Sunday 24 January 2010

A New Broom...

What Diego Gelmirez inherited was far from a happy community. It was a spiritual wasteland and an abandoned building site. The Canons held to no particular rule and by all accounts were a pretty unkempt lot. No-one had been at the helm for the best part of fifteen years and the coffers were dangerously low mainly due to royal encroachment on the cathedral's landed endowments, which admittedly were many.

Furthermore, the number of pilgrims had dwindled to a trickle and with them the source of revenue they had formerly brought to the town. Diego had his work cut out for him. He needed to present himself as a reformer: trouble is, reformers aren't always popular!

Diego realised that in housing the relics of St. James, the cathdral - the old one which was still more or less intact inside the lifeless pile of the planned one - held a tremendous potential resource, and while we may fault him many areas, failure to glorify the Saint was not one of them.

Of course, Diego Gelmirez was no fool. He realised early that while having a saint was good, it was very little use if few people thought to come and pay a visit. Promotion of the Pilgrimage route meant promotion of the town of Compostela - and by implication, Diego himself. He set out to convince his colleagues and those who counted for anything in Compostela of the urgent need for change: by bullying if necessary.

New brooms may sweep clean but they can and often do brush people up the wrong way. The people of Compostela were greatly conservative and set in their ways. They had seen their isolated country disturbed by upland aristocracy. They had lost their beloved bishop, Diego Pelaez. They had seen their mass change from the Visigothic Rite(sometimes called Mozarabic) to the Roman Mass. They had had to surrender Galicia to a Frenchman, Raimundo of Burgundy as the husband of the Infanta Urraca, and now they were obliged to hand over their cathedral to a man whom, while he had served well enough as "vicarius", now presented himself as a bishop with entirely French leanings.

Was he to be trusted? Diego had to think of some way to restore city pride. How he did it would create a division between cities which would last a thousand years...

Monday 18 January 2010

Diego Gelmirez, Bishop of Compostela...

...and a happy man!

But not just yet. Perhaps there was opposition to Diego becoming bishop. We don't know. If there was, the Historia Compostelana not surprisingly, chooses to miss that part out.

It is assumed that Diego was elected by the Chapter, but did his "unanimous approval" include that of the secular authorities? Fletcher in St. James' Catapult suggests that Diego's election was by no means a foregone conclusion. It might have been "more of a touch and go affair" that the Historia Compostelana - which we have to remember was commissioned by Gelmirez once bishop - allows us to see.

Nevertheless, Diego certainly had the approval of the royal family and that was all that mattered.

Normally, consecration was to take place at the hands of the Pope in Rome. Diego, however, didn't want to travel through Aragon where his old enemy King Pedro had given sanctuary to Diego Pelaez. Instead, he asked the king to write to Pope Paschal II to allow the consecration to take place nearer to home. This, in my opinion, is where things become rather intriguing...

A letter to this effect is written and conveyed along the Camino and on to Rome by two canons of Compostela: Hugo and Vincent. The Pontiff gave his ready agreement and the two set off for home. But they didn't get far.

Somewhere, presumably while overnighting in France and not far from the border between that country and Aragon, the two both became violently ill, so much so that Vincent succumbed to his illness and Hugo, while he survived, was presumably so sick that he was unable to send word to Galicia.

As a result, Diego remained a bishop without a bishopric. After a while, another deputation was dispatched, this time containing Munio one of his many brothers (Diego may have invented the word "nepotism") along with another Munio(or Muño)who was to become the earliest of the authors of the Historia Compostelana. Paschal renewed his permissions and the two returned home without incident. Meanwhile, Hugo who had recovered sufficiently to travel, made his own way home. It had been a long time since he had seen Galicia: five months in fact.

It had also been a long time since Diego had been elected as Bishop of Santiago de Compostela. But Diego was a patient man. Finally, with the expected pomp and circumstance no doubt, Diego Gelmirez, son of Gelmirio, aged approximately 36 years old - a man of humble birth but grand ambitions - was consecrated on April 21st,1101.

He was most likely the most self-satisfied man in all the kingdoms that day.
Sneak Peak...!

If you would like a preview of the Prologue of my new book "Compostela" go to:

Monday 11 January 2010

Bishop Elect...

It is hardly surprising that Diego Gelmirez rose to the position of Bishop of Santiago de Compostela. In 1096, he began his second administration of the honor and continued in this post until 1100 at which point an embassy was sent to Rome to try to reach a conclusion as to whom would fill the vacancy of bishop. They found that Urban II had died and a new pope, Paschal II, also of the Order of Cluny, had been elected in his place.

Paschal ruled promptly that Diego Pelaez had been justly deprived of the bishopric and ordered a new election to be held. Diego Gelmirez had long since signed himself as "vicarius" of St. James. Things were about to fall in his lap.

Diego went to Rome, ostensibly on pilgrimage. Going to Rome was something Diego did only twice in his life. Passing through Aragon was not something he cared to do. This time, by luck or design, he met Guy, Archbishop of Vienne who just happened to be the brother of Diego's patron, Raimundo of Burgundy.

Guy was a powerful force in the Curia (he was later to become Pope Calixitus II). It's hard to imagine that Diego would not have asked Guy to intercede with Paschal II on his behalf.

Whatever occurred, the Pope seemed impressed with Diego and ordaining him as sub-deacon sent him back to Galicia with a letter to the canons proclaiming that His Holiness considered Diego a worthy candidate for Holy Orders.

According to the Historia Compostela, Diego Gelmirez was elected "unwillingly" to the position of Bishop of Santiago de Compostela in July 1100.

"Alas, why would you heap these cares on me?
I am unfit for state and majesty;
I do beseech you, take it not amiss;
I cannot nor I will not yield to you."

Diego Gelmirez?

Richard the III…

Saturday 9 January 2010

Back to the Future: Part Seven...

And now we are almost back to where we left off before the holidays and ready to take a good long look at Feudal Galicia in the days of Diego Gelmirez, the man who put the Santiago into Santiago de Compostela.

Diego was not born into the nobility; indeed we might say he grew up on the periphery of it. His father, Gelmirio, was a devoted servant to Bishop Diego Pelaez who administered the Torres del Oeste, the strategic fortress on the River Ulla closer to Padron (Iria Flavia).

The future archbishop of Santiago de Compostela would have witnessed many important comings and goings, perhaps some royal. Certainly he received the patronage of Diego Pelaez the bishop who made sure that the young Diego received his education at the cathedral school in Compostela. Afterwards, Diego spent time at the court of Alfonso VI, the king. He clearly was a master of watching and learning.

After Diego Pelaez was arrested for treason there was a vacancy at Compostela. Not that Diego was ready for the bishopric by any means but he made himself so useful that he was awarded the "Honor" and became the administrator of the church funds from its landed holdings, most of which went into the royal pocket while the diocese was without a bishop.

Two interim bishops came and went very quickly and Diego was back holding the purse strings. In the meantime, Diego Pelaez was still petitioning the Pope to obtain back his see, with very little success. (He was to die in exile in 1104)

Upon the death of Urban II (who was a monk of Cluny about which I shall shortly be writing) and the election of a new pope, Pascal II (also Cluniac) the influence of France was creeping on noisy feet across Spain. Diego Gelmirez loved all things French having learned that being a Francophile at the court of Alfonso (and his Burgundian queen) was the way to preferment. At the turn of the 12th century he visited Rome and returned with directions to the Canons of Compostela that he was a worthy candidate for Holy Orders.

Within a very short time, and "unanimously", Diego is put forward as the choice for the new and long needed bishop.

And so the story continues...

Friday 8 January 2010

Part Six...

According to the Historia Compostelana, Diego Pelaez was consecrated by Sancho II who was the King of Galicia at the time. The HC is notoriously self-serving and says very little about this, perhaps because Diego Gelmirez patron was Alfonso VI, not Sancho who was murdered not long after Diego Pelaez became, probably - though he took an oath to deny it - on the orders of Alfonso, his brother.

We know very little about Diego Pelaez. The authors of the HC managed to skirt very diplomatically around the subject. Perhaps that was because Diego Gelmirez, who was to follow Pelaez as bishop, knew more about the fate of his colleague in the church than was good for him. Conjecture? One certainly would question why Diego Gelmirez was so reluctant to travel anywhere near Aragon where Pelaez sought refuge in his later years, and after a lengthy imprisonment.

Diego Pelaez had been arrested and imprisoned by Alfonso VI (his brothers being conveniently removed by this time) on charges of treason. Perhaps he and the nobles whom he supported were endeavouring to re-instate King Garcia who was kicking his heels with the Moors in Sevilla at the time. There is even a story – suggested by the HC – that Pelaez et al planned to hand Galicia over to William of Normandy , lock stock and barrel and amazingly there may be some fire to this smoke!

Whatever the story, Pelaez was brought to trial in chains and stripped of his see and for 15 years afterwards, the bishopric of Compostela – with two very short exceptions – remained without a bishop while King and Pope laboured to end a disagreement.

The time was right for Diego Gelmirez to follow his ambitions. He became “Vicarius” of Compostela, administering the church’s property and income while he waited for the right time to remind the Pope that his flock in Compostela had no shepherd.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Part Five...

The cathedral is rebuilt but even though Al Mansur has died, there are other threats, notably the Vikings and the Normans who make frequent raids on the coast. The Torres del Oeste are built in order to combat the threat of invasion along the Ulla River. Sancho the Great of Navarra adds Leon and Castilla to his kingdoms driving King Bermudo of Leon into Galicia.

On Sancho’s death in 1035, the kingdoms are divided amongst his sons. Bermudo makes an attempt to win back his kingdom from Fernando, the most ambitious but is unsuccessful.

A rebellion in Galicia breaks out, perhaps in support of the dethroned Bermudo, but it has few lasting consequences.

Fernando, like his father before him, arranges for the kingdom to be divided up upon his death. Alfonso VI, not satisfied with Leon overthrows both the weak Garcia of Galicia and Sancho of Castilla whom he imprisoned.

And in Compostela, Diego Pelaez, Bishop, meets in secret with the Galician nobility. What can they be plotting?

Monday 4 January 2010

Part Four...

Note: Parts Three and Four are back to front! Sorry for the mix up.
A tomb of some sort is discovered at “Libredon" which may or may not have been either Iria Flavia, Compostela, or someplace in between. We are talking somewhere between 818 and 842 and that’s the closest we can get. Pelayo the shepherd is either involved, or not, according to the version you read. Either way, Theodemir the bishop of Iria Flavia is summoned and Lo! the remains contained therewith are immediately proclaimed to be those of the Apostle of Jesus, James the Great (so known as to distinguish him from James “The Lesser" who may, or may not, have been the Brother of Jesus). From this vacillation between might and might not illustrates the difficulty in interpreting the story of St. James. If it appears that I am being irreverent and flippant I ask you to bear with me: once you begin to truly investigate the story of the Camino historical discrepancies abound, alas.

This to-ing and fro-ing notwithstanding, the Moors were at the door. They had Mohammed as their Prophet and it would seem that they were invincible. As they moved northwards with increasing rapidity those in somewhat shaky political positions must have realised that they needed something, or Someone to rouse the people against the Infidel. The legendary success at the Battle of Clavijo where Santiago purportedly appeared on a white horse to support the soldiers sounds convincing. Trouble is it was “written up” at least two centuries later, and the battle in question was not in 844 as stated but in 859 under a completely different king.

The authors of the Historia Compostelana must have flunked their History O Levels!

Sunday 3 January 2010

Part Three...

Enter Alfonso II “The Chaste”, the King of the Austres. From his city of Oviedo he ordered a church to be built at the site of the discovery. However, by all accounts it was no great shakes of an affair, built we are told of “wattle and daub” ("ex petra et luto opere parvo") and a bit of a disappointment when compared with the sumptuous churches in his city. This has always struck me as rather odd.

Being “Chaste” as he is, the Historia Compostelana (written on the authority of Bishop Diego Gelmirez, later the first Archbishop of Compostela, of whom you either have already read, or will be hearing much more about shortly) challenges the reader to attribute any duplicity on the king’s part. But I am getting ahead of myself...

A second church was built, this time it is Alfonso III who is responsible. Consecrated with great pomposity and ceremony. It is gradually visited by pilgrims including, if you really want a fairy story - sorry Shirley - Charlemagne.

Alfonso wrote to the clergy at the Shrine of St. Martin of Tours (a man who was absolutely scandalised by the execution of Priscillian and who refused to give Communion to anyone who had authorised it.) What Alfonso wanted to know was how one goes about promoting a Saint’s relics. He is adamant in response to a letter from the clergy that it is Santiago who is buried in Compostela, but he also asks for assistance. He wants details about St.Martin: who was this man that he became revered as a Saint? What were his miracles etc?

It would appear that what Alfonso is looking for is instruction into mythmaking.

Was he successful?

Remember the Moors? Well they are not sitting this out playing chess in Cordoba. The conqueror Al Mansur, who was to spend most of his time on the road subjugating the north, obviously learned of Santiago de Compostela, the Figurehead of Galicia and rounding up his forces travelled northwest with the sole intention of bringing the Christians to their knees.

Since he found the city deserted, it would seem that the only one he succeeded with was a monk at prayer, possibly the Bishop of Compostela, who somehow (you want miracles: this is one) persuaded this butcher to not only leave him alive, but to not disturb the Saint of Compostela (whose body Al Mansur had intended to destroy). Along with stone boats etc, I personally find this one a bit hard to swallow as Al Mansur was not exactly known for his compassion. Another story is that the bishop fled with the remains and that the city was completely deserted, so we don’t really know one way or the other. I like the first story best, but for reasons you will have to wait for the publication of “Compostela!” for!

Whatever the story, the tomb is left unmolested. Al Mansur raises the city and the cathedral and takes Christian prisoners who carry the doors and the bells of the church back to Cordoba where these are put to various uses depending upon whom you read.

Part Two...

There is no mention of Santiago in any of the literature about Galicia before the late 6th century when the Brevarium Apostelorum claims that the Apostle James preached in Spain. Even then, there is nothing written about his having been buried in Spain.

After the Romans withdrew their forces in the early part of the 5th century, the Sueves took charge in Galicia. Their religion was Arianism which had similarities with Priscillianism. Despite the execution of the man who gave this movement its name and the Roman attempt to eradicate all traces of the movement, there were many Priscillianists still in the north of Spain and in Galicia in particular. The Sueves appeared to have been tolerant of the Priscillianists and those who followed his teachings were allowed to continue to a certain extent.

It was only when the Visigoths took power and especially after their wholesale conversion to Catholicism that the Priscillianists were forced to meet in secret. Even then, churchmen writing of St. James such as Isidore of Sevilla and St.Julian said nothing about the Saint having been brought back from Jerusalem after his decapitation to be buried in Galicia. Julian, in fact, outright denied it as a possibility.

The Brevarium Apostelorum does mention Santiago’s evangelistic efforts in “Hispania” but it is unlikely that there were any Christian churches outside of Baetica (Southern Spain) before the year 200. Anyway, Pope Clement VIII insisted that all mentions of St. James’ proselytising be removed from the Brevarium in the 16th century.

A look back at the beginning...Part One:

Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground since I began this blog back in June, literally and figuratively. I’ve covered 240 kms of Portugal and Galicia, and the holy ground of Santiago has been examined in a little more light.

Is Santiago, Jacobus, St. James buried in the cathedral in Compostela or not? Perhaps it doesn’t make an awful lot of difference. To tell the truth I haven’t met many pilgrims who accept wholesale the story of Santiago and the “translation” of the relics, but it takes nothing away from the pilgrimage experience nevertheless.

Now the church would say that is a contradiction in terms: to go on “Pilgrimage” to a holy place presupposes the religiosity of the pilgrim’s beliefs. But I beg to differ. Almost without exception, the pilgrims I walked with, or have come to know in other ways, would say that the journey is to the interior, to the depths of oneself and for that not only is it not necessary to be a Catholic or even a Christian but that a belief in a Divinity is also an option. What is necessary is a desire to enter into some sort of “conversation” with something mysterious: to remain open to the possibility that anything could be, even the miraculous: a conundrum of thought and spirit.

So why then, if the belief in St. James and Compostela are not essential, am I continuing this blog? Good question! I hope I can answer it...

My first book Pilgrimage to Heresy (Peregrinos de la Herejia in Spanish) concerns a 4th century Spanish bishop by the name of Priscillian whose Gnostic beliefs drew the attention of the Roman Church. What the Priscillianists held was a view remarkably similar to those of the Essenes: a view quite likely espoused by Jesus himself. But by the late 4th century, such views were considered heretical and Priscillian and seven of his followers - including Euchrotia, a woman - were executed, with the full knowledge, even approval, of many members of the Roman church. In Pilgrimage to Heresy dovetailed with the everyday concerns and contemplations of a group of modern-day pilgrims on the Camino Frances, I tell his tale.

Many Gallegos believe that it is Priscillian, not Santiago, who is buried in Compostela. I don’t know. But I do not believe it is St. James. So far I have attempted to demonstrate from my research why this is so, and in doing this I am gradually putting together the basis of my upcoming book, Compostela, to be published in 2010.

Starting tomorrow and every day this week, I am going to attempt to summarise what we have learned so far: from 385CE through to 1100 and the consecration of Bishop Diego Gelmirez.

(The accompanying photos, by the way, are all from the Camino Portuguese.)
Click on the link to go to the Camino de Santiago Forum for more information about this wonderful walk.