In the Middle Ages SANTIAGO was the most ancient, popular and celebrated city on the north-western peninsula.
For the cognoscenti Jerusalem and Rome were perhaps more important as great centres of Christianity and places of pilgrimage. On the other hand Santiago was equally if not more important, for it had the power to inspire in these remote places, the lands the Romans termed «Finisterre».
There was only one way, one road, one route. Then Galicia provided a new spiritual beacon for the world, fusing ideas, customs and technologies from different civilizations.
The Santiago Route was taken by queens and princes, painters and artists, troubadours and minstrels, composing songs of miracles, heroic romances, stories and legends, which now constitute a medieval and literary topology.
The Galician landscape, with its natural and human beauty, reverberated to the sound of pilgrims, to the steps of travellers, and to the tapping of their walkingsticks. Through the barren hills, bridges and valleys, along the French Route, the Portuguese Route, or the Route from Puente La Reina to Santiago, a new Europe, a new society was forged. Moreover, an ecumenical spirit – beyond the accoutrements of the pilgrim, the scallop shell, the pouch, and the staff – developed in those pilgrims, those travellers inspired to walk the dangerous paths to the Eternal Gate.
And because Santiago was in this aspect universal, imbued with the spirit of the Middle Ages and the 10th century, and as we ourselves are participants in this creative and communal phenomenon, we leave here a brief synthesis, a reanimation and consecration of the Ways to Santiago.
«In Western history the Road to Santiago was one of the most important routes for pilgrims and for cultural exchange. All the countries in medieval Europe actively contributed to its creation, and in fact there is a little of every nation in it. The Road to Santiago was a crucible where men’s emotions and thoughts came together and where the Western Spirit was born.»
The legend of Santiago – The Medieval Tradition
Two traditions: James, the brother of John, was killed by a sword in Jerusalem, when Herod Agrippa was persecuting the leaders of the Church. According to exact chronology, his martyrdom took place in the year 42. In the IX century (814) Bishop Teodomiro of Iria miraculously discovered the bodies of the apostle and of King Alphonse II, the Pure, and then built a church and a monastery above the saint’s grave.
St. James the Great preached the Gospel in Spain and was martyred on returning to Jerusalem.
Another witness claims that after his death, the body was collected by Atanásio and Teodósio and then taken away by boat, heading for Lusitania.
Once at Iria Flávia (Ria de Arosa), at the fortress where Queen Lupa lived, the disciples begged her to let them bury their Friend. The Queen pretended to agree to their request and told them:
“Go to that hill, get two oxen and harness them to this cart of mine, take your Friend and Master and bury him wherever you want.”
Lupa knew that instead of two oxen they would find wild bulls on the hill. Initially a dragon appeared and attacked them. But they made the sign of the cross and the dragon vanished. There was a further miracle in that the wild bulls became tame oxen. When the Queen saw these miracles, she was convinced that they were men of God. The disciples then placed the body on the cart, and the oxen continued on their way.Where the oxen stopped would be where the Master should be buried.
The place where they rested they named «Liberum Donum» or «Libre Don» in memory of this gift from God. Here the disciples built a chapel and lived and died beside the Apostle’s burial-mound.
Afterwards, according to the legend, the hermit Pelayo told Bishop Teodomiro that he had seen rays of light emanating from the little chapel during the night. Together with a large crowd, the Bishop then went to the marble tomb and found the precious relics of the Apostle.
This legend is corroborated in the writings of Pseudo Turin Liber Santi Iacobi that says the following:
(…) And when Charles the Great was looking into the sky, he saw a path of stars starting in the Frisian Sea, through Germany and France and through half of Gascony and Navarre, and so to Spain, ending in Galicia where the tomb of James’ body was.
Then James appeared in the dreams of Charles the Great to explain the symbolism of this Milky Way and to recommend that he should follow this path to worship the holy relics and to free the paths from the Muslims.
This is what Charles the Great did. He conquered Pamplona, worshipped in the cathedral at Santiago and launched his boats into the sea off the Galician shores!
According to the legend, this place was called Compostela (campus = place + stella = star). The star here has the same mythological function as the one at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, drawing attention to the eternal significance of this event and bringing many different people to show their respects at the stable where the baby (Jesus) had been born.
Source: RTAM, 2004 “Santiago – Caminho do Alto-Minho”