The Pilgrimage Roads: Of the Route of Saint James

Pilgrimage Road at Saint Guilhem le DésertThe 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.

The final book of the Codex Calixtus, often called the Pilgrim’s Guide, 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”.

The routes were defined by the location of the most important saintly shrines on the way and the pilgrimage to Compostela became a cumulative sacred experience.

Map of Pilgrimage Roads to Santiago de CompostelaIn modern times, these four roads have been named according to the principal town on the route. Thus we have the Road of Tours which leads from northern France down the western side of France. The Road of Limoges passes through Burgundy and the centre. The Road of Le Puy crosses the Auvergne. The Road of Toulouse leads from Provence through the Languedoc region.

It is generally considered that each road began at a certain point, like a fountainhead where pilgrims congregated. The Tours route at the shrine of Saint Martin at Tours itself, the Limoges route beginning at the shrine of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, the Puy route beginning at the shrine of the black Madonna at the cathedral of Le Puy. Finally, the Toulouse route commencing at the necropolis of the Alyscans at Arles.

The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela which, as well as linking so many reliquary shrines along its highways and byways, was also the source of numerous legends of a mystical nature so that the terrestrial road itself was invested with an inherent and immanent sacred character. This is perfectly expressed in the legend of the Milky Way, wherein the road to Compostela could be traced by following the course of the stars of that galaxy across Europe to its furthest edge in northwestern Spain.


  1. Compostelle a fait son renom de la possession supposée du corps de saint Jacques. Toulouse et Angers ont aussi prétendu posséder des corps du saint.
    Il y avait de nombreux sanctuaires possédant d’autres reliques de saint Jacques, sanctuaires de proximité où se rendaient les pèlerins plus facilement qu’à Compostelle.
    Ces sanctuaires et la légende de Charlemagne ont contribué à faire connaître Compostelle.
    Les pèlerins n’y furent pas aussi nombreux qu’il a été écrit et les foules dont il est souvent question sont celles des textes du Nouveau Testament relatifs à la Jérusalem céleste que Compostelle a utilisés pour faire sa promotion.
    Revenir à une juste appréciation et mesurer le poids de la propagande espagnole nous semblent indispensables.


    1. I hope that you will excuse my reply in English. It is my hope that this site will interest readers in different parts of the internet global community, however one thing must be said early on. There is a difference between the level of knowledge about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in western continental Europe to that in the Anglo-Saxon world, where it is for the most part a little known phenomenon. I fear that attempting to communicate with both may lead to some frustration at times.

      You have remarked that it is time to revise our view of the Compostelan pilgrimage and lead it away from Spanish propaganda. I am not clear whether you mean medieval or contemporary propaganda, however as I am limiting myself to the medieval period I will try to deal with that.

      It is evident that early medieval writings are nearly always pursuing a propagandist agenda and it is one of the purposes of this project to look beyond that. That said, it would be unhelpful to completely dismiss their validity. The relationship between the educated monkish scribe and the illiterate vernacular poor is one that, as professor Jacques Chocheyras has noted, tended to work both ways.

      By also closely considering the Romanesque sculpture of the churches of the pilgrim roads an attempt will be made to adopt a broader outlook.

      Your mention of the Charlemagne myths reinforces the sense that the Compostelan pilgrimage, by the twelfth century had become a European phenomenon, not solely as Spanish one.

      Yes, there were other relics of Saint James at other places but the interesting mysteries surround the question why did Compostela prevail? Was it due to Spanish propaganda or perhaps it’s location at Finistera, the western margin of the earth or a combination of these and other influences such as the Reconquista?

      Finally, I hope that you have enjoyed the video material on this site and the linked Youtube site. They are the essential elements of this project.

    1. Thank you for your comment. With regard to the sources, most of it is generally known and is derived from the Pilgrims Guide referred to in the article. This is a twelfth century Latin text which is available in a number of translations.

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