Codex Calixtinus

as I mentioned in an earlier Camino post, the first guide for peregrinos on the Camino was the Codex Calixtinus, an illuminated manuscript from the 12th century, originally attributed to Pope Callixtus II from whom the text takes its name. in reality, it was written by many authors over several years in the 1130s and the product was compiled by a French scholar named Aymeric Picaud. moreover, it appears that in order to give the manuscript some weight, the authors prefaced it with a letter purportedly signed by Callixtus (who had been dead for 15 years by the time they completed the text).

the earliest edition of the codex, dating from 1150, was held in the archives of the Cathedral in Santiago, but was lost and forgotten until the 1880s; copies were made, however, and distributed to Barcelona, Rome, Jerusalem, and the Cluny Abbey. the Santiago version includes five volumes (one of which was ripped out, either by accident or design, in 1609 and later restored): one of liturgies, one of reported miracles, one on the transfer of Santiago’s body, one on the legends of Charlemagne and Roland (the one removed in the 17th century), and one a “guide for the traveler” with handy tips on the route, sights to see, art to admire, and local customs.

I hadn’t realized that this masterpiece of Camino history lay at the center of a recent theft scandal. in July 2011, the Codex disappeared from the Cathedral archives, where it was kept in a reinforced glass case to which a limited number of people had access. some speculated the theft might have stemmed from personal or professional grievances, or may have been an attempt to illuminate comparatively lax security in the Cathedral. (at the time of the theft, which went unnoticed for several days, it turned out security cameras were not turned on and the case containing the manuscript may have been unlocked.) almost a year to the day on which the manuscript disappeared, Spanish police arrested a former worker (along with his wife, son, and son’s girlfriend) who, at the time the theft, was suing the Cathedral for wrongful termination after 25 years of employment. after searching his property, eight copies of the Codex were recovered along with a host of other documents of value from the Cathedral archives. oh, and 1.2 million euros in cash.

Los Arcos

because it is so close to the Castillian frontier, as well as along the Camino, Los Arcos became a toll-collecting station and place to change money. in the 12th century, the king authorized weekly markets and equalized rights between locals and immigrant Francos in an effort to encourage growth of the town. the proximity to Castilla also made it a frequent military target.

the town’s location — on a river with a hill overlooking and farmland spreading out — means it has likely been inhabited since Roman times. a castle protected the city on a hill to the northeast of the city beginning in the 12th century, but that didn’t stop Castilla and Navarra from periodically annexing and/or taking the town by force over the course of the next three hundred years. as elsewhere in the region, the Napoleonic and Carlist wars took their toll on the town, which played host to two battles during the first Carlist War (the one launched from Estella, some 20 kilometers away).

Los Arcos had a tidy, compact plaza in front of the Iglesia de Santa Maria where we enjoyed our afternoon restorative cervezas and, once the kitchen reopened, dinner. construction of the church occurred over six centuries, beginning around 1175. consequently the interior offers an array of decorative and architectural styles including Flamboyant and Flemish Gothic, Baroque, Mannerism, Churrigueresque, and Rococo. beyond the far end of the plaza is the Arco de Felipe V, the last remnant of the defensive system that protected Los Arcos from the 18th onwards.

the Cathedral of Santiago and the origins of the Camino

I’ll start with a picture from our destination. 

after departing well before sunrise, using a headlamp to make our way through eucalyptus forest, getting lost for the first time on the entire journey, dodging ubiquitous city traffic, and getting stuck behind slow-moving, German day-trippers, we came through an archway, serenaded by a gaita (Galician bagpipes) and emerged into the Praza Obradoiro. the hulking Ayuntamiento de Santiago (government building) filled one side of the plaza and facing it stood the expansive Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, backlit by the bright mid-morning sunshine. though the architecture of Burgos might seem more impressive from the outside or the stained glass of Leon more impressive inside, neither could compare in the elation that arose while standing in the middle of the plaza looking up at the place we’d traveled 500 miles on foot to reach.

in a few words, the Catholic dimension of the Camino stems from the belief that the remains of the Apostle Saint James lie in the sepulcher under the cathedral. legend holds that, after his beheading in Jerusalem, his remains were brought to Spain in a stone boat by way of Finisterre and buried; his tomb was lost in the 3rd century but re-discovered in 814 when the hermit Pelayo saw strange lights the night sky. the bishop recognized the discovery as a miracle and the king, Alfonso II, ordered the construction of a chapel on the site to which, legend holds, he was the first peregrino. (more on the cathedral itself at a later date.)

parts of the Camino certainly pre-date Christianity — Romans followed the light of the Milky Way along the route to the ocean; even after it became a Church-sanctioned pilgrimage to receive plenary indulgence, various routes (such as the Via de la Plata and the Camino Frances) served as major trading roads. the first recorded peregrinos from beyond the Pyrenees arrived in the 10th century and flow increased in the 12th century when Calixtus II started Compostelan Holy Years and had a guide published (the Codex Calixtinus which remains the foundation for many of the existing routes). infrastructure improved and the flow of peregrinos increased steadily until the Black Plague and political unrest throughout Europe in the 16th century cut down numbers. in 1985, fewer than 700 people arrived in Santiago as peregrinos but, following the Camino’s designation as both a European Cultural Route and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, numbers have increased steadily and exponentially. during the most recent Holy Year (2010) nearly of 280,000 peregrinos received Compostelas (the certificate of completion bestowed by the Church upon those who have walked the last 100km or biked the last 200km).

to be certain — only a fraction of those travel along the route for the distance we trekked. we certainly met many people who did (several fond examples come to mind). on a given day we’d encounter between 20 and 50 other peregrinos, but not all of those intended to complete the whole route in one go. it’s fairly common for Europeans to do the route in three or more stages, breaking the trip up into more manageable chunks that still allow them to receive the Compostela upon conclusion. somewhat surprisingly, though, we also met more than a few people who’d hiked the Camino — from Roncesvalles or St. Jean — more than once. in light of the Camino’s popularity (and thanks, in part, I’m sure to Emilio Estevez’s “The Way”), numbers will surly grow as time progresses.

a not-so-accidental 800km hike

as most of you know, I spent the month of May hiking across Spain, following in the footsteps of millions of peregrinos — and plenty of non-religious folk — who’ve made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela over centuries.

over 34 days I walked nearly 800 kilometers. 500 miles. over one million steps. approximately the distance from Jacksonville, Florida, to Key West. or Duluth, Minnesota, to Gary, Indiana. however you quantify it: a huge distance and the most physically demanding adventure I’ve ever undertaken.

while Spain was next on my list of places to visit, I can’t take credit for the idea for this trip. I don’t know nearly enough Germans to have come up with an idea as crazy as this. but the person I went with had a friend (a German) who’d done the Camino over several months a couple of years ago and who planted the idea in his head. when it came time to use the four weeks given to him, the Camino wasn’t just the obvious choice, it was the only choice. so we planned, booked our flights, figured out transportation to our starting point, took long practice hikes that couldn’t really prepare us for the physical demands we’d face, booked hotels in many towns and trusted to the Camino infrastructure elsewhere and, on May 4, headed to the airport.

our guidebook proved unhelpful in explaining the most interesting cultural and historical sites we passed (more than enough on all the religious and “mystical” sites to our continual chagrin), which just means I’ll have my research cut out for me as I prepare posts for here. we’ve now sorted through all the photos, so the first phase of getting posts ready has concluded — stay tuned over the next several weeks for more about our adventures!

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