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July 24, 2011 8:12 PM   Subscribe

On July 25th pilgrims arrive at Santiago de Compostela for the holy feast day of St. James. The medieval pilgrimage route has seen a spike in popularity in recent years and has been portrayed in both classic and contemporary film as an introspective journey. However, travelers along the way also pass many reminders of Spain's history of religious conflict such as a monument to Ferregut's final duel, the final resting place of El Sid, and the final battleground of Roland. Images of the saint himself can sometimes be controversial as well.
posted by Winnemac (24 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.
posted by schmod at 8:36 PM on July 24, 2011


Thanks for the details, it is on my list of things to do before I get too old. I first learned about it in David Lodge's novel Therapy as one of the characters undertakes it as part of a larger mid-life crises. Lodge also did a TV episode on it for the series Legendary Trails.
posted by cgk at 8:38 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's perhaps worth noting that Spanish troops in Iraq initially wore the cross of St. James. Not really the choicest symbolism for that particular mission.
posted by Winnemac at 8:40 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always get Compostela (where the pilgrims go) and Capistrano (where the swallows go) mixed up.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:58 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because I'm pretty sure my wife won't read this thread, I'll admit that I'd love to do the pilgrimage to Compostela before I die. Unfortunately, I'm not Catholic so it might be weird.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:03 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd recommend Kathryn Harrison's The Road to Santiago for a first-person account of the pilgrimage. Also, I wrote a little thing about the Cathedral here.
posted by mattbucher at 9:06 PM on July 24, 2011


The original St. James story is innocuous enough, and worth venerating if you're into veneration.

The "Moor Killer" bit was, quite simply, an insidious fiction that has been used a talisman in every subsequent atrocity committed in and/or by Spain, and is probably best disposed of.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:49 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I recall reading somewhere that Roland wasn't killed by Moors, but by Basques. Don't know what that changes, but it makes for good trivia.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:04 PM on July 24, 2011


El Cid. El Sid is the dude in Spanish Harlem who can always score coke within an hour for you.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:47 PM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the town of Huelva in southwestern Spain lies a remarkable silver sculpture titled Tatasantiago MataespaƱoles.

What you see here is a double inversion: first, the transformation of the Saint Jacob figure into an indigenous Tatasantiago, depicted with Andean features and costume, and second, the reversal of the sacrificial role: a Spanish pilgrim is being murdered here. The title translates to "(Native) Saint Jacob, killer of Spaniards".

This specific image is a product of the second generation of the Andean natives who survived the onslaught of the conquistadores. For it wasn't famine or gunpowder that wiped them out, it was smallpox, wiping out 90% of the populace.

Now the conquistadores, fresh from the counter-reformation sweeping Europe, arrived in the Americas with a barrage of proselytizing imagery. The most common images they brought were of the kind referred to in this post's title: Santiago Matamoros, and Santiago Mataindios.

The ten-odd percent who survived the "plague of the Old World" eventually figured out how to make their own printing presses. Tatasantiago MataespaƱoles was one such samizdat graphic they churned out.

This sculpture formed the basis of one of the pieces at the exhibition Principio Potosi.
posted by beshtya at 11:39 PM on July 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Veteran Spanish cartoonist Forges has an interesting take on the Moorslayer imagery today.
posted by Skeptic at 12:06 AM on July 25, 2011


Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope's true gage)
And then I'll take my pilgrimage.
- Sir Walter Raleigh
posted by adamvasco at 12:33 AM on July 25, 2011


I was staying in a village in the Picos de Europas earlier this year and encountered a few people on the trail - they had the scallop shell displayed. Back in Santander I saw be-scalloped hikers all over, it's a pretty popular pursuit. Most of the people I talked to were doing it piecemeal though - the bit through the mountains was considered pretty hardcore.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:43 AM on July 25, 2011


Hi. Pilgrim of Santiago here. My wife and I walked z portion of the camino Frances in may of 2004. Please feel free to pm me if you have questions.

A few things:
- for a particular year if July 25th (feast day of St. James the greater) falls a Sunday, it is a "jubilee year" and a special door is opened at the Cathedral in Santiago through which pilgrims can enter. Religious significance aside, suffice it to say that traffic on the Way is much, much greater. If you are considering walking, it is essential that you take this into account.
- there are many roads to Santiago, though the most heavily traveled one is the "French" one that enters Spain from the Pyrenees.
- pilgrims receive a certificate upon presenting evidence of a walked, biked, or horse-ridden journey of at minimum distance (100 miles for bikes, 60 miles for walkers) to Santiago. All along the roads you can stop and get your Credential, a king of pilgrim passport, stamped by churches and other facilities. The Pilgrim's office in Santiago will inspect your document and issue your certificate.
- plenty of non-Catholic and even non-religious folks walk. Lots. From my experience, what is more discussed on the road is the activity of those that "cheat" and use cabs and the like to complete their walks. Some of us are quite opinionated about this.
- the images of St. James, sword drawn, lopping off the heads of Moors (matamoros) are quite disturbing.
posted by grimjeer at 5:26 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: "Unfortunately, I'm not Catholic so it might be weird."

I think a sizable percentage of the people who do the pilgrimage today do it for non-religious reasons. My father did it in 2000 and he's not religious at all. So, no, it won't be weird.
posted by falameufilho at 6:52 AM on July 25, 2011


Unfortunately, I'm not Catholic so it might be weird.

What falameufilho said. I'm a lapsed Catholic and about as far away from the church as any baptized Catholic can be, but there's something about the pilgrimage that resonates deeply with me, and it's something I long to do, in one way or another, before I get too feeble to do it. It may be quixotic, but I have a very strong and sometimes irresistible quixotic streak.
posted by blucevalo at 6:58 AM on July 25, 2011


I should probably clarify a bit about why I think it would be weird. I'm a Christian, so my desire to do the pilgrimage is religious, but I'm not Catholic, so when I finished I'd have just undergone a (hopefully) religious experience, be at a cool old church, and NOT be able to take communion, which would be weird for me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:07 AM on July 25, 2011


I plan on doing this in a few years; I am a lapsed Catholic, but it's the meaning of the pilgrimage that resonates with me. The contemplation of it and such like.
posted by Kitteh at 7:26 AM on July 25, 2011


I don't like walking across a parking lot, but after seeing this episode of Rick Steves' Europe, I too wanted to do the walk. The history and "earthiness" of it seemed compelling.

(I've learned more useful history from that tv show than all my time in school, I think.)
posted by gjc at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2011


I should probably clarify a bit about why I think it would be weird. I'm a Christian, so my desire to do the pilgrimage is religious, but I'm not Catholic, so when I finished I'd have just undergone a (hopefully) religious experience, be at a cool old church, and NOT be able to take communion, which would be weird for me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:07 AM on July 25 [+] [!]


Here is how I look at it: the communion is a symbolic sharing of a meal. I see no reason why you couldn't take the communion. I don't think Jesus would mind.
posted by gjc at 7:59 AM on July 25, 2011


gjc: "I see no reason why you couldn't take the communion. I don't think Jesus would mind."

Some Catholics may be disturbed or even offended by a non-Catholic taking communion (for them, it is not the "symbolic sharing of a meal", it is literally the body of Christ). So while I also don't see a major problem in doing it, I'd keep quiet about it.
posted by falameufilho at 8:10 AM on July 25, 2011


Well, if you were an observant Catholic who was in a state of sin, you might not feel that you should take communion either. You'd certainly not be the only person in the building who wasn't taking communion.

I was raised Catholic and have made pilgrimage before. Although now I'm basically a deist who is nominally Episcopalian for the music, I'd still love to make pilgrimage to Compostela.
posted by catlet at 8:37 AM on July 25, 2011


Does it count if you go by Ryanair? That can be a pretty arduous journey too. Well worthy of halving your time in purgatory.
posted by ComfySofa at 12:40 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I (not a catholic either...a very lapsed anglican) have walked the camino two and a bit times, depending how you count, and when I was younger would have scorned the idea of going via Ryanair. But since using that airline and ones like it, and trying to squeeze my nearly 7-foot frame into those seats, well...all those blisters I picked up while walking just don't seem so bad anymore.

(also feel free to send me a message if you have a question--about the Camino, there are no answers to be had about budget short-haul European passenger flights.)
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 3:58 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


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