However, there is a saying that 'the path is made by walking' and knowing the truth about the St James legend will never cancel out the long history of the pilgrimage to a cathedral town named after him, nor will it deter most people from feeling 'called' to walk in the footsteps of the millions that have trodden the paths to Santiago.
But remember, there is another saying, that 'the truth will set you free'. Knowing the truth can set you free to follow the Camino pilgrimage trails your way, as a lover of art and architecture, history, music or cuisine, as a long distance hiker, or just as a nice long holiday. You are not a superstitious medieval peasant and do not have to follow the Camino in the medieval, penitential tradition if you don't want to! Today, only Catholics can earn an indulgence for the remission of sins. If you are a Protestant, you were set free by the first 'protestors' at the start of the Reformation.
El Camino – urban legends
The basis for this legend can be found in the late seventh century Latin translation of a Byzantine Greek compendium called the Breviary of the Apostles which asserted - with the words "and Spain" - that James evangelized in Iberia. When this text was at last critically edited in 1988, it became clear these two little words were a later interpolation by someone (not the original author) who wanted to make the text consistent with then-prevalent beliefs. The words don't even make sense in the context where they appear. (Kate van Liere, Professor of History)
Obviously a legend. No clarrification needed!
3. The story that he is buried in Santiago Cathedral is a legend.
In France alone, there were three tombs containing the body or body parts of St James. There were nine with heads and numerous others with limbs o other appendages. According to an earlier tradition, the relics of the Apostle were kept in the church of St-Saturnin at Toulouse from the 6th century and his left hand was the prime relic in Reading abbey. There are legends that claim that the body of James the Greater had been taken to Spain minus his head. John of Wiirtzburg, writing about 1165, says the head remained in Palestine and was regularly shown to pilgrims.
The fact that Bishop Godescalc was the first famous pilgrim to visit Santiago in the Xth century was not not known until 1886 – a thousand years after his visit. All documents relating to his visit were lost and only rediscovered in 1886. The Le Puy route is a modern footpath reinvented at the start of the 1970s on a decidedly fragile historical base following a GR hiking trail with places to visited selected subjectively. http://www.saint-jacques.info/anglais/lepuy.htm
The Liber Sancti Jacobi was never a ‘Rough Guide’ for the literate few to Santiago and was unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages. Only a few copies were made – the 12th century, 14th, late 15th, early 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. These were only read by the clerics and historians who had access to the monastery library. The original Codex Calixtinus is an enormous book which was only re-discovered in 1886. Until it was stolen 2011 it was kept in the Cathedral at Santiago. The name Pilgrim Guide was given to it early in this century.
7. Aimery Picaud was the author of Book Five of the Liber Sancti Jacobi
Aymery Picaud became the ‘author’ of Book Five of the Liber Sancti Jacobi only in the 19th century. His name appears only twice in the entire Liber Sancti Jacobi, both times in the addenda to the five books. The book is a compilation of many different writers.
8. Millions of pilgrims have been trekking to Santiago in a continuous stream for over a thousand years.
As a European phenomenon, the pilgrimage to Santiago enjoyed only bout 300 years of glorious hey-days from the 10th century - reaching a peak in the 12th and 13th centuries. There was a sharp decline from the 14th century with about 400 years of extremely lean days (and a brief revival in the 1700’s). When the relics of the saint were ‘lost’ in 1589 the pilgrims stopped coming in any number and stayed away for almost 400 years. The dissolution of the monasteries and the abolition or transformation of refuges and hospitals reduced the pilgrim routes of the Christian West and Compostela vanished from the mind of non-Spanish Catholicism. By the Holy Year of 1867 St James' shrine was all but forgotten and only 44 pilgrims attended mass on his feast day. The ‘Camino’ as we know it was revived in the late 1970’s and early 1908’s
This was a legend, created in the 12th century
The burial site of St James was discovered on the 25th July, between 813 and 835. In the early Middle Ages the 30th December was St James’ Feast day, based on the old Hispanic (Mozarabic) rite. In the 11th century King Alfonso VI abolished the Hispanic rite in favour of the Roman rite and July 25 became the principal feast day. It was formerly on the 5th August on the Tridentine Rite calendar.
Santiago historians and academics say that Compostela Holy Years only started in the 15th Century.
12. Medieval pilgrims were all poor, foot sloggers who trudged enormous distances to Santiago.
The modern Compostela was introduced in the 1950’s though no records of it exist before the 1970’s. The Compostela is merely a certificate asserting that one has arrived in Santiago after walking the last 100km or cycling the last 200km. The 'get-out-of-jail’ paper is an Indulgence - often confused with the Compostela - is only available to Catholic pilgrims who visit the tomb of the apostle, make confession, attend mass, recite a prayer (such as the Creed or the Lord's Prayer praying for His Holiness the Pope) in order to earn the indugence.
Pilgrimage has always been viewed as a pious and reverential journey.
At first, pilgrims and pilgrimages inspired admiration and even astonishment. After the reformation, the cult of relics (regarded as disgusting and deceiving) and the veneration of saints became non-pc throughout most of Europe. If, as Luther argued, Christ had died for your sins, no intervention of saints was necessary, so why go on a pilgrimage? Why leave your homes, your work, your families to bow down before a fragment of a dubious relic?
And he [Herod Agrippa] had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
The disciples of Yaakov ben-Zebedee took his body to Jaffa (Tel-Avivi) where a stone boat, guarded by angels, awaited them. The boat, which had no sails, took less than a week to sail to the west coast of Spain and landed at the port of Iria Flavia (near Padron). They laid his body on a stone which immediately formed into his sarcophagus. He was buried on a hillside. The burial site was forgotten for almost 800 years.
Q: How did they identify the bodies?
A: There was a letter lying near the body. [Nobody has ever seen this letter which must have been written 800 years earlier so they are not sure what language it was written in but the Bishop was able to read it all the same.] It said:
“To take St. James the Greater out of those centuries in which faith ran riot and life glowed with fancy, and in which the world prepared itself for an outburst of art and literature and vision beyond aught that antiquity knew, is not only to leave significant movements in history beclouded, but also to lessen the charm of the past, and to lose much of its hope and inspiration”.
Rev. James S. Stone (The Cult of Santiago, 1927)
Note: Some photographs are mine, some are copied from Wiki Commons.