Santiago de Compostela – a Jubilee Year 2010

On the Pilgrim Route to Santiago de Compostela in a Jubilee Year

Saint Pierre de Moissac
Saint Pierre de Moissac
an important halt on the pilgrim route to Santiago in Spain

Moissac – At the Crossroads
Ji Dahai a Chinese artist has decided to mark the 2010 jubilee pilgrimage to Santiago by making a 9000 km trip from his remote home in China and travel the Chemins de Saint-Jacques, the path of Christian pilgrimage, very far removed from his own environment and culture.

According to the website of the Moissac tourism office he reflects on this odyssey as “a pilgrim of art” through his drawings in Indian ink on straw paper, rice paper and sandalwood bark part of an exhibition staged to mark the jubilee. These works and his story are the focus of an Exhibition and a Conference in the 12th century Cloister of the Abbey at Moissac, Tarn-et-Garonne (82200) which is open through to September 5.

The website goes on: the relics of the Apostle Jacques le Majeur, a disciple of Jesus Christ, arrived in Galicia around the year 850. Following this revelation, believers started making pilgrimages, and pilgrims rests appeared along the routes to provide succour and shelter. Known of since the 12th century, the abbey church of Saint Pierre de Moissac is a major halt on the road to Saint Jacques de Compostela. Moissac offers pilgrims a place for contemplation, halfway between Le Puy-en-Velay and St Jean Pied de Port.Situated in the Tarn-et-Garonne, Moissac is an important milestone on the road to Santiago, and famous for its World Heritage classified Romanesque abbey cloister and portal.And Here Begins the Tale
Prends ce baton pour ton pèlerinage, pour te soutenir dans ta route et ta peine, afin que tu puisses vaincre tous tes ennemis et revenir dans la joie parmi nous après avoir accompli ton voyage. Que Dieu lui-même, qui vit pour l’éternité des temps, te l’accorde. Amen.– “Take this stick on your pilgrimage to support you on your way and in your pain, so that you may defeat all your enemies and return in joy to us after completing your journey. May God himself, who lives in the eternity of time, grant you his blessing. Amen”This, reportedly, was the prayer with which a German knight, Arnold von Harff, from Harff an der Erft set out on his pilgrimage to Compostela in 1496.According to long distance walker Peter Robins, who has tracked the rise of the current fashion for following in the footsteps of the early pilgrims, on his own fascinating and detailed website (found here): “Arnold von Harff, from Harff an der Erft, near modern Bedburg west of Cologne, went on a lengthy pilgrimage to Rome, the Holy Land, and Santiago in 1496-9, when still in his 20s. His illustrated journal was edited in 1860 by E. von Groote, and published by Heberle as Die Pilgerfahrt des Ritters Arnold von Harff von Cöln durch Italien, Syrien, Aegypten, Arabien, Aethiopien, Nubien, Palästina, die Türkei, Frankreich und Spanien, wie er sie in den Jahren 1496 bis 1499 vollendet, beschrieben und durch Zeichnungen erläutert hat. An English translation by Malcolm Letts, The Pilgrimage of Arnold von Harff, Knight, from Cologne, through Italy, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia, Nubia, Palestine, Turkey, France and Spain, which he accomplished in the years 1496-1499, was published in 1946. A translation into modern German — Das Pilgertagebuch des Ritters Arnold von Harff (1496-1498) was published by the Böhlau Verlag in 2007.

Von Harff’s journey took him from Cologne to Rome and on to Venice, where he embarked for Egypt. He claimed to have visited India, Madagascar an the source of the Nile, before continuing to the Holy Land, and on through Asia Minor and the Balkans to France and Spain, where he visited Santiago before returning home via Mont St Michel.”

Peter Robins’ website offers a superb map of all the routes to Santiago, and well worth a look. (Wait while it loads and note it is copyright!)

Scallop of the Pilgrimage

This walker’s interest in the pilgrim routes was sparked by decades of long distance walks across Europe along some of the “Grande Randonnée” or major hikes in France. His website provides considerable detail of interest both to those already knowledgeable about Santiago and to readers coming to the subject for the first time.

The Santiago pilgrimage touches a vast array of sites and spots in France – major cathedrals, such as Amiens, and shrines, such as Mont-St-Michel and Rocamadour, the lowland route along the canals from Arles to Toulouse and Moissac, via Agde, Béziers, Narbonne and Carcassonne and so on, all of which now marked by the shellfish of Santiago or scallop (Coquille St. Jacques) and woven into local tourism and commercial branding.

Peter Robins takes a somewhat jaundiced view of the current enthusiasm for the pilgrimage  — “St James (Santiago) was, after all, Matamoros, slayer of Moors” he writes. However UNESCO and the Council of Europe are clearly happy to endorse the modern resurgence of interest in the pilgrim way and have awarded the chemins and their associated landmarks and monuments, global heritage status.

The routes to Compostela – Chemins de Saint Jacques de Compostelle – were declared “the first European Cultural Route” in 1987 and “Cultural Itinerary of the Grand Council of Europe” in 2004. The grandiose Declaration made at Saint Jacques de CompostelleOctober 23, 1987 was aimed at ensuring that “the average person” would be enabled to delve into its roots and to be part of the collective memory of European history”. The Declaration sets out the objectives and defines the philosophy for the first cultural route as being “to encourage the citizens of Europe and especially new generations:

  • To rediscover the route to Saint Jacques
  • Take note of what the movement brought to Compostela in Europe’s cultural identity
  • To retrace the pilgrims way with a spirit of openness towards the future.

“The meaning of human society, the ideas of freedom and justice and faith in progress are principles that historically have shaped the cultures that create a European identity” form a cultural identity which the Declaration says, emerged from a European collective memory. From this perspective and beyond the religious dimension, the road to Compostela is “a highly symbolic example of tolerance, solidarity, dialogue, and creativity forged in the European idea”.

While this outpouring was clearly designed to justify the decisions taken by UNESCO and the Council of Europe, it may not gell all that well with other interpretations of the Christian history of the times. (see below and the Robins website).

Nevertheless the pilgrim routes today are a major and growing tourist destination in their own right.

Peter Robins notes that:  “20 years ago, in Spain there was really only one route: theCamino Francés. In France, there was the GR65 from Le Puy to the Pyrenees, which was the only way-marked route with any connection to Spain or Santiago. If you wanted to get to Santiago by some other way, for example, starting at your own front door, you had to invent your own route. Now, many routes, not only in Spain and France, but in other countries too, are marked and increasingly used, although the Camino Francésremains by far the most used.

Pilgrims on the Route to Compestela

Where to Start?
So where does a pilgrimage officially start from? Your own front door according to Peter Robins. But this bald view is not shared by national and local tourist authorities or organisations interested in the “Santiago brand”. For them a pilgrim should start out at a trail-head – St-Jean-Pied-de-Port (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) in France or Roncesvalles in the Spanish province of Navarre (Navarrese Towns), or others longer and farther away and follow the scallops along the way-marked trail. This says Robins, means the concept and execution of the pilgrimage has changed beyond recognition since the 1970s — see here.

Some of the Santiago history, recounted partially below, is found on this Spanish website:  “Codex Calixtinus is the name given to a compilation of documents to do with the history and cult of St James and the pilgrimage to his shrine in Santiago. It was seemingly based around a book of miracles, and probably compiled around the middle of the 12th century. It is called “Calixtinus” because it commences with a letter signed by Calixtus II, who was pope from 1119 until his death in 1124.”

However says Peter Robins on his invaluable website: “This attribution to Calixtus is bogus, so it’s perhaps better to call it by its other name, the Liber Sancti Jacobi (LSJ), or Book of St James. Although it contains much of interest – for example, some of the liturgical pieces in Book I are among the earliest known examples of polyphony – the only part which was widely distributed before the recent revival of interest in pilgrimage to Santiago was book IV, the so-called Pseudo-Turpin. This was a collection of stories linking Santiago with Charlemagne and was widely translated in medieval times; in English, it is known variously as the History of Charles the Great and Orlando, or Turpines Story. Nowadays, however, by far the best-known part is the last, the “Pilgrim’s Guide”, which is itself a compilation of documents written by several different people at different times. This is now so widely quoted that it is often confused with the whole Codex, of which it was only a small part. The first printed edition of the Guide was that of Father Fidel Fita in 1882, and the first translations out of Latin were not until the 20th century. The first published English translation was that of James Hogarth for the Confraternity of St James in 1992.


En Route to Compostelle
Should you decide to make the pilgrimage to Compostela how do you prove you’ve followed the route? Since the pilgrimage to St. James’ Tomb, which emerged in the 9th and 10th centuries, was institutionalised under specific religious-social regulation, it is now a requirement to certify its completion.  Today to earn your badge, as it were: you have “to come in Christian terms: devotionis affectu, voti vel pietatis causa – “being the motivation devotion, vow or piety”. In order to earn the “Compostela”, as it is known, you have to have walked or ridden on horseback up to the Apostle’s Tomb for at least the final 100 km of your journey or the final 200 km if your are cycling.  Additionally according tothis website if you faked it in times gone by, the Pope would excommunicate you.

The Program Jacquaire 2010 can be downloaded by clicking here and the full pilgrim programme is here.

Highlights during 2010 include:

From April 17 to May 2: hiking on the coastal routes to Saint-Jacques de Compostela

From September 12 to November 15: the Black Madonna Our Lady of Rocamadour travels to Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage is open to all.

From April to October, the tourist offices of MoissacLauzerte and Auvillar join forces to present a program of activities on the theme of pilgrimage: walking at night, sound and light, conferences, shows, exhibitions.

Paris/Santiago de Compostela:
Exhibition “Santiago and Europe” at the City of Architecture and Heritage in Paris (until May 16) and the Diocesan Museum of Santiago de Compostela (August 15 to October 15). This tells the story of Diego Gelmírez a 12th century bishop who brought the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage up to the same level of importance as those to Jerusalem and Rome.

St. Jacques de Compostela:
All year: Xacobeo 2010, all cultural events related to the year of Santiago in Galicia. Exhibitions on the theme of the way and the figure of the pilgrim by artists and photographers with concerts, including early music, lectures, exhibitions, circus, theatre, dance.

Jubilee year Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle

More Useful Web Links

Association routes to Saint Jacques de Compostela
Les Amis du Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostela
Society of Friends of Saint-Jacques
Information on places of Christian Home
Tourist office of Santiago de Compostela
Organized hikes on the way to Compostela by Chemins de France


Story: Ken Pottinger

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