Tuesday 30 June 2009

Why “do” the Camino?

The very last thing I want to do here is to detract from the idea of pilgrimage in this or any other century or in this or any other blog. I am very sensitive to the idea that Pilgrimage for whatever purpose (and sometimes for no purpose at all) is a very personal thing. It has been suggested that I am trying to undermine the Camino de Santiago and this is as far from the truth as anything could be. If I am “trying” to do anything it is to give the Way back to those who walk it, for whatever reasons they choose. Sometime ago, someone, whose name I have forgotten, posted on one of the pilgrim forums that the Roman Catholic church would henceforth be charging 25 euros for a Compostela to anyone who could not prove s/he was Roman Catholic. Like most, I was taken in, very indignantly I may add. Until I saw the date of the post: April 1st!

The point is made though: this isn’t a Catholic Pilgrimage anymore. People walk for their own reasons – religious or not. But in my experience, most of us end up with the same feeling of completion and purpose and even spirituality even if we didn’t know what it meant when we started. Despite all those closed churches in Spain I believe that we need pilgrimage: what it is to us is up to us personally but I don’t think we can take the idea of “journey to the self” out of the equation: I have seen too many people transformed on the Camino de Santiago. It is a personal odyssey and I believe this unquestioningly. Without a sense of mythology we are lost: destined to make the same mistakes, historically and personally. With or without St. James.

I consider myself a pilgrim through and through and at the age of 58, I am about to embark on my 4th pilgrimage in July of this year. If I espouse any religious inclinations, I suppose I consider myself Unitarian Universalist, or perhaps a somewhat sceptic Gnostic, if that is a possibility. The Camino compels me – sometimes at inconvenient times when I feel that I “should” be following other roads – and I don’t know why. Perhaps that is why I have written about it and continue to write. Sometimes I wish it would just go away so that I can concentrate on other aspects of my busy life, but it doesn’t. I suppose I must be another Camino Junkie: what is it that makes us go back? What is it that “calls” us? I truly don´t know and I challenge anyone else to say why.

Friday 26 June 2009

Lack of Evidence?

The first “evidence” we have of James having been buried in Spain comes from the “Martyriology” of Usuard of Sant German des Pres writing in 865 or thereabouts. This monk claimed that “James had travelled in Spain” and that his “most Holy Remains were translated from Jerusalem to Spain and deposited in its uttermost region: ‘in ultimos finibis’, where they were “revered with the most devout veneration”.

So now we have evidence, it would appear, in the general belief that St. James’ relics had been transported to the north-west of Spain, and perhaps most importantly in the evidence of a cult following. But let’s take a look at the presently accepted story.

Somewhere between 818 and 842 (and we can’t date this more accurately) remains were found in Galicia. The king was Alfonso II (791 – 842). The bishop of Iria Flavia was Theodemir who died, with some accuracy, on the 20th of October 847. The existence of Theodemir had been thrown into some doubt, but it has been shown that the date of his death was even inscribed on his sarcophagus which was found during the course of excavation of the nave beneath Santiago Cathedral.

It is interesting to note that Theodemir believed enough in the miracle of St. James’ tomb to want to be buried near him in Santiago Cathedral ( i.e. not at Iria his own see), such as it was in those days. Of course, sceptic as I am, it would have been easy to inscribe his name at a later date as was done with other remains.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Evidence for St. James...

Where did James become connected to the Camino? If you want the official and “accepted” version log on to any of the usual Camino de Santiago sites: decapitated in Jerusalem, body brought to Galicia by miracles etc. I won’t go into them here as they have been written about so much. What do we really know? You might not like the answers...

There is no mention whatsoever of St. James in Spain before the late 6th century. The first mention comes from the Breviarum Apostelorum which was distributed before the 6th century (late 500’s). Don’t forget we are talking about almost 600 years, and if that is difficult to comprehend, imagine something original and surprising coming to light about Richard III just now. The Brevarium Apostelorum is a list of Jesus’ apostles: where they preached, when, how they died etc. It is a Latin translation from the Greek (Fketcher calls it an “amplification”). It suggests that Phillip, for example, preached in Gaul, and James in Spain. My own research says that if he made nine converts, he was very lucky. He then went back to Jerusalem where he was beheaded. He may have been buried there at the intercession of his converts, or possibly in Egypt. We just don´t know but the overwhelming evidence says that Spain is very, very unlikely.

The author of the Breviarum Apostolorum is unknown, but the earliest date we have is the late 6th century (500’s). We don’t know who he was, or where he might have preached. What we do know is that he was known to St. Anselm (d.709) and was cited by Julian of Toledo who preached in the middle of the 7th century. So far, so good.

However, and many later chose to overlook this point, even Julian (who may or may not have written De Ortu et Orbitu Patrum) chose to disregard any connection between James and Spain. In other words, Julian wasn’t convinced. In fact, any mention of St. James may have later been interpostulated in the middle of the 8th century, at a very convenient time as this was about the time that James’ burial site was “discovered”.

The next mention of St. James in Spain is (probably erroneously) attributed to Isidore of Sevilla. Isidore has to be taken seriously, but even he was very emphatic that even if James had preached in Spain, e was not buried there.

By the time that we are investigating, the Moors and the word of the Prophet Mohammed had spread throughout Spain. How and why is a case in point, but methods of propagation notwithstanding, by the middle of the 700’s most of “Spain” had fallen. Clearly, something had to be done if the countries of the various kings were to protected.

What we know as “Spain” was anything but a united country in those days. There were feuds betweeen the kings of the various regions, especially in the north: Aragon, Navarre, Leon, Castilla, and other areas to the south which were by then overun and conquered, or threatened to be so. The power of Córdoba over all was a threatening supreme. Something, as I have said, had to be done. The Moors had Mohammed as their figurehead. “Spain” has nothing like it. Enter St James.

In the latter part of the 9th century a “Hymm to Santiago” was composed in Asturias, perhaps the only province not to fall under the power of the Moors (Galicia fell for about a generation but no more). The author, of whom we know nothing, clearly believed that St. James had preached in Spain. But even he said nothing about James having been buried in Spain. St. Beatus of Liebana in Asturias supposedly made a commentary on James (the illustrations from this are truly beautiful and I have a copy of one in my bedroom) and claimed his (James’) appearance in Spain, but lovely as these are, they are thought to be dated no earlier than the late 10th century.

So where does this leave us?


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.

Writing Pilgrimage to Heresy...

What do you do when a name enters your head and it will not go away? Well, you research it, of course. Priscillian of Avila became as real as any person as any I was working with on a day-to-day basis. And what do you do when your research turns up information so fascinating that it seems to take over your life? You write a book about it!

And that is just what I did when I wrote Pilgrimage to Heresy. What I didn’t expect was that other people would be just as interested, so much so that Alicia Gonzales-Sterling of the Madrid literary agency BOOKBANK would write back to me and say, “Of course I want to be your agent”.

All that was almost a year ago and the result was that Begoña Fuente, editor of the newly created division BOVEDA publishers would write back almost immediately upon reading the book and make an offer to translate and publish the book in Spanish.

Really, it was beyond my wildest dreams!

Last Wednesday, my book went on sale in all major bookshops in Spain and online in Spanish as well as in English as Pilgrimage to Heresy at Amazon.com. When I first received a copy I was truly overwhelmed, first at the very evocative and dramatic cover and later, as I got “stuck into it” at the amazing and accurate translation by Lorenzo Luengo, a person who must know this book every bit as well as I do and whom I am yet to meet: an occasion I am very much looking forward to.

I am certain that I can say that all writers who have their books translated into another language must have the same feeling as I did upon first seeing their book in – in this case Spanish – otra idioma! Peregrinos de la Herejía is truly “awesome”! I sat down the first night to read it and imagine my discomposure when I had to get the original off the bookshelf to find out what I had written. It is faultless. My Spanish isn’t fluent but I manage quite well having lived now in Spain for 13 years and the first thing that struck me was how elegant and descriptive my words had become. As I read on I became aware of a strange feeling: it was as if it had been originally written in Spanish and I, somehow, had translated it into English!

I received an e-mail from Alicia my very persistent agent yesterday. It said simply: “Here we go!”

Here we go......

See www.pilgrimagetoheresy.com which is to be translated into Spanish as soon as possible and www.editorialboveda.com

Sunday 7 June 2009

About my book Pilgrimage to Heresy...

Pilgrimage to Heresy is a tale of intrigue which asks disturbing questions about the nature of faith and pilgrimage. The Catholic Church would rather you didn’t learn the answers!

For centuries it has been claimed that St. James is buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain - the Holy Grail of pilgrims for over 1200 years. But what if he is not?What if the occupant is none other than Priscillian, a "heretic", a man whose Gnostic message threatened to undo the power of the newly-formed Roman Church?

The Camino de Santiago, Spain, 2000 CE

Miranda has left her untenured position at the University of Toronto to go on a 800 kilometre hike in the north of Spain. On her second day walking, she meets Kieran, a lapsed candidate for the priesthood, who is translating a book written in Latin: a book he shouldn't have.
The next day, Kieran is missing, and so is his translation!

All Miranda is left by way of an explanation is a draft of a novel he is writing: “I’ll see you in Puente,” he says in a note. But on her arrival at the next stop, he is no-where to be found.
As she continues along St. James’ Way, Miranda and her companions become immersed in three puzzles:

Who was Priscillian? Who is "Blackbeard"?
And most of all...Where is Kieran?
A Religious Injustice...
Two Love Stories, One Doomed From the Start...
And a Mystery... Perhaps

For more information about Pilgrimage to Heresy, go to www.pilgrimagetoheresy.com