Pilgrimage To SantiagoDe Campostela — Noel Moroney — 19th January 2015

Noel gave us a defin­i­tion of pil­grim­ages which com­prised a jour­ney to a shrine for pen­ance and by doing so pen­it­ents had an assured fast track to heaven.

The Crusaders, who were at that time in the South of France, saw the sign of a scal­lop shell point­ing to North West.  The scal­lop shell is on all signs and cross­roads dir­ect­ing the way to the des­tin­a­tion i.e. Santiago de Compostella.

The name Santiago is from Sant (saint) and Iago (James) Compostella is from Compo (field) and stella (stars) i.e. a field full of stars.

James was one of the twelve dis­ciples.  He trav­elled to Northern Spain to spread the gospel and sub­sequently returned to Jerusalem.  He was then beheaded by Herod in 44 A.D.  His body and head were trans­por­ted back to Northern Spain by his fol­low­ers and buried.  In 813 A.D. a hermit had a vision of stars guid­ing him to a burial site con­tain­ing a marble sar­co­phagus con­tain­ing remains. Bishop Teodomiro declared that they were the remains of St. James.  He declared it a holy site and a cathed­ral was built there in the name of St. James, patron saint of all Spain.

Pilgrims were attrac­ted to the cathed­ral and so were the Muslim Moors who des­troyed large parts of Santiago.  The Muslims were driven out and the statue of St. James the Moor slayer was erec­ted. A new chapel was built in 1075 and fin­ished in 1211.  Mass was said every day.

Pilgrims came from all over Europe includ­ing the British and, because of the treach­er­ous route, they banded together and trav­elled in groups.  When they arrived at the cathed­ral they con­fessed to the priest and were given a cer­ti­fic­ate and a scal­lop shell which had a red sword painted on it.

By 1140 there were four dif­fer­ent routes from vari­ous European start­ing points, each route marked with scal­lop shells.

It was pres­ti­gi­ous for a cathed­ral to have the relic of a saint (it brought prosper­ity to the city by the number of pil­grims).  In 1589 Sir Francis Drake tried to steal the remains of St. James to bring them to England.  The bishop hid the remains so he didn’t suc­ceed. It was not unusual for this to happen – St. Mark’s remains were in Alexandria and Venice needed some­thing to give it prom­in­ence so the remains of St. Mark were stolen and trans­por­ted to Venice in a barrel of pork!  Venice is thus world famous for its con­nec­tion to St. Mark.

In 1400 an incense burner was installed in the cathed­ral.  It was made of silver weigh­ing 200 lbs. In 1500 they attached a device for swinging it, thus began the daily routine of swinging the burner above the heads of the pil­grims.  This served as an air freshener  as many of the pil­grims had not had the bene­fit of a good wash for months.

St. James’ relics, hidden for 300 years since the failed attempt by Drake to steal them, were found and placed in a silver casket behind the altar.

A few miles west of Santiago is the coast – Cape Finistere.  Brian Sewell, the art critic, com­pleted his pil­grim­age and then trav­elled to the coast, burnt his dirty, smelly clothes and walked naked into the sea.

The 500,000 pil­grims a year are now accom­mod­ated in hos­tels along the route and in 1982 Pope  John Paul vis­ited, and it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.