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.