The Pilgrimage Roads to Santiago de Compostela
The history, legends, development and infrastructure of the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela through France and Spain
The pilgrimage roads as defined in the twelfth century manuscript referred to as the Book of Saint James follow four distinct routes across France.
The Compostelan saints were those listed in the Book of Saint James. The four roads to Compostela were described according to the reliquary shrines of the saints to be found on the way. Chapter eight of the Pilgrim’s Guide contained a list of twenty-three shrines which pilgrims were expressly told to visit on their journey. Consisting of twenty-seven saints in all, it included Saint James and the Paladins of Charlemagne among them. Such a text in a hagiographical work is unique in the medieval world. This is what made the pilgrimage to Compostela the pan-European phenomenon that it was.
The pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela numbered four. Like the four rivers of Paradise which flowed to the four cardinal points, the four roads which lead to Compostela have a symbolic resonance. These earthly ways led westward towards the prospect of a return to Paradise.
According to the Pilgrims’ Guide, the Camino was divided into thirteen stages. During the great florescence of the Compostelan pilgrimage in the twelfth century, travellers reached Santiago by a variety of ways. Some came by sea, others from El-Andalus and Merida up the Via de la Plata. Only one of these itineraries was set down in writing and that was the road from the Pyrenees, the so-called French Road or Camino Frances.
Authorship of the text of Book Five of the Jacobus, the so-called Pilgrim’s Guide is attributed to Pope Calixtus II. It goes without saying that such medieval attributions of authorship need to be treated with scepticism.
The Pilgrim’s Guide: There are four roads which converge at Puente la Reina to form a single road leading to Santiago
The final book of the Codex Calixtus begins with these words: “There are four roads which, leading to Santiago, converge to form a single road at Puente la Reina, in Spanish territory”. Often referred to as the Pilgrim’s Guide, it is hard to consider that it was possible to use it in the form of a guide for travellers in any modern sense and indeed its purpose remains obscure.
Video using split screen of the medieval pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela through France and Spain
A longstanding debate among historians concerning Cluny’s actual function with regard to pilgrimage, has ideas ranging from it being almost completely a Cluniac invention to a peripheral role only for the Burgundian abbey yet it would seem that the fortunes of Cluny and the Compostelan pilgrimage were strongly intertwined.