February 24, 2010



The Way of St. James and pilgrimage in medieval Europe

Mr. Juan Carrasco.
Public University of Navarra

The cult of the apostle St. James and the consequent pilgrimages to Compostela constitute, without a doubt, one of the most representative and outstanding phenomena of the Hispanic Middle Ages, at the same time that they served as a channel to encourage the desires of unity and isolation of Christian Europe in the central centuries of the Middle Ages average. Throughout this time the itineraries leading to the Basilica-sanctuary of St. James were fixed: thus one of the main and most important medieval roads was formed. In such a way that the iter Sancti Iacobi came to represent for a large part of Western Europe the paradigm of the pilgrimage route, completing, together with Jerusalem and Rome, that trilogy of holy places. It is true that, in the East, Jerusalem symbolizes a certain superiority or spiritual eminence: it is a place of pilgrimage that sacralizes the holy war, since it is anxious to conquer and liberate the tomb of Christ. At least in its initial phase, the Jacobean road or via francigenae appears as the road that unites or links the two great sanctuaries of the western Christian orb and where the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul, in Rome, and that of St. James the Greater in Compostela are venerated. Among the "reforming" popes, the idea of protecting the military expeditions against the Saracens of Al-Andalus as pious actions, proper to a penitential pilgrimage, had spread. Moreover, these two places of apostolic pilgrimage appeared to the eyes of Christianity as a solid chain of solidarity and fraternal bonds, a reliable expression of the unity of Christians, so anxiously longed for after the fears and shocks with which the first millennium of our era had been overcome. A solidarity evoked by the Pseudo.Turpin, in the words addressed by the apostle to Charlemagne, when the emperor was resting in his palace in Aachen:

"The starry road that you have
seen in the sky
means that you will go to Galicia at the head
of a great army, and that, after you
all the peoples will go there in pilgrimage
until the consummation of the centuries".

In this famous text the extreme geographical points of the most extensive pathway of the medieval West were fixed: from the centrality of the European continent -the Carolingian empire-, represented by the capital Aachen, to the periphery of the Galician finisterre of Compostela.

Public attending the lecture