The Cult of Relics and the Saintly Shrines of the Pilgrimage Roads to Santiago de Compostela
The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela connected many reliquary shrines along its highways and byways, each one the source of numerous miraculous legends 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.
From early Christianity, it was the practice to venerate the relics of the saints. Relics were the bodies, that part that was left behind on earth when the soul had ascended to heaven.
The edict of the Council of Carthage regarding the placing of saintly relics under all altars had been allowed to lapse but it was now revived. However, with the wave of church building which was now taking place in western Europe, the shortage of suitable additional relics to furnish the corresponding altars posed a problem.
The Pilgrim’s Guide enjoined pilgrims to visit the tomb of Saint Seurin on the Compostela road. The city of Bordeaux was a major halt on the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela. It was on the Tours Road, which led through western France via, Tours, Poitiers and Saintes.
Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela who traveled along the Tours Road were enjoined to venerate the relics of the fourth century Saint Romanus at Blaye. There is no other mention of the saint in the Pilgrim’s Guide since his tomb was overshadowed by that of Roland whose shrine was in the abbey there.
The relics of Saint Honoratus, one of the founding fathers of western monasticism, were preserved in Alyscans at Arles. There were seven churches at the Alyscans, the ancient necropolis where pilgrims congregated before setting out on the Toulouse Road to Compostela.
Pilgrims to Compostela travelling along the Toulouse Road were admonished to venerate the relics of Saint Caesarius of Arles.
The relics of Saint Trophimus of Arles were among the most eminent to be venerated on the pilgrimage roads. Pilgrims journeying to Compostela on the Toulouse Road were able to venerate the mortal remains of a major saint who had been, according to tradition, a disciple and travelling companion of Saint Paul.
The legend of Martha and her triumph over the monster known as the Tarasque were recorded in a chronicle attributed to the ninth century historian Raban Maur. According to the chronicle, the beast had, “Had jaws armed with sharpened teeth which made piercing whistling sounds”.
In 1147 Saint Isidore appeared in a dream to King Alfonso VII of León-Castile who was campaigning against the Moors in Andalusia. Isidore assured the king of his aid. On the field of Baeza the following day, the saint was to be seen mounted on a white charger, leading the Christian forces to victory
Mary Magdalene was the medieval world’s most emblematic saint. However it wasn’t until the sixth century that the saint assumed a specific identity and subsequently an important role in Christian theology.
Martin of Tours was the first Confessor Saint. Tours was a royal Frankish city and the Merovingian kings kept Saint Martin’s legendary cloak as a sacred relic and carried it with them into battle.
The Greeks had brought the worship of the Goddess Artemis and from this originated a strong tendency for the development of cults devoted to feminine deities. By the middle ages these had been transformed into the cults of Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha and the women who had bought perfume to administer to Jesus’ body after the Crucifixion, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobi.