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The Pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostella

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The opening of the pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostella -currently in northwestern Spain- might well be contemporaneous with the first lineaments of the Wisigothic reconquest of Spain against the Arabs. That began to take place by about 800 A.D., in the kingdom of Leon which, under King Alfonso II, just had nominally replaced the one of Astorias. The kingdom of Astorias had been the main place of refuge to the Wisigothic elites, people and clerics which meant to evade the Arabic invasion of Spain. The kingdom of Astorias began to be a place to a form of reconquest as soon as by 750. From the Cantabric mounts, the kingdom of Leon then stretched West, towards Galicia and cape Finistere and towards Portugal or the South too -giving birth there to the first form of Castilla! That rebirth, North, of the Wisigoths, fot fortified further, on the border of the kingdom towards the Pyreneans, through the constitution, like an independent kingdom, of Navarre, by 830 A.D., that kingdom that built from Pampelona, a city the Franks had taken in 809

It's by those times that, at an undetermined date -maybe about 830 A.D.- that a hermit, named Pelagius, who lived near a city of Galicia called Iria Flavia, was confronted, along the inhabitants of the nearby village of San Felix de Lovio, to surnatural manifestations! With bishop Theodomir warned, he came with the hermit to look for the facts as guided by a star, they eventually unearthed a Roman era burying monument, into which three sarcophages were lying. One of those was declared by the local Church like containing the remains of St James, one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ. This St James was James the Greater, the brother to St John. As James the Greater had prophetized in Spain and thence been back to Judaea, he was beheaded there by King Herod Agrippa I in person, by 44 A.D. The corpse of James then, would have been miraculously transported back in northwestern Spain, through Gibraltar and into Iria Flavia, when a massive rock closed upon the relics. Those were then taken into the location of Compostella. Even if James really missionarized in Spain may be questionable, albeit mentioned as soon as by the 7th century A.D., the fact that his body was transported there is more likely, and accepted as the relics of St James, for example, were ascertained as such by a bull of pope Leo XIII in 1884. The Church, at the time of the discovery, temporized and it took about a century before it recognized the feats like true about 930 and that King Alfonso II of Leon had a church built upon the tomb. The location took the name of 'campus stellae', the 'star's field', hence Compostella. A other version of the legend also states the presence of a star for the discovery as shepherds shepherds who were guided to the tomb by a star, they found a field where no animal of any kind ever wanter to graze. Notker, the monk of St. Gall, Walafrid Strabo and others in the 9th century said that James founded the first episcopal see of Spain. By the beginnings of the Renaissance, pope Alexander VI Borgia (1492-1503) declared Compostella one of three major pilgrimages of Christendom, along with Rome and Jerusalem. A other major Spanish pilgrimage is linked to James and Spain, the one of Our Lady of The Pilar, in Saragossa as, on January 2nd 40 A.D., Virgin Mary appeared to James by the shores of the Ebro River, in the city of Caesaraugusta. As the apparition occurred upon a column, that was conserved, since, in the basilica of Our Lady of The Pilar. That discovery of the tomb of one of the major Apostles of Christ immediately triggered a strong move of pilgrimages to that place, with miracles occurring. The move was first limited to the kingdom of Leon as it spreaded swiftly however to the rest of Christendom. Pilgrims since the 9th century had taken the habit of halting in monasteries along the way

The veneration of St James, further, is, of course, strongly to be linked to the fights which was fought during those early beginnings of the Reconquesta, that reconquest of Spain against the Arabs. In 844 A.D., thus, near the fortress of Clavijo, at the confines of Leon and Navarre, St James, riding a white horse, allowed the Wisigothic armies to win over a Arab one. That victory is usually marking the official débuts of the 'Reconquista' and constitutes the founding event of it! From that day, St. James acquired the title of 'matamoros' in Spain, or 'Moor-Slayer.' 'Santiago y cierra España' ('St James, strike for Spain') is the war cry of Spaniards as St. James is the Patron Saint of Spain. The pilgrimage in Compostella is also said to having been warranted by Charlemagne as the latter had seen the Milky Way running accross the sky in a dream and he understood he had to encourage the new pilgrimage. The Milky Way, in the western night sky, is showing the direction of Compostella. Despite the legend however, Charlemagne never came himself like a pilgrim to the tomb of St James as that legend, since the 10th century A.D. was a mobilizing cause of the nascent European chivalry. Hundreds of western pilgrims already were journeying down to there at the time, giving birth to the 'Camino primitivo,' that first path to Compostella, which passed relatively North, among the Cantabric mounts. Time before, the bishop of le Puy, Gauls, named Godescalc, had came like a pilgrim to the tomb as his journey had opened a new path, somewhat more South of the mountains, which today is known like the 'Camino Francés'. The year 930 A.D. also is the date at which a more agressive stance had been taken by the Arabs of Cordoba against the northern, Wisigothic kingdoms as those remained under a constant threat during 70 years. Then, during more than a millenium, dozens of million pilgrims came in Galicia, to visit the tomb of St James the Greater!

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 12/28/2010. contact us at
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