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.