Sunday, November 13, 2011


There are many legends about James the Greater, and urban-legends (those that developed after the discovery of the saint's tomb in the 9th century).  Most of them show that the story about the Jew Yakhov Ben-Zebedee having evangelised in Spain, being buried in Compostela, and being seen at a battle fighting the Moors, are just that - medieval legends. 

However, there is a saying that 'the path is made by walking'  and knowing the truth about the St James legend will never cancel out the long history of the pilgrimage to a cathedral town named after him, nor will it deter most people from feeling 'called' to walk in the footsteps of the millions that have trodden the paths to Santiago.

But remember, there is another saying, that 'the truth will set you free'. Knowing the truth can set you free to follow the Camino pilgrimage trails your way, as a lover of art and architecture, history, music or cuisine, as a long distance hiker, or just as a nice long holiday. You are not a superstitious   medieval peasant and do not have to follow the Camino in the medieval, penitential tradition if you don't want to!  Today, only Catholics can earn an indulgence for the remission of sins.  If you are a Protestant, you were set free by the first 'protestors' at the start of the Reformation.

El Camino –  urban legends 

       1.      The Jew , Yaakov Ben-Zebedee evangelised in Spain.

The basis for this legend can be found in the late seventh century Latin translation of a Byzantine Greek compendium called the Breviary of the Apostles which asserted - with the words "and Spain" - that James evangelized in Iberia.  When this text was at last critically edited in 1988, it became clear these two little words were a later interpolation by someone (not the original author) who wanted to make the text consistent with then-prevalent beliefs. The words don't even make sense in the context where they appear. (Kate van Liere, Professor of History)

    2.      The story that his decapitated body was carried to Iberia from Jaffa in 6 days, across the Mediterranean,  in a stone boat with no sails, blown across the seas by angels. 

Obviously a legend. No clarrification needed!

3.      The story that he is buried in Santiago Cathedral is a legend.

In France alone, there were three tombs containing the body or body parts of St James. There were nine with heads and numerous others with limbs o other appendages. According to an earlier tradition, the relics of the Apostle were kept in the church of St-Saturnin at Toulouse from the 6th century and his left hand was the prime relic in Reading abbey. There are legends that claim that the body of James the Greater had been taken to Spain minus his head.  John of Wiirtzburg, writing about 1165, says the head remained in Palestine and was regularly shown to pilgrims.

      5.      Bishop Godesalc started a flood of pilgrims to the tomb of St James which created an historical ‘Camino’ to Santiago from Le Puy.

The fact that Bishop Godescalc was the first famous pilgrim to visit Santiago in the Xth century was not not known until 1886 – a thousand years after his visit.  All documents relating to his visit were lost and only rediscovered in 1886.  The Le Puy route is a modern footpath reinvented at the start of the 1970s on a decidedly fragile historical base following a GR hiking trail with places to visited selected subjectively.
6.      The Liber Sancti Jacobi was the first Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago.

The Liber Sancti Jacobi was never a ‘Rough Guide’ for the literate few to Santiago and was unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages.  Only a few copies were made – the 12th century, 14th, late 15th, early 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.  These were only read by the clerics and historians who had access to the monastery library. The original Codex Calixtinus is an enormous book which was only re-discovered in 1886.  Until it was stolen 2011 it was kept in the Cathedral at Santiago.  The name Pilgrim Guide was given to it early in this century.

7.    Aimery Picaud was the author of  Book Five of the Liber Sancti Jacobi

Aymery Pi­caud became the ‘author’ of Book Five of the Liber Sancti Jacobi only in the 19th century.  His name appears only twice in the entire Liber Sancti Ja­cobi, both times in the addenda to the five books. The book is a compilation of many different writers.

8.  Millions of pilgrims have been trekking to Santiago in a continuous stream for over a thousand years.

As a European phenomenon, the pilgrimage to Santiago enjoyed only bout 300 years of glorious hey-days from the 10th century - reaching a peak in the 12th and 13th centuries.  There was a sharp decline from the 14th century with about 400 years of extremely lean days (and a brief revival in the 1700’s).   When the relics of the saint were ‘lost’ in 1589 the pilgrims stopped coming in any number and stayed away for almost 400 years.  The dissolution of the monasteries and the abolition or transformation of refuges and hospitals reduced the pilgrim routes of the Christian West and Compostela vanished from the mind of non-Spanish Catholicism.  By the Holy Year of 1867 St James' shrine was all but forgotten and only 44 pilgrims attended mass on his feast day.  The ‘Camino’ as we know it was revived in the late 1970’s and early 1908’s

    9.  Santiago Matamoros was seen at the battle of Clavijo in 844

This was a legend, created in the 12th century

    10.   St James’ Feast Days have always been on 25th July. 

The burial site of St James was discovered on the 25th July, between 813 and 835.   In the early Middle Ages the 30th December was St James’ Feast day, based on the old Hispanic (Mozarabic) rite.  In the 11th century King Alfonso VI abolished the Hispanic rite in favour of the Roman rite and July 25 became the principal feast day.  It was formerly on the 5th August on the Tridentine Rite calendar.
11.  Pope Calixtus II granted a Jubilee (Holy Year) to Compostela in 1122 which was ratified in 1179 by Pope Alexander III as a perpetual Bull by Regis Aeterni.

Santiago historians and academics say that Compostela Holy Years only started in the 15th Century. 

12.  Medieval pilgrims were all poor, foot sloggers who trudged enormous distances to Santiago.
Nobleman and women, Knights, clerics with large retinues, Kings and Queens all travelled to Santiago.  The great majority of pilgrims (outside of Spain) sailed to Galicia rather than make the long, dangerous journey overland. Most of them travelled in the Holy Years. It was possible to travel in comfort if one could afford it. Fit pilgrims often travelled by foot or on horseback and by the 15th century enterprising carters had already started acting as travel agents. In 1595 the Englishman Fynes Moryson paid 17 crowns (probably each at 80 Kreuzer) for a journey from Augsburg to Venice to a carter who provided horses, accommodation and food.   
      13.  The Compostela is a ‘get-out-of-jail’ certificate.

The modern Compostela was introduced in the 1950’s though no records of it exist before the 1970’s.  The Compostela is merely a certificate asserting that one has arrived in Santiago after walking the last 100km or cycling the last 200km.  The 'get-out-of-jail’ paper is an Indulgence - often confused with the Compostela - is only available to Catholic pilgrims who visit the tomb of the apostle, make confession, attend mass, recite a prayer (such as the Creed or the Lord's Prayer praying for His Holiness the Pope) in order to earn the indugence.

14.    Pilgrimage has always been viewed as a pious and reverential journey.

At first, pilgrims and pilgrimages inspired admiration and even astonishment. After the reformation, the cult of relics (regarded as disgusting and deceiving) and the veneration of saints became non-pc throughout most of Europe.  If, as Luther argued, Christ had died for your sins, no intervention of saints was necessary, so why go on a pilgrimage?  Why leave your homes, your work, your families to bow down before a fragment of a dubious relic? 
Pilgrims were viewed with suspicion.  The religious wars started and many atrocities were recorded by both sides. 
"By the 16th century  a great part of the European population was descending to the level of paupers. The problem of the millions of poor people in the cities and on the roads, countless offences against property, acts of violence by vagabonds and beggars, and bands of robbers or banditism as Fernand Braudel called it, inevitably led the authorities to intervene. In the long run bureaucracy engulfed the pilgrims. What was worse, all parts of the population began to mistrust and despise pilgrims, to the detriment of the custom of pilgrimage. Once again "falsos peregrines" (false pilgrims) made their appearance on the road to Compostela; the unemployed, vagabonds, beggars and those who owed taxes made use of the charitable establishments along the way. Once again the state reacted by bringing out strict laws to prevent its subjects from migrating. " Robert Plotz

ts the journey that is important, not the destination. (This is a Buddhist quote)
      This is an original Buddhist quote and would have horrified most Catholic pilgrims in the Middle- Ages whose prime goal was to reach the tomb of the saint in Compostela and earn thet 'get-out-of-jail' card. The Santiago Archdiocese website makes it quite clear that (for good Catholics at least) the journey is not the goal. "The most  important thing here is the Goal, not the Way.  Jacobean Pilgrims do not go on pilgrimage for the sake of the Way. Through the Way they reach the Tomb of Saint James the Great. Thus, the Way is just a means, a road the pilgrim walks along."

The Bible:   Acts 12: 

And he [Herod Agrippa] had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

The legend:

The disciples of Yaakov ben-Zebedee took his body to Jaffa (Tel-Avivi) where a stone boat, guarded by angels, awaited them.  The boat, which had no sails, took less than a week to sail to the west coast of Spain and landed at the port of Iria Flavia (near Padron).  They laid his body on a stone which immediately formed into his sarcophagus.  He was buried on a hillside.  The burial site was forgotten for almost 800 years. 
On the 25th July, in the 9th century AD (between 813 and 835) a hermit named Pelayo had a vision of a large bright star surrounded by a circle of smaller stars hovering above a place on a hillside.  He reported his vision to Bishop Theodomir of Iria Flavia who decided to investigate and discovered a tomb containing the body of the Saint and two of his followers Athanasius and Theodore. 
Q:  How did they identify the bodies? 
A:  There was a letter lying near the body.   [Nobody has ever seen this letter which must have been written 800 years earlier so they are not sure what language it was written in but the Bishop was able to read it all the same.]  It said:

' Here lies Santiago, son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of St. John, whom Herod beheaded in Jerusalem : he came by sea borne by his disciples to Iria Flavia of Galicia, and from thence on a car drawn by the oxen of the Lady Lupa, owner of these states, whose oxen would not pass any further.’ 
 Nobody can, or wants to, take Santiago out of Compostela.

“To take St. James the Greater out of those centuries in which faith ran riot and life glowed with fancy, and in which the world prepared itself for an outburst of art and literature and vision beyond aught that antiquity knew, is not only to leave significant movements in history beclouded, but also to lessen the charm of the past, and to lose much of its hope and inspiration”.
Rev. James S. Stone (The Cult of Santiago, 1927)

Note: Some photographs are mine, some are copied from Wiki Commons.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time.

I have a confession to make!
I've written another book - about the Camino. 
I keep asking people not to write about their Camino  - unless it has a fresh or unique angle, perhaps about a different route (there are dozens of books written about the Camino Frances), or if it was an unusual journey.  Perhaps they walked with their dog, or with their children.  Maybe they walked as a mendicant in medieval garb - that would make interesting reading.
There are so many books being published about a walk on the Camino Frances that although they can  be inspirational, they have become almost formulaic and could be told in 10 lines.  They have the  same  landscape, same villages, same albergues, same experiences, same food, same pilgrims.  If you have read as many pilgrim books as I have, you'll know what I mean.

I promised myself I wouldn't write a Camino book - about myself.  So I wrote one about someone else!  Its not anyone you'll know because he lived in England in the 12th century and I made up the story about his pilgrimage to Santiago.   

I first had the idea for this book in 2001 when I joined the Confraternity of St James in the UK and bought a little metal scallop shell brooch.  It is a replica of a  15th century souvenir of a pilgrimage to Santiago, made of pewter, which was recovered in the banks of the river Thames near London Bridge.
It features St James, dressed as a pilgrim, against the scallop-shell emblem.  When I first saw the brooch I wondered how on earth such an intrinsically sentimental, valuable pilgrim badge had landed up in the river.  A pilgrim, presumably from England, had made the long and dangerous journey to Spain in the Middle Ages, bringing back this beautiful little souvenir.  He must have valued it greatly and yet it was dug up on the bank of the river.  

At the time I did some research on Santiago artifacts found in the River Thames and was lead to an article in 'Peregrinations' on the website of the Kenyon university. 

"The “core” collection of the Museum of London (finds that do not come from formal archaeological excavation) consists of 1021 medieval badges, of which 739 are pilgrim signs and the rest are secular badges. Of the 739 pilgrim signs, 45% have the Thames as the find spot, with most of the remainder from riverside sites [John Clark; pers. comm.].  

So how did the brooch get into the the river?

"Unfortunately, there are no accounts in contemporary literature that describe pilgrims disposing of their signs in rivers. Assuming that this is deliberate, it is likely that there was no single motivating factor, rather many reasons for doing this. In the archaeological literature pertaining to pilgrim signs, it has been suggested that this was sort of an offering of thanksgiving for a safe return from the dangerous journey [Spencer 1998]."

I am a Romantic so I decided to write  story around the little metal brooch - or rather, around the original pewter Santiago souvenir.  I played around with a few ideas - male pilgrim, female pilgrim?  Or both? English pilgrims? Where from?  Checked the Domesday book for likely villages.  After a few days of searching villages I settled on one in the south of England, not far from London, that has a fantastic page on the village in the middle ages.  It provides descriptions of the dwellings, the number of people, their industries, village life, their clothing, their religion and names of 12th and 13th century people buried in the church-yard of the Holy Trinity Church.   I found a record of my pilgrim's grave on the website and decided to write the story around him.

Yay!  I had a name, I knew where he lived, what his home looked like and what he did.  I invented his family, including deceased grand-parents, a sister who died at a young age, two older sisters, a younger brother and an uncle.  But I couldn't decide what my main protagonist looked like.   One day I was watching a cricket match and decided that my pilgrim looked like Andrew Flintoff! I don't know why Andy Flintoff but he looked so - English - that I decided my pilgrim would look like him. 
I started doing research into the middle-ages, especially the 12th century. I opened up a folder for each letter of the alphabet and started saving articles - everything from Abelard to Witches.  In the meantime in 2002 I walked the Camino Frances from Roncesvalles to Santiago and collected as many leaflets and brochures as I could from every place we visited, posting them home when I'd filled an A5 envelope.  When I got home I had 7 envelopes full of literature - much of it in Spanish.  The next year I spent a small fortune on books. Our libraries didn't have much on the Camino, there wasn't much on the Internet either 10 years ago, but I could buy books. I bought books on pilgrimage, medieval Europe, on the History of London, a gazetteer on French towns, historical books on the Santiago pilgrimage and Confraternity papers from the Confraternity of St James and the CD Pilgrims & Pilgrimage - Journey, Spirituality and Daily Life through the Centuries. This is an Interactive CD showing the importance of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and beyond through word and image.  

By the end of 2003 I knew my characters intimately and I had a synopsis of the full plot of the story. The crux of the story starts with a mystery - a question in a recurring dream. My characters go on a penitential pilgrimage to Santiago from April to August in 1178. They ride to Dover, get a boat across the channel and ride to Paris. From there they ride to Santiago and back. In between are plots and sub-plots, Knights, highwaymen, thieves, murderers, a forbidden love affair, a poisonous night that changes their lives forever. The ending provides the answer to the dream. 

In 2004 I visited London and made an appointment with John Clark, curator of the medieval gallery in the Museum of London. He showed me a tray of Santiago souvenirs and other pilgrimage artifacts. I also got to see the original pewter brooch which was the inspiration for my story. I felt as though I'd owned that souvenir!
In June and July that year I walked from Paris to Roncesvalles, in the footsteps of my characters. They were with me all the way and I tried to see things through eyes - no mean feat when half of the monuments, churches, bridges, castles and so forth described in 'The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela" are no longer there! But it was a wonderful experience and once again I sent home bundles of envelopes filled with leaflets, brochures and booklets on the places along the way.  

In 2005 I finished the first draft and handed it over to my Creative Writing teacher (who also happened to be one of the only South African literary agents listed in the Writers and Artists Handbook).  After two days she called.  "Syl - I'm not going to read your manuscript, " she said.  "You have written your story in the first person and it is very restricting.  I'm suggesting you re-write it in the third person so that all the characters can be fleshed out. Then you can bring it back to me and we'll see what we can do with it."

AAAARGHHHH!!!!  I was devastated.  Crushed. Three years of work and I had to re-write it all!  By then I was busy with other things.  I was planning to walk the Via Francigena.  I filed the manuscript away.  I walked the VF in 2006. The next year I walked the Camino Frances again.  In 2009 I walked the Aragones route, and the Camino Ingles, and worked as a hospitalero in Corcubion. 

Later that year Francis became ill and sadly passed away.  I'd lost a friend, a tutor and a Literary Agent. I decided to haul out the manuscript again and started working on it.  Its not that easy to change a story from the first person to the third person.  "I" becomes "he" - "we" becomes 'they".  My character did a lot of thinking and "I thought" had to become "He thought". 

In 2010 I started writing 'Your Camino" - a planning guide for people wanting to walk or ride a Camino route in France and Spain. It is a 330-page encyclopedia of information and it has been published by Pilgrimage Publications in France.   In between two more walks in Spain, I have spent most of this year rewriting "Pilgrim Footprints". I have sent off proposals to agents and publishers, have had two rejections, but am waiting to hear from the others.  Book publishing has changed a lot in 10 years and if I don't find a publisher, I may consider self-publishing or making it available as an eBook.  
Watch this space!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

YOUR CAMINO - available as a print book, ebook and Kindle

YOUR CAMINO  on foot,


or horseback
in France 

and Spain

(Illustrations in the book by Sandi Beukes)

The Lightfoot Guide - YOUR CAMINO on foot, bicycle or horseback in France and Spain is available online from:
Pilgrimage Publications  €17.99 (The publishers of the book) $22.99  -  Kindle €11.99 £15.99  - Kindle - £8 €20.99  -  Kindle €9.99
Barnes & Noble $22.99
Waterstones £15.99
The Book Depository $27.78  (incl delivery) (RSA) - R332  (shipping included) (RSA) R384 (free delivery on orders over R250?  At R50 more than Takealot is it really free?)

The ebooks will shortly also be available from:
Apple iBooks

We are trying to get the book accepted by Exclusive Books, who have 48 stores in South Africa, and CUM Christian Book Stores who have over 40 stores nation wide.

The CSJ of SA are considering ordering a number of books so that they can make them available via their website.

Monday, October 03, 2011

YOUR CAMINO gets good reviews

YAY!!!  My book, "YOUR CAMINO on foot, bicycle or horseback in France and Spain" is getting good reviews on the forums and online book stores.

This review on

YOUR CAMINO - a Lightfoot Guide to Practical Preparation for a Pilgrimage (Paperback)
Preparing for a Camino and the thought of the challenge ahead can be a daunting task. This guide is akin to a reassuring, extremely informative and wise friend! Forget about trawling through every Camino book and website for the guidance you need - these experienced authors have done it all for you!
This is a vast accumulation of well researched knowledge all set out in a very logical format, offering sound advice in manageable chunks of text.

It covers the very basics (which you'll be surprised to find you may not have considered!) to the more in depth and complicated with handy highlighted tips and basic photographs where a visual reference is needed.
As if this isn't enough, further reading and useful websites for each topic dealt with are also detailed while the appendices elaborate on some important points such as post-Camino blues, Camino lingo and a training programme! Interesting historical detail and inspirational short stories from ex-pilgrims wet the appetite for adventure while the humorous cartoons remind you to keep a sense of humour during the serious job of planning.
I bought this book to satisfy my curiosity in the Camino de Santiago and my occasional ponderings on walking the route myself.
 I intended to dip in and out of it as I needed but ended up reading it from cover to cover! It tackles every practicality you could possibly think of, giving encouragement to every type of person, and is truly motivational, whether you have decided to walk a Camino yet or not. I wouldn't say this guide is only for first timers. It provides invaluable support for everyone.
Although the book focuses on routes to Santiago through France and Spain, it would serve equally
well as a guide to preparation for any other pilgrimage route.

And this one on a Camino Forum:
I've made time to read, and thoroughly enjoy, Sil's new book "YOUR CAMINO" and I can't imagine a more practically helpful publication for any pilgrim. Sil has covered virtually every eventuality and need of the pilgrimage, and her advice is rendered as though she were a kindly and wise mentor for anyone who ever planned to make the dream of the Camino become a personal, and permanent reality.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Com-pan-eros on el Camino

A pilgrim walking alone will meet lots of other pregrinos on the trail - one never needs to feel alone. 
Walking with a friend or in a group adds a new dimension to walking a long distance trail and I love it!  I first walked with a group of 10 women in 2001 on the Coast to Coast walk across England.  We were free to linger longer in small villages it we wanted to or stay with the group.  Mostly we all stuck together.  It was a wonderful experience and the camaraderie and caring made the walk memorable.
In 2006 five friends walked the Via Francigena - five women, average age 55 - and it was a marvelous experience.  With five pairs of eyes looking out for markers and signs we didn't get lost, not once!  When one person was feeling a bit flat, the others rallied and helped her through. 
In May and June a group of amaWalkers walked about 350km of the Camino Frances from Roncesvalles to Santiago. 14 people strung out along the Camino during the day, came together at night for a communal meal filled with laughter and stories of the day. During the day one might meet up with members of the group and walk with them - or not. We shared plasters, pain killers, bread, fruit, water. Sitting outdoors in the evening after a long day walking, sipping wine, comparing sights seen and people met is almost 'gospel-like'.
 One can imagine medieval pilgrims doing exactly the same thing over the centuries.  Medieval pilgrims mostly walked in groups, for safety and security, and for companionship.  Various guilds and brotherhoods appointed guides to lead groups of pilgrims to Santiago.  The Knights of Santiago appointed Saint Bona of Pisa an official guide after leading a large number of pilgrims on the long and dangerous thousand-mile journey to Compostela. She successfully completed the trip nine times. Despite being ill at the time, she took and completed a tenth trip, and returned home to Pisa, dying shortly thereafter in the room she kept near the church of San Martino in Pisa, where her body has been preserved to the present day.
A Catholic Bishop once said:“Solitude is necessary and often welcome on the Camino but there are times when we need com-pan-eros, the ones we eat bread with.Bread is so evident at Spanish meals, not only those wonderful bocadillos, but the bread that comes with everything you eat.As the Spaniards say “Com pan y vino, ande el camino”.With bread and wine we walk the camino!A companion is someone we share bread with, not just the edible type but also the bread of our experiences and the many insights, revelations and learnings that we consume as we walk along the Way."
I am looking forward to sharing bread, wine and experiences with this wonderful group on our journey along el Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

amaWalkers on the trail again!

This will be the second amaWalkers Camino trek this year. The first amaWalkers Camino walk was in June when I lead 13 people on three sections of the Camino Frances. It was a wonderful walk, with wonderful people and I am looking forward to leading this next group from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago.
Just 3 more sleeps and we will be in Pamplona. There I will meet up with Judith (Canada), Bell (Johannesburg), Alan (US) and Tricia (South Africa). Judith is worried about the effects of hurricane Irene will delay her flight out of St John.  We'll just have to wait and see.
The next day (1st September) we will travel to St Jean Pied de Port. Brian (flying in from the UK) and Christine (from Sweden) will meet us there. I've booked a table at a typical Basque restaurant on Thursday night and we hope to be joined by Tim Proctor who has a B&B in St Jean.
On the 2nd September we will start our walk. Depending on the weather we will either walk the Route Napoleon to Orisson or the Cross. The Auberge Orisson was full and Jean-Claude offered us tents behind the cabin. Having walked in torrential rain in September 2007 I decided against it and booked us into a Gite in St Jean for two nights instead.  If the weather is bad we will walk on the road route to Val Carlos. Caroline will collect us at 3pm to take us back to our Gite in St Jean. This means that we don't have to carry our backpacks and we don't have to sleep in tents. The following day, Caroline will take us back to where we left off the day before and we will continue walking to Roncesvalles and on to Burguete.
I checked the long range weather forecast today for Pamplona, St Jean Pied de Port and Zubiri. It looks as though we will have perfect weather for a walk in (up?) the mountain! Pilgrims often report on high winds, lashing rain or thick mist with no views when they walk from St Jean to Roncesvalles.
We start walking on Friday 2nd September and it looks like it will be a beautiful day!
31 August: Pamplona - 16/24°C Rain and possible thunder during the day. Partly cloudy skies during the night.
1st September: We travel to St Jean Pied de Port - 13/22°C - Few morning clouds, light rain with clear spells during the day. Few clouds during the night.

2nd September: We walk from St Jean to Orisson - 18/26°C - Sunny! 3rd September: Orisson to Burguete - 13/24°C - Sunny with some clouds.

4th September: Zubiri - 17/31°C - Sunny with some clouds. (Wow - 31°C??? Perhaps it is an error?)

5th September: Pamplona - 16/22°C - Cloudy.

6th September: Puente la Reina - 14/25°C - sunny with some clouds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The bad days of today will be the Good Old Days of yesterday

(This was first posted more or less as is on the amawalkerscamino2011 blog last month)

As I lay in the bunk at Ribadiso do Baixo in June, I remembered a poem from my youth. Tarantella by Hilair Belloc. "Do you remember an Inn, Miranda, do you remember an inn?"

I especially chose the albergue at Ribadiso as the only 'traditional' albergue for our group to experience on their three week walk of the Camino Frances. I chose Ribadiso for three reasons. It is large enough to accommodate a group of 14 people and it is old - very old! The albergue is in the renovated 13th c pilgrim hospice of San Anton which won an architectural award when the dilapidated stone buildings were resurrected about 12 years ago aso that they could once more welcome pilgrims on the road to Compostela.
Thirdly, I remember staying in Ribadiso in 2002. We thought we would walk to Arzua from Palas de Rei - some 30km - but when we saw pilgrims sitting on the green lawns in front of the albergue, dangling their feet in the river which flowed under the Roman bridge we decided to stop. There was nothing else around, only a few farm houses on the distant hills and lots of cows. As we walked through the large wooden doors into the cobbled courtyard one could almost hear the echo of horse hooves of pilgrims past. All albergues in Galicia were 'donativo' (donation) and although we dropped a few euro into the box we saw a few young people bypass the donation box.
We showered in the cabins at the back of the albergue and did our washing before joining the other pilgrims on the lawn by the river. Sitting in a field, chatting to other pilgrims, sharing bread and blister plasters is almost gospel-like and I felt the soul of the Camino, finding shelter after a long day's walk and sharing with fellow pilgrims.
By evening it was getting cold so we moved into the diningroom and gathered around the large wooden table. The walls are almost a meter thick and the doorway was low so we had to duck to get into the room. A huge fireplace, blackened by a few hundred years of fire, dominated one end of the room.
There was nowhere to buy food and we were starving. I had a box of instant tagliatelli in my pack and a quick search of the kitchen revealed a half packet of pasta, a quarter bottle of oil, salt, some onions and a few other odds and ends. An elderly woman in her eighties and her middle-aged daughter came into the kitchen also food hunting. They had two tomatoes and another pilgrim had bread. Soon there were more hungry pilgrims in the kitchen so we pooled resources and started cooking on the rather temperamental stove. We carried the plates of food through to the diningroom and lit a few candles. Nobody had wine but we had water and soon we were chatting and laughing and breaking bread and telling stories in a Camino-lingua around the table, one couple demonstrating how they had danced with a procession in a fiesta.
It was a wonderful evening of camaraderie and sharing and I wanted my group to experience that - to experience the soul of the Camino. 
But, it didn't turn out that way. Since 2002 a new cafe-bar restaurant has opened right next door to the pilgrim shelter with plastic chairs and tables and umbrellas, a well-stocked bar and an extensive menu. 50m further up the road is a brand new private albergue with laminate flooring, washing machines, television, wifi and Internet.
Only 6 of our group checked into the albergue (the others carried on to Arzua where they booked into a hotel) paying the required €6 each. A few other pilgrims arrived but only one of the stone rooms was full. I walked down to the river and even though it was a beautiful day there were no pilgrims sitting on the grass, I could hear them all next door in the courtyard of the cafe bar. I watched a blue dragon-fly flutter about in the reeds and then went to have a look at the diningroom. As I ducked under the stone doorway I found the diningroom empty, the cavernous fireplace black and cold. There was no laughter there, no singing, no impromptu dancing - no soul.

In 2002 when we started at Roncesvalles we slept on the 2nd floor of the monastery in old steel -framed double bunks. In 2004 we slept in the old granary. Now in 2011 the albergue is in the old youth hostel building, all smart and sterile with two bunks per cubicle, a shiny stainless steel kitchen with a row of microwaves and vending machines with pre-cooked food, cold drinks, cakes, sweets etc. Progress has come to Roncesvalles and the old monastery now boasts a swanky new Hotel Roncesvalles.

In 2002 we walked on slippery, rutted, muddy trails down the hills towards Zubiri and Larrrasoana. In 2011, many of the trails have been paved with concrete and stone and are like walking through a botanical garden!
Many of the villages have changed beyond recognition. Santa Catalina de Somoza was a tired, dusty little village with one bar (that didn't have any food), not on the main road, and a basic albergue in an old school where we had to wait for a school boy on a bicycle to come and open up. Today it looks like a prosperous town - brick paved Calle Mayor with bill boards, large signs advertising albergues, zimmers, cafe bars with tables and umbrellas on both sides of the road. Progress has come to Santa Catalina.  Parts of the Camino Frances are unrecognizable from 10 years ago.

The number of traditional pilgrim shelters is shrinking as new private up-market albergues open almost next door to the old - like Ribadiso.  This is progress.  Is it good?  It must be, especially for the local inhabitants of villages that were almost abandoned 10 years ago.  Is progress bad - or sad?  I don't know.  I suppose it depends on your perspective and in another 10 years time we will reminisce about these days being the 'good old days'.


Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Codex Calixtinus manuscript stolen from Santiago's cathedral

The Guardian and other World News reported this week on the shocking theft of the 12th century manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus - stolen from a safe in the Cathedral.
The Santiago Cathedral Archive describes the The Codex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James as a jewel in medieval bibliography, one of the richest medieval sources for historians, geographers, musicologists, sociologists, ethnologists, art historians and linguists. Due to its heterogeneous and composite character, this codex is believed to be the work of several authors and compilers. It is known as Codex Calixtinus not because this Pope had been one of its authors but on account of the extraordinary influence that he, his secretary and the people of Cluny had in the gestation of the work.
Codex Calixtinus is a marvellous witness to the political, social, cultural, religious, musical and intellectual fabric of the medieval world. "The Guide of the Medieval Pilgrim", offering vivid descriptions of the different towns and people, their customs, habitat, character, organization, linguistic manners, and its unique fusion of franco-hispanic elements, is a beautiful ethnographic lesson.
The music in the codex is a topic in itself and offers a wonderful snapshot of the state of music composition in the 12th century: the texts for St. James along with their accompanying monophonic tropes and sequences clearly illustrate how the liturgy was expanded and embellished for a new great feast day. The musical highpoint is its repertoire of polyphony; it includes the first known composition for three voices and serves as a vital bridge for the Notre Dame School. Without this repertoire our understanding of the birth and evolution of polyphony in the western world would be completely distorted.

When and how was it stolen?

"The Codex Calixtinus, which was kept in a safe at the cathedral's archives, is thought to have been stolen by professional thieves on Sunday afternoon. Archivists did not notice its disappearance, however, until Tuesday, when the cathedral's dean was told it was missing."

Jose Maria Diaz, dean of the cathedral, called the police after he and the archivist carried out a thorough search for the priceless manuscript.

According to a source who is familiar with the security in the cathedral, there were 3 keys in circulation one  key to the door which was left in the lock all day long. The Codex itself was kept in a wooden box on the table and covered with an embroidered cloth.

Urban legend

Almost every reference to the Codex, or the chapter in the manuscript known as the Book of St James, refers to it as the first Guide Book every written. The Guardian writes: " The manuscript, apparently commissioned by Pope Calixtus II, helped popularise a pilgrimage that still attracts tens of thousands of people every year."

Was it a guide book used by pilgrims over the ages?  No - it was not, but this hasn't stopped the it from becoming an urban legend.
Fox News: 
"The most well-known and most frequently translated of the five volumes is the last, which served as a guide for the medieval Way of St. James pilgrim and describes the route, its towns and cities, its people and customs and shrines that should be visited."

The stolen Codex, an original 12th c manuscript extolling the virtues of Saint James and Santiago was never used as a pilgrim guide and very few copies were ever made.

Jeanne Krochalis, an associate professor of English at Penn State’s New Kensington campus and an expert in paleography (manuscript study) worked on the original. The Santiago cathedral was rebuilt in the early 12th century by Bishop Diego Gelmírez, whom Krochalis and her coauthors call "the main proponent of Santiago’s glory. It was all Compostela propaganda, a statement that this was an important place. We assume that the design was to make lots and lots of copies of the Codex and disseminate them all over Europe. And that didn’t happen."
On the Road to Compostela” by: Nancy Marie Brown (Research/Penn State, Vol. 20, no. 2 (May, 1999)

Wiki will tell you that it is,  ' ...  a 12th century illuminated manuscript formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II, though now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. The principal author is actually given as 'Scriptor I'.

It was intended as an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. The codex is alternatively known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Book of Saint James. The collection includes sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and a most interesting set of polyphonic musical pìeces. In it are also found descriptions of the route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people."

For a more accurate a description visit Peter Robins' site at:
Peter Robins:  Only 12 copies are known, most Spanish (a complete copy of the Codex, as well as a fragment including chapters I-VII of the Guide, are in the British Library). None of these copies is in France, which seems to be the country it is primarily aimed at. Moreover, at no time does Book IV/V seem to have been copied separately from the rest of the Codex, which would have been the case if it were to have been used on a pilgrimage. After being compiled, it seems to have been taken to Santiago, where it was filed away and, apart from these dozen copies, forgotten about for 750 years when Father Fita produced his Latin edition, around the time of Leo XIII's Apostolic Letter confirming the identity of the recently excavated relics of St James. So, although it seems to have been written as a guide for pilgrims, it does not appear to have been used as such, and appears to have been completely unknown in what we now know as France until the 19th century."

Only one copy of the Pilgrim’s Guide was made during Gelmírez’s lifetime; it was sent, along with a bone from St. James’s jaw, to Bishop Atto in the North Italian city of Pistoia. The original was kept in Santiago for 200 years before being copied. The others were laboriously copied in the late 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The original was 'lost' once before, for centuries, and was rediscovered by Father Fidel Fita in 1886 - at the same time that the relics of St James were 'found' and authenticated after being lost for 350 years.

Of course, none of this matters - the Codex Calixtinus is a priceless medieval jewel and its loss is critical.

E.O. Pederson: 
Whatever its status and history as the first European travel guide, loss of the Codex is a cultural tragedy. One of the most important extant collections of medieval music, the Codex Calixtinus is a key document for students of musicology. Other materials contained in the stolen document are equally important for scholars in various fields of medieval studies. This theft is at least on a par with the theft of a first folio of Shakespeare from Durham University (see the fascinating display currently on view at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC) or the art works taken from the Gardiner Museum in Boston as one of the great crimes against the human patrimony committed against an institution devoted to preservation of that heritage.
One must hope the Codex Calixtinus is returned to the cathedral archive quickly and undamaged, and that it is not broken into pages then sold to unscrupulous dealers who in turn sell them to unethical collectors in a vast and, one hears hideously lucrative, illicit market for purloined works of art. Once in that market, documents tend to disappear forever. Should the document be irretrievably lost, there are at least good quality reproductions for scholars and pilgrims to see, though those can never convey the thrill of examining the original nor contain the possibility of discovery some new scholarly examination may uncover. Meanwhile the Cathedral needs to evaluate its security precautions, for its archive and treasury contain numerous other items of potentially great value in the illicit art market.

You can buy an English copy of the Bookj of St James from  or a replica of the Medieval manuscript from

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Adventure - new blog

I decided to start a joint blog for our amaWalkers group of 15 people who will start walking from Roncesvalles on Monday 30th May.  If you would like to follow us on this asventure, you will find it here: 

An Ode to the amaWalkers Group

We had two married couples who got on really well and who were a great delight.

Our senior citizen was Roy, a musical chap who carried and played his large and small organs (which were often the butt of risqué jokes and innuendos!) He even entertained us and other diners in Santiago by playing the grand piano in the Casino Restaurant – once the domain of gentlemen only.

His wife Kay is a bubbly, happy, cheerful Aussie who enjoyed her beers and even a Spanish version of a frosty, slush-puppy Guinness.

Charles was quieter but became the story teller in the group and after a Brandy and coke responded to the pleas of the younger ladies by regaling them with tales of his shipwreck off the Seychelles and his many canoeing escapades.

His wife Barbara was our poet and mystic who spread calm and serenity and off the road. Excepting one night when Charles suggested they share a top or bottom bunk. (She put his daring suggestion down to the number of beers he had that day!)

Linda was our wild child – setting the pace by walking alone from St Jean Pied de Port the day before we arrived in Roncesvalles and also doing a solo hike up to O Cebreiro when we all got the taxi up the hill for breakfast.

Janet – the only US member of the group – was our invaluable translator of menus and notices stuck on doors, and telephone-whizz who was able to call hotels, taxis and transfer companies on our behalf. She learned the 12 South African slang words given to her and delivered an amusing speech all about ‘kak hills’ and ‘vrot rocks’ ‘blerry blisters’ and ‘lekker’ food. She is an Honorary South African with a badge to prove it.

Kim Francis was our morning song bird who woke up singing a Yoga tune, laughing and smiling like a breath of fresh air all along the Camino.

Sally, her roomie, was the quieter one, often comparing herself (mostly her aches and pains) with everyone else’s. Sally proved to herself that she is stronger than she thought she was.

Kathy was our girl scout, always in front, forging up or down the mountains and arriving first at the town or village, sussing out the easiest route to our overnight accommodation and then sending directions ahead.

Rayna, her roomie, was the carer on the team, always ready with a travel sick pill or a blister plaster when a pilgrim was in need.

Carole and Kim – our Jo’burg girls – skipped and ran, hopped and giggled their way across the Camino often surprising us by dashing past us and leaping into the air just ahead of us like Springboks!! They trekked an extra 70km up and down the Cebreiro hills like two gazelles and sent an sms to Syl, “Thank you for giving us our wings (angel wings) for this wonderful walk!”

Eugenie, Syl’s roomie, went from walking 0km to hiking 30km and surprised everyone (including herself) by setting the pace, often leaving the younger women behind in her dust.

Syl was the planner and organiser who made sure everyone had a bed at night, a meal and someone to help cart their heavy baggage to the next overnight stop. She was often the sweeper and made sure that no-one was left on the road.

Pami spent 9 days on the Camino with the group. Unfortunately she had to leave us to return home when her sister became critically ill in Cape Town. But, she left us with her deep spirituality and love of the Camino, making sure that she was in our thoughts and hearts as we continued on without her.