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.