crops up quite a bit in connection with the Camino both in Galicia and Asturias. We are told by the authors of the Historia Compostelana (of which you are going to learn a lot more in the weeks to come) that Diego Pelaez was consecrated by Sancho II. While this is possible, subsequent events were to make it more likely that Pelaez had enjoyed the patronage of Garcia of Galicia, and bishops in those days were kings’ men through and through. Besides, the Historia Compostelana is not known for its…um…accuracy.

Be that as it may, by the time that the groundbreaking began (with the old church still inside), Sancho had been dead for 3 years, at the hands of his brother Alfonso. Garcia, having made the mistake of seeking a truce with his brother, was languishing in prison as an unwilling guest in the Castillo de Luna in the mountains above the Rio Orbigo. Diego Pelaez, in his untouchable position as bishop, was perhaps enjoying the relative isolation of his see at Compostela.

The new church was to be constructed in the French “Romanesque” style. With a Latin cross form, three naves and a ground area of 8,300 square meters, this was to be far, far grander than any of the churches of St. James before. An increasing number of merchants and artisans were settling along the pilgrimage route. The work progressed under the watchful eyes of not only Maestro Esteban, but also two master masons known as Bernard and Robert. At least 50 men were employed upon the building during the time of Diego Pelaez.

In some ways, the eventual fate of the church at Compostela was a victim of its own success. Compostela (it had been known by this name since 1056) became more and more “European”. The see had already been moved from Iria Flavia by that time. Prior to this, Galicia had in many ways been cut off: politically and especially geographically. Bishop Cresconio, Pelaez forerunner of long tenure, had had more to worry about with Norman and Viking invasions than incursions from rival kings. For this he had fortified the coastal areas and in particular (for our story as you will see) built a castle at Torres del Oeste near Iria. During Diego Pelaez’ time as bishop, this as occupied by his seigneur, Gelmirio who had several sons, one of which, Diego, is to rise to almost unapproachable power as the first archbishop of “Santiago de Compostela”.

Sunday 8 November 2009

A bit more necessary history (bear with me!)...

In the early to mid-11th century, as if the threat from the Normans and Vikings was not enough, constant rivalry between the Kingdom of León and the Kingdom of Castilla opened rifts that could be (and were) exploited by outsiders, and so Sancho III "the Great", King of Navarre (1004–1035) took steps to eradicate the problem. This powerful king "absorbed" Castile in the 1020s, and added León in the last year of his life, driving King Bermudo of Leon back into Galicia which formed a part of his lands.

On Sancho's death, the kingdoms were once again divided, this time between Sancho's sons. At first it would seem that Bermudo took advantage of the situation and gained his Leonese territory back, but he could not hold it against the more powerful Fernando.

Castilla had fallen to Fernando, but for him that was not enough. He engaged Bermudo in battle and defeated him. In this way, Fernando was to remain the ruler of Castilla, Leon, and Galicia until his death in 1065.

But Fernando I seemed to have had very little interest in Galicia. At least it does not appear to have profitted in any way by his becoming king, and it would seem that Galicia had not forgiven Fernando for dethroning their own king, Bermudo. Rebellions broke out, although none very successful. For a while an uneasy peace was established. But the Gallego nobles had long memories.

Before Fernando died, he, like his father before him, divided his lands amongst his sons. Castilla went to Sancho who became Sancho II. Alfonso became King Alfonso VI of Leon, and finally, Galicia went to Garcia, the youngest of the brothers and perhaps the weakest. Nice guys finish last.

Garcia must have known that he could only rule his kingdom with the cooperation of his nobles and in order to placate them he undertook an oath: he swore he would be a good lord and would not deprive them of their lands. "...nor send them into exile; nor .....encourage their ill-wishers". The former was no doubt in response to the widespread rebellion by Count Muño Rodriguez, who had been imprisoned and stripped of his lands by Garcia's father, Fernando I.

But at the very least, Galicia had a king once more, and one it would appear it was willing to defend. Garcia seems to have made good upon his promises and attracted some loyal nobles to him although perhaps his zeal for reform did not endear many of his older subjects to him. But it wasn't to last for long. In true Mediaeval family tradition, Garcia was soon dethroned by his brother Sancho II of Castilla, who then met his own come-uppance when his lands were annexed by Alfonso. Alfonso then became King Alfonso VI of all the kingdoms formerly united under his father. Having seemingly formed an alliance with Sancho to remove their brother from his rightful inheritance, this may very well have been Alfonso's intention all along as in 1072 Sancho was dispensed with never to cause the new king any trouble again. Garcia fled to Sevilla, still then, in the hands of the Moors. Safety amongst nominal enemies seemed to be a better election than staying anywhere near his only remaining brother.

This may have simplified things historically, but things were still not happy in Galicia. In 1085, a further rebellion broke out, this time led by the Count of Lugo, Rodrigo Ovéquez. This revolt was no minor skirmish but a serious situation in which the disaffected aristocrats of Galicia, perhaps remembering only too well their own King Bermudo and his fate and more lately the self-imposed exile of their king, Garcia, posed a threat to Alfonso which had to be dealt with quickly and cleanly.

One man involved was not of the aristocracy, least not of the landed gentry. He was the Bishop of Compostela, a man who had received his see at the hands of King Garcia, and, it is almost forgotten, the first architect of the Cathedral. It is to him that we shall turn our attention next.

His name was Diego Pelaez...

Sunday 1 November 2009

Compostela: a sneak peak at my new book...!

Two timelines - the first year of the 21st century, and 1000 years before - a woman finds herself torn between her love, her research, and a powerful bishop's obsessions.

Felix and Laura return to Santiago. Laura has a thesis to write and what place could be more atmospheric than the University of Santiago? The couple, who met while walking the Camino de Santiago, are deeply in love and should be blissfully happy. But as the Galician winter draws in, Laura begins to encounter strange visions in the streets of the old city. Voices tell her she should beware, but of what, and whom? Confused and frightened, Laura becomes aware that she is pushing away the very love that she had once welcomed. Felix hits the Camino once more leaving Laura to enter the past, alone.

Against the backdrop of medieval Compostela, Diego Gelmirez propels himself to prominence as the first archbishop of a growing diocese. Ambitious, shrewd and ruthless, Diego will go to any lengths to protect his cathedral, even to the point of challenging a queen.

In 2010, more than one quarter of a million pilgrims from all around the world are expected to make the pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James.

But how true is the Legend of Santiago? Who had the most to gain by promoting it?

And who still does...?
Help Wanted...

You could contribute to the writing of Compostela which is slated for publication in 2010. And since today is The Day of The Dead what better time to ask you for "spooky Camino stories"! If you or anyone you know has somehow experienced the "Supernatural" while walking the Camino routes or especially while in Santiago please do not hesitate to contact me at All messages will be answered, and if I use the story in the book, acknowledged in print.

Friday 30 October 2009

A bit more about the Moors...

The name of the Moors derives from the ancient Berber tribe of the Mauri and their kingdom, Mauretania, which became a Roman province after its last king Bocchus II willed it to Octavian in 33 BC. Mauretania lay in present day Morocco and Western Algeria. The name of Mauri was applied by the Romans to all non-romanised natives of North Africa still ruled by their own chiefs.

In 711, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, (from whom we have the name “Gibraltar”), the Moors brought most of Spain and Portugal under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. On the eve of the battle, Tariq is alleged to have roused his troops with the following words:

"My brethren, the enemy is before you, the sea is behind; whither would ye fly? Follow your general; I am resolved either to lose my life or to trample on the prostrate king of the Romans."

Surprisingly quickly, Iberia came under their domination. They attempted to move northeast across the Pyrenees but were defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. However, with the notable exception of the north west (which was occupied only briefly)and the Basque regions, the Moors ruled Iberia, especially in Al-Andalus where they were to remain a presence until the fall of Granada in 1492.

The north of Iberia (the former "Duchy of Gallaecia") even though nominally conquered, was not the most ideal place for the Moors, who just sent a military force and collected taxes. As had the Romans before them, the Moors did not bother the Astures and Cantabri. But the relative peace was not to last. The Berbers in the north did not like the lands they were given and a rebellion broke out(perhaps they didn’t care for the weather). They repressed by the forces in several battles until the rebellion stopped, but then the Berbers turned against the Astures, claiming higher taxes and setting punishment patrols against their villages. This forced the Astures to start a guerrilla war.

The Moors were driven out of Galicia in 739 by Alfonso I of Asturias. From then on, the kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Asturias until 924, when it became the Kingdom of León. “Almanzor", as we have seen, perhaps recognising the increasing power wielded by those who claimed St. James as their own saint, raised the growing settlement of Compostela to the ground and took back with him the bells and doors of the church. But although he destroyed the shrine, he did nothing to remove the relics. This was not an attempt at invasion per se; it was more of a punitive expedition. As far as Al Mansur was concerned, the north west was getting a bit too big for its boots.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Moorish Threat: Al Mansur...

And so, as Santiago became famous as the conqueror of the Moors, what we need to remember is that at that time during the 10th century, Spain such as we know it now, did not exist. Instead it was a number of small kingdoms: Navarra, Aragon, Leon, Castilla. Most of it was, however, overrun by the Moorish conquerors, most especially, Al Andalus, very loosely, today’s Andalucia. The Caliphate of Córdoba was so powerful as to be a rival to Baghdad. Enter Al-Mansur, also known to the Christians as Almanzor: The Victorious One.

"Al-Mansur" was born Muhammad Ibn Abi Aamir into a noble Arab family. He was not born into the royal circles; in fact he came originally from the strategic port of Algeciras. He eventually arrived at the court of Córdoba as a student studying literature and law. He was an ambitious man and fast rose to power as the manager of the estates of Prince Hisham II and as such he rose to ever increasing positions of influence, ruthlessly eliminating his political rivals along the way. Hisham II became Caliph, but he was only 12 years old. Al-Mansur used his influence and occupied and added to the beautiful new palace on the outskirts of Córdoba called Medina Azahara (Medinat al-Zahra) which can still be seen today. The palace became a city where the royal mint and the administrative quarters of the Caliphate were located. Built by the Caliph Abd al-Rahman III in 940, it is said that his young bride (one of - al-Rahman had hundreds) missed the snows of her native land, and so al-Rahman planted almond trees around the palace so that their blossom in the spring would remind her of her homeland.

Al-Mansur was less romantic. After the death of Al-Rahman III, the heir to the Caliphate, as we have seen, was a mere boy, Hisham. Al-Mansur brought the young ruler under his power so completely that he made him a virtual prisoner in Medina Azahara while Al-Mansur secured his position and carried forward with agendas of his own.

As you can imagine, the court of Córdoba was full of intrigue and Al-Mansur knew that he would have to act ruthlessly if he was to maintain his position of power. This took him into many battles. One of these was in the year 981 when he engaged his last remaining rival, Ghalib Al-Nasiri, in battle. He returned victorious. What was seemingly unimportant to him that the leader of the opposition was his own father-in-law.

Ruthless, as we have said.

Upon his return to Córdoba, he assumed the title Al Mansur bi Allah – Victorious by the grace of God. To the Christians, who had every reason to fear him, he was known as Almanzor.

Al-Mansur’s grip on Al-Andalus was now without challenge. He was absolute ruler. He dedicated himself to military campaigns against the Christian states of the peninsula. He organized and took part in 57 campaigns, and was victorious in all of them. To wage these campaigns against the Christian states, he brought in many Berber mercenaries from what is now Morocco, which upset the political order over time. Although he mainly fought against León and Castilla, in 985 he sacked Barcelona and in 997 he turned his interests towards Compostela.

The church was sacked. He took the doors to use in his navy, and he returned triumphantly with the church bell carried on the back of captured Christian slaves.
The legend says that he spared the tomb of St. James. And this fascinates me. Supposedly he rode into the church upon his horse, but he found a pious monk (perhaps the bishop) in prayer by the side of the tomb who refused to leave the site. Again, legend tells us that he was so taken with this man’s piety that he left the shrine,and the priest, alone.

Now what intrigues me is why would this be? Al Mansur was not known for his mercy. He had attacked Compostela for the simple reason that he knew (and I imagine it hadn’t taken too much for his spies to learn this) that the church contained a rival – and a powerful one at that – to his own beliefs. One which had been promoted as a figurehead to rouse the people of the Christian north against him. It would have been understandable if along with the doors and bells (he burned the new church to the ground) he had returned even more triumphant with the remains of the saint with whom the Christian might of the northern kings had planned to threaten his power.

But he didn’t. Why not?

The compelling thought which grips me is that Al Mansur learned something from this monk; something which enlightened him as to the real remains in the tomb. That is to say, that it did not contain St. James, his nemesis, but someone else. Someone perhaps who posed no threat at all? Someone whose own views were not so dissimilar to those of his own religion. Could he have learned from this monk about Priscillian? We will never know. But there are so many mysteries surrounding this tomb that this is one we should not discount.

Al Mansur was not to enjoy his power for much longer. Within five years he was dead. And a new church was to arise from the ashes of the old one. Supposedly, with its relics still intact.

Monday 12 October 2009

The Cult of St. James Begins...

We have seen that Alfonso II and Bishop Theodemir took an interest in the discovery of a tomb which they claimed must have been St. James. A church was built – not a very impressive one by all accounts. Most texts claim monastic buildings erected there also, although by no means all. Things go on without much ceremony at the simple church for some time. The Battle of Clavijo comes and goes with, or without, St. James depending on whether you want to ignore history or not. Ordoño succeeds Ramiro and then he too passes into that great battle in the sky, or wherever it is that warring kings choose to go. There is then a brief dispute about territory as Alfonso III comes to the throne.

Remember it is Oviedo which is the centre of all the action at this point. Galicia is little more than a troublesome outpost – hard to get at. Count Froila of Galicia makes an appearance here by trying to claim some property belonging to the church at Santiago (we are not told whether this was actually in or near Compostela. Churches used to own property well away from the actual church precincts). Froila is defeated, and after his death the lands are returned to the church. As a mark of “gratitude” to St. James (for being on the right side) Alfonso III sends a jewelled cross to the church of St. James in Compostela which bears the words Hoc Signo Vincitur Inimicus. Just before the Battle of Milvian Bridge,the Roman Emperor Constantine was said to have had a vision in which he saw a cross in the sky. He dreamed that this meant “By this sword you shall conquer”. That the Latin words mean more of less the same, Alfonso clearly intended as a parallel with his golden gift. St. James was to be seen on the side of the righteous and dutiful, not the enemy. This, at a point where the Moors were overrunning the Peninsula and moving north at an accelerated rate, is not a point to be overlooked in our story of how the Cult of St. James began. (This, by the way is the accepted term, not mine.)

There follows a period in which Alfonso and Bishop Sisnando begin to heap rewards on the church of Santiago and the little wattle and daub church is thought not to be grand enough to receive such attention. Alfonso digs deep into his pockets (or whatever they had in those days) and a new and improved church is built, bigger, better. In 899 no less than 17 bishops come to the consecration, one from as far away as Zaragosa. As if St. James’ remains were not enough, Alfonso adds relics from Santas Leocadia, and Eulalia too.

Around about this time there is evidence of a letter written by Alfonso to the clergy of Tours in France, famous for being the burial place of St. Martin. It would appear that a question had come Alfonso’s way: “Who is buried in Galicia?” His response is unequivocal: “Let them know that it is James the son of Zebedee.” The letter makes reference to miracles at the site which would seem to indicate that some pilgrimage on what was later to become the Camino de Santiago had already begun.

What I find intriguing about this letter is that Alfonso seems to be asking for some assistance setting up his relics shop. He asks for more information about St. Martin, (who was a contemporary of Priscillian, not in agreement with Priscillian’s form of Christianity but appalled by the treatment he received. It is St. Martin’s biographer Sulpicius Severus who has provided just about everything you will read about Priscillian with the agreement of the Catholic Church, i.e. not very sympathetic). Alfonso wants details: miracles etc. Fletcher makes the acerbic observation that perhaps Alfonso is “…a man who is still something of a beginner in the business of shrine promotion”.

Yet despite all the fuss surrounding Compostela at this time, Oviedo is still the royal seat and it was characteristic for relics to be translated to more important centres. Oviedo was a “veritable spiritual fortress” at the time (I had the same observation as Fletcher when I visited Braga this year. There are so many relics there that when I saw the word SAN ITARIOS on a wall in the Cathedral it took a minute for it to dawn on me that this was the sign for the toilets. True story! That’s what happens when you get research-obsessed).

Where was I?

Ah yes…I think the point that intrigues me at this point is: why didn’t Alfonso take the remains to Oviedo to add to his collection? That is what kings in those days did. Alfonso III didn’t.

Why not?

Sunday 4 October 2009

Competition Winners...!

Congratulations to Maggie Croft of New Zealand, and "Sillydoll" of South Africa for being the first to identify the mystery picture as being a detail of the wonderful cross-section model of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Museo das Peregrinaciónes in that city.

If you haven't been to the Museo, and especially if you are on your way to Fisterre and have time for only one museum, don't miss the Museo das Peregrinaciónes. It's full of fascinating stuff (the models alone are worth the visit), in my opinion far better than the cathedral museum (staff who actually know what they are talking about), and best of all, it's free!

I vowed almost 8 years ago that I would bring Priscillian the bishop and the story of the injustices surrounding his life and execution to the notice of as many people as I possibly could. Very shortly he and his message will be winging their way to two more places in the south hemisphere. I am always absolutely astonished at the locations visitors to this site come from: everywhere from Virginia to Vanuatu. It is truly a wonderful reward for a lot of hard work put into researching and writing Pilgrimage to Heresy, and also very gratifying for me and The Blog Dog to see that so many of you are enjoying my posts. Thank you for your super comments and keep them coming!

Saturday 3 October 2009

Don't Drop the Dishes...!

A Farewell to Banned Books Week 2009

In the United States, Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. Using slogans such as “Morals, not art and literature,” he convinced Congress to pass a law, thereafter known as the “Comstock Law,” banning the mailing of materials found to be “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene.” Comstock is estimated to have confiscated 120 tons of printed works. 3,500 people were prosecuted although only about 350 were convicted. Books banned included many classics: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (in which the Wife of Bath has walked the Camino de Santiago, The Arabian Nights, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Contemporary authors whose works were subsequently censored under the Comstock Law include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and many others whose works are now deemed to be classics of literature.

Paul Boyer, in Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age, writes that the Comstock Law only formalized what had been a “gentleman’s agreement” among publishers, booksellers and librarians upholding a type of Victorian “code” of literary propriety. Nationally publicised trials over such novels as James Joyce’s Ulysses, began to erode this. Boyer says that the terrifying specter of the Nazi book-burnings in Germany in 1933 crystallised anti-censorship sentiment in the United States. So much so that within a short time after the book-burnings in Germany, the landmark federal court decision in United States v. One Book Called "Ulysses" clearing Ulysses broke the back of the Comstock Law.

Nevertheless perhaps with the increased interesting in Fundamentalism in the U.S. classic works such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men were among the top 10 most frequently challenged books from 1990 to 2000, according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Of the 448recorded challenges in 2001 (down from 646 in 2000), the most often challenged were those in the Harry Potter series, for its focus on wizardry and magic and “Satanic influence.” Shel Silverstein’s delightful book of children’s poems A Light in the Attic was challenged in the 1980’s because it 'encourages children to break dishes so they won't have to dry them'.*

So as we stand today Pope Benedict may not approve of Peregrinos de la Herejía with its Gnostic content, but there is little he is likely to do about it while I could still be excommunicated by the American Book Banning Boys.

Funny Ole World, innit

* Parents Discretion Warning (with tongue firmly imbedded in cheek)
Could lead to the serious de-stabilisation of the "caregiver"/child hierarchical structure...
from A Light in the Attic, my second favourite book of poems for children of any age. My favourite is Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends...

How not to dry the dishes

If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
('Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor-
Maybe they won't let you
Dry dishes anymore.

Shel Silverstein

Thursday 1 October 2009

Book Banning History Continued...

In days gone by, of course, destroying a book, generally by burning, was an easy matter. If a book was thrown into the fire and it burned it was ipso facto "heretical". Books were printed by hand and fabulously expensive. Burning all copies meant that no-one was ever able to read them again. Many were hidden, especially, with Pilgrimage to Heresy in mind, in Egypt, and the Nag Hammadi "Gospels", the "Gospel of Judas", and the Dead Sea Scrolls are also cases in point.

With the invention of the printing press however, book burning was more symbolic than practical and it became more and more difficult to destroy the ideas and the books themselves.

Within 40 years of Gutenberg’s invention – when most of the printed books had been printed and sold in Germany – an archbishop complained to the town hall for censorship of “dangerous materials”. Henry VIII required printers to submit all manuscripts to church authorities and outlawed all imported publications in 1529.

In 1535, Francis I of France issued an edict prohibiting ALL publications. So it is not surprising to find the Catholic church issuing the Index Librorum Prohibitum (the Index of Forbidden Books) in 1559 in reaction to the spread of Protestantism and scientific enquiry. The Index continued until 1966 when Pope Paul VI terminated the publication. Still, literally 1000’s of books remain on the list.

It was thought up until the end of the 19th century that none of Priscillian’s works remained. However, the Würzburg Tractates were discovered by Georg Schepps in 1885 and published at the Vienna Corpus in 1886. While the jury is still out on whether or not Priscillian wrote all of the tractates there is a general consensus amongst scholars that the First Tractate is of his authorship. What we read contrasts alarmingly with the entries in the Catholic Encyclopaedia and the like, all of which is based on Sulpicius Severus the biographer of St. Martin, and none of which is very flattering. Severus is thought to have obtained his information for Hydacius, Priscillian`s chief accuser. This seriously biased “disinformation” has sullied Priscillian’s reputation ever since.

Next year a much awaited (by me and several of my readers) translation of the Tractates will be available in English. Up to this point if you want to know his religious viewpoints your have to be fluent in Latin or German. This new translation should encourage new interest in this deeply spiritual and charismatic man. And at least the work won’t be in the Index! Though I am not sure about the United States (hopefully only a joke but read on.)

Manifesto for Open Minds...

To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you're afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you're afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you're afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.


Monday 28 September 2009

Banned Book Week Begins...

Yes, this week is Banned Books Week. Luckily this doesn’t mean you are instructed to take Pilgrimage to Heresy and burn it in the backyard, although I would “fight to the death to defend your right to do so”. Instead, Banned Book Week has been celebrated (if that is quite the right word) to draw our attention to the number of books which have been banned mostly for reasons of sex, violence, profanity, religion, politics and – along with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - “magic and witchcraft”. Since Priscillian was accused of “Witchcraft and Heresy” I have decided to take a break from the “Evidence for St. James” blogs this week and concentrate a little on Banned Book Week and its intentions.

Banned Book Week was launched in 1982 to respond to the increase in the number of books either challenged or outright banned in libraries, schools, and libraries. More than 1000 books have been challenged in the last 27 years alone!

While perusing the list of banned books in this century I was amused to find that almost all of them are now to be found on the high school curriculum, although that doesn’t mean we are moving forward. We have just changed what we complain about. Take The Kite Runner for example, challenged for its sexually explicit scenes (a homosexual rape) and language. And then there is the ongoing debate about Phillip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy because of its religious and political viewpoints.

Of course, there is nothing new about banning books. But it came as a surprise to me to read that in 360 B.C., Plato described in the Republic: “Our first business will be to supervise the making of fables and legends; rejecting all which are unsatisfactory….”

Supervising mythology…Carl Jung would turn in his grave!
To be continued all this week

Friday 25 September 2009

Tampered Texts...?

None of the charters mentioned in the last blog have survived in their original form; what we have are copies made in the 10th, 11th, and 13th centuries. The texts have been “tampered with”. Are they, Fletcher asks, “outright forgeries of a much later period”, or are they only authentic 8th century texts which have undergone only minor touchings up later on?

In fact there are so many forgeries connected with the “evidence for St. James” that it’s hard not to throw out both baby and bathwater at the same time.

For example: a royal charter of 829 has survived only as a 12th century copy. This mentions a “grant of privileges to the apostle’s church”. It is likely to be a forgery. Besides, if we look at the date this would indicate that the tomb had been discovered between 818 and 829. A later tradition mentions that Alfonso built three churches, one of them to St. James, and that there were also two monastic houses and a wall to surround the complex. Again, widely accepted, but we only have evidence of the church of St. James. This was “poorly built, made of rubble and clay” according to a document which dates from the time of the second church of 899. Such a church would have been a very modest little building compared with Alfonso’s church in Oviedo which was reportedly richly endowed. And as for the first appearance of St. James as “ Santiago Matamoros” as we have already seen it was not Ramiro but Ordoño his son who fought at this battle, and neither of the two kings seem to have been overly pre-occupied with James.

P.S. Don't forget the competition posted below. There is still one copy of Pilgrimage to Heresy or Peregrinos de la Herejía yet to be claimed...Could it be yours?

Monday 21 September 2009

According to Fletcher...

... (Saint James’ Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmirez, 1984, OUP), the “least unreliable” report would be from the Odoario Charter supposedly written by the Bishop of Lugo between 740 and 760. It begins with an autobiography of Odoario, but later the “corrupt” (sic) text is missing dates in crucial places. Odoario is involved in the foundation of three churches Bocamos to St. Julian, Mazoy to Sta. Eulalia and Meilán to St. James. All of these saints were featured on the Merida inscription mentioned earlier. The Charter goes on to claim the following:

- There was evidently a Christian cult of some sort at Compostela between the late Roman period (400 or so) through to the early part of the 7th century.

- Around about the time that the archaeological evidence from this region becomes fuzzy, we have a reference to a St. James at Mérida. These relics may have been transported northwards. We do not know which St. James.

- Around about this time we get the first mentions of Santiago having preached in Spain, but no references to his burial there. Isidore mentions nothing about it; Julian outright rejects it.

- Probably towards the middle part of the 8th century, a tomb is discovered in or near Compostela.

Theodemir the bishop claims it to be St. James. He is so certain that he chooses to be buried near it. A hymn to Santiago is composed between 783 and 788 which might have been associated with the dedication of a church to St. James.

Don't forget you have until September 30th to identify the mystery pic! See below....

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Win a signed copy of Pilgrimage to Heresy or Peregrinos de la Herejía!

Last week I was told that sales of Pilgrimage to Heresy were "getting up into the bestseller range". In terms of numbers, I am still not sure what this means. But when the English publication of Pilgrimage to Heresy (this time with a mainstream publisher) goes through, copies of the iUniverse edition may become collectors items!
Wanna win your own signed copy?
This is all you have to do:
Identify the location in Santiago de Compostela where you might find the attached picture.
Send your name and a postal address to:
The first three correct entries will receive a copy of their choice.
Be sure to specify English or the Spanish version Peregrinos de la Herejía.

Good Luck!

Saint’s Relics, Cult, and Big Business...

I don´t think I am being inaccurate in saying that the cult of Santiago and pilgrimage to the Saint’s remains are just as important to the Xunta de Galicia today as they were to Archbishop Diego Gelmirez in the 11th and 12th century and later. This hasn’t been so, perhaps, for a couple of hundreds of years, but today The Camino, like it or not, is big business. A taxi driver said to me a year ago: “Pues, Galicia es de moda”: “Galicia is in fashion”, and I had to agree.

So how did this happen?

Cults didn’t just happen: they were made and the Way (or now Ways) to Compostela was (and is at the present time) one of them. That cult has been remade, with great success, today. Galicia needs St. James .

The idea of a pilgrimage to saints’ remains was taken very seriously in feudal Galicia. They were sources of the growth of towns, their income and prestige. It was in the interest of the town fathers (and in particular the bishops of these towns) to perpetuate devotion to certain shrines. Superstitiousness, very much dear to the Gallego heart anyway, was fostered by the church. It was a strong form of control and it worked very well. This is perhaps hard for us to accept today, but the remains of this are deeply embedded in the Camino de Santiago.

Tell anyone about Priscillian, especially if they are not Spanish, and there is every chance you will meet with a certain resentment if not a downright animosity as I have found to my sorrow. We like our myths, even today. But in Galicia, you will often meet with a knowing look. Instead of outright hostilility (read earlier blogs) I, and Pilgrimage to Heresy and its Spanish sister Peregrinos de la Herejia was welcomed in Galicia The heart of Priscillian lives on in the north of Spain, despite all.

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.

Saturday 5 September 2009

St. James is discovered...

A tomb was discovered. It was of considerable size. There was a partition between two areas north to south and there was an opening giving access to the east from the west the first part now considered an atrium of some sort. This was found during excavation in the 19th century but no human remains were to be discovered. In the centre of the eastern chamber there was a rectangular pit which might have been an altar of some kind. Many people seem to have been buried around it by the mid 7th century at the latest. Why no body in the crypt in question?

Remember Sir Francis Drake? He might have been a hero to you when you were at school but he was perhaps literally an unholy threat to Spain and in the mid 16th century and under extreme pressure someone (perhaps the archbishop of the time, we don’t know) recognised the threat it would pose if the English could carry off the remains of Spain’s most sacred martyr; so he, or they, hid the body and they did a really good job. The remains were hidden for 300 years!

Let’s return to earlier times for a moment: from the information we read in connection with the Camino de Santiago it would seem a certainty that it was St. James’ remains that were discovered in the mid 800’s. But, about Pelayo the shepherd/hermit who supposedly discovered the tomb (and even he was airbrushed out in the 12th century) and Bishop Theodemir we know next to nothing. There is nothing written in those years. The king was invited in for a look-see and was only too glad to declare the remains to be St. James, but he had an ultimo motivo as the Moors were knocking on his door. The date could be anywhere in the 9th century but we should aim for 842 at the latest.

So why was Bishop Theodemir so convinced that the remains were those of St. James when there was no evidence up to that point?

Let’s just look at the cult of Saints remains for a moment. In Merida the following saints (or bits of) remains were supposed to rest:

St. John the Baptist
St. Stephen
St. Paul
St. James the Evangelist
St. James (Lesser, the Just: the “brother of Christ”?)
St. Julian
Sta. Eulalia
St. Tirsus
St. Genesus
Sta. Marcella

With the inroad of the Moors, it is thought that these, or some of these saints’ remains were transferred northwards into Asturias and Galicia which seemed safe. Santa Eulalia, for example, remains the patron saint of Merida, but her remains are in Oviedo in Asturias. So what about the others? Well, the cathedral in Oviedo was richly endowed by the king with the arrival of Sta. Eulalia, but the church of St. James in Compostela was nothing but a wattle and daub affair (described as a “modest structure”) with little to commend it. Santa Leocadia was thought to be a very powerful intercession because of her entombment in Toledo had an elaborate church built by Alfonso II in Oviedo. But St. James’ remained somewhat neglected. Why? There may indeed have been a translation of a St. James’(which one? The Greater, the Less, the Just?) relics to Compostela but even if so, this doesn’t explain the existence of a mausoleum three centuries before, nor the proliferation of burial sites close to that mausoleum. At this point we have to truly begin to question the idea of James being buried in Compostela as this is the best evidence so far the historians have been able to suggest.

At this point, interest in St. James, weak as it is already, begins to peter out.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

What we do know about the excavations in Compostela... that there were a large number of human remains found. These seemed to lack grave goods – and remember that the Priscillianists eschewed worldly possessions; their grave sites were aligned east to west - again a Priscillianist practice - and inscriptions on these graves were dated between 400 and 650 considered the limits of Priscillianist influence even though Priscillian died in 385.

We are not allowed to posit the vast impact of Priscillianist influence during these centuries but it swept many parts of Spain and even into the south of France and parts of northern Italy. Many followers of Priscillianism were martyred, many had their lands taken away, others were told to convert to the Roman Church or they would lose everything ( bishops included were thus threatened: the Bishopric of Astorga is a case in point) but how long did the movement stay – as we might say today – underground, in Galicia and the north west?

What fascinates me most is, is it still there in any form?

What is certain is that the burial sites in question did not date from the first century even though others nearby may date back well into Roman times as there is evidence for an even older “compostum”: the more accepted form of Compostela – a burial site, i.e. not the Field of Stars, romantic though it may sound. “The excavations under the sanctuary of the Cathedral were unscientifically conducted and far from adequately recorded,” Fletcher concludes.

So who was buried there? Who were buried beside him? When and why? We may never know. But the evidence of graves oriented to the east (as the Priscillianists did) and the number of people who chose to be buried in that region during Priscillianist and even later unofficially Priscillianist times (the Arian conquerors were sympathetic to his ideas), these may be lost to us forever: destroyed by obfuscation and “bad press”. But, what a scintillating idea if all these pilgrimages were to the final resting place of a so-called “heretic”, yet one whose message is more relevant today than it has been for many centuries. This would be an irony indeed.

No wonder the Catholic Church resists the idea of DNA testing of the remains.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Insights and a Serious Attempt at Introspection...

(Wednesday August 12th to Thursday August 13th)

I am back in my home and only a fool would try to negate its beauty. There are no urbanisaciones directly in front of my window, as I write this, only pristine Andalucia.

I am lucky.

So for the most part what will follow will be my own investigaciones into the plot and mainstay of the next book, to be entitled simply “Compostela”. Diego Gelmirez, the first Archbishop of Compostela, wanted immortality: history has given him that. He was the architect of what pilgrims have sought for many, many years. He gained that prestige by capitalising what he knew only too well was historical shaky ground: he had good reasons for this: locate the relics and you bring in the wealth!

Yet it is this story we are fed as pilgrims today, even though it has no substance; things haven’t changed so much, yet after his death, in the place which should have given him that immortality, he disappeared. We don’t even know where he was buried. It is as if this powerful bishop never was, despite his own efforts to make his way into the history books – yet so much has been written about him. This is my challenge! For me it is obvious that the story that we have been fed about Santiago de Compostela is false and I hope, if you will stay with me you will begin to see it that way too. But before I continue where I left off, with that history (see previous posts: June>). I feel that there are a few lessons about the Camino that I need to share. You can ignore them if you wish. Just come back in a few days and they will have moved on to some historical truths...inconvenient as they may be.

How to be honest? I think looking back at these postings I have been very honest.

But what have I truly learned from this Camino?

I have learned, once again, that the Camino is a microcosm of the world that could be. Those who have walked it, (or within whatever transport they took it) already know this. Those who have yet to experience it, will, in one way or another learn this: that much is guaranteed.

I have learned as the I Ching counsels “not to put too much trust into those with whom we have recently become acquainted”: sad but true.

I have learned that there are angels on the Camino. Usually where you least expect them (and I am still not totally convinced about angels anyway.)

I have learned to ask for what you truly need, for it will be provided.

I have learned that sometimes we are too hard on ourselves.

I have learned that the distance is not something we need to really concern ourselves with: it is about putting one foot in front of the other.

I have learned that blisters go away, in fact most annoying things go away eventually.

I have learned that you can speak Spanish in Portugal and be more or less understood, but that you may not have the slightest idea of the response believe me, it doesn’t really matter, the Portuguese are the most helpful people on earth.

I have learned that parrots have a sense of humour and that I can raise swallows from the dead.

I have learned that sometimes I have to let myself be taken care of.

I have learned that what “the church” has told you is very much open to question.

I have learned to open myself up to others: if you can master this you may find that the ones around you can help you move further upon your journey. This,I have found, is very important.

A corollary to the above would be not to let a moment pass by: sometimes an instinct which says “Do this Now!” can lead to contacts which can help you further your quest I was to find this time and again...: There is no such thing as “luck”.

I have learned that I am quite content with my own company, especially in the rain.

I have learned that most of the times the things that annoy us are part of ourselves and anyway, they don’t count for much in the overall scheme of thing. Learn to forgive and forget. see

I have learned that whatever religious path you may have been taught we all come together in the most fundamental things.

I have learned that life is a beautiful gift: you only have to open your eyes to the “ordinary”and accept it to recognise how lucky you really are.

Perhaps most of all, I have learned that I need to wage war against “righteous indignation” those moments when the world provides us with idiots and you know you are right. It is easily spotted: it begins with these words:...they should..., why don’t they... you would think that they... it’s not right that...But it’s counter-productive and only increases the frustration. I’m working very hard on a Live and Let Live philosophy. But it’s not always so easy.

That’s enough for now. I know there are more: will be more. For now I am concentrating my energies on researching “Compostela” the next book and I hope you will join me on my journey as I share my research with you here. An optimistic publication date will be late 2010, but in the meantime I invite you to read Pilgrimage to Heresy or her sister Peregrinos de la Herejia. I welcome your comments.

Watch this space for further updates.

Buen Camino!