Sunday, July 10, 2011

Codex Calixtinus manuscript stolen from Santiago's cathedral

The Guardian and other World News reported this week on the shocking theft of the 12th century manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus - stolen from a safe in the Cathedral.
The Santiago Cathedral Archive describes the The Codex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James as a jewel in medieval bibliography, one of the richest medieval sources for historians, geographers, musicologists, sociologists, ethnologists, art historians and linguists. Due to its heterogeneous and composite character, this codex is believed to be the work of several authors and compilers. It is known as Codex Calixtinus not because this Pope had been one of its authors but on account of the extraordinary influence that he, his secretary and the people of Cluny had in the gestation of the work.
Codex Calixtinus is a marvellous witness to the political, social, cultural, religious, musical and intellectual fabric of the medieval world. "The Guide of the Medieval Pilgrim", offering vivid descriptions of the different towns and people, their customs, habitat, character, organization, linguistic manners, and its unique fusion of franco-hispanic elements, is a beautiful ethnographic lesson.
The music in the codex is a topic in itself and offers a wonderful snapshot of the state of music composition in the 12th century: the texts for St. James along with their accompanying monophonic tropes and sequences clearly illustrate how the liturgy was expanded and embellished for a new great feast day. The musical highpoint is its repertoire of polyphony; it includes the first known composition for three voices and serves as a vital bridge for the Notre Dame School. Without this repertoire our understanding of the birth and evolution of polyphony in the western world would be completely distorted.

When and how was it stolen?

"The Codex Calixtinus, which was kept in a safe at the cathedral's archives, is thought to have been stolen by professional thieves on Sunday afternoon. Archivists did not notice its disappearance, however, until Tuesday, when the cathedral's dean was told it was missing."

Jose Maria Diaz, dean of the cathedral, called the police after he and the archivist carried out a thorough search for the priceless manuscript.

According to a source who is familiar with the security in the cathedral, there were 3 keys in circulation one  key to the door which was left in the lock all day long. The Codex itself was kept in a wooden box on the table and covered with an embroidered cloth.

Urban legend

Almost every reference to the Codex, or the chapter in the manuscript known as the Book of St James, refers to it as the first Guide Book every written. The Guardian writes: " The manuscript, apparently commissioned by Pope Calixtus II, helped popularise a pilgrimage that still attracts tens of thousands of people every year."

Was it a guide book used by pilgrims over the ages?  No - it was not, but this hasn't stopped the it from becoming an urban legend.
Fox News: 
"The most well-known and most frequently translated of the five volumes is the last, which served as a guide for the medieval Way of St. James pilgrim and describes the route, its towns and cities, its people and customs and shrines that should be visited."

The stolen Codex, an original 12th c manuscript extolling the virtues of Saint James and Santiago was never used as a pilgrim guide and very few copies were ever made.

Jeanne Krochalis, an associate professor of English at Penn State’s New Kensington campus and an expert in paleography (manuscript study) worked on the original. The Santiago cathedral was rebuilt in the early 12th century by Bishop Diego Gelmírez, whom Krochalis and her coauthors call "the main proponent of Santiago’s glory. It was all Compostela propaganda, a statement that this was an important place. We assume that the design was to make lots and lots of copies of the Codex and disseminate them all over Europe. And that didn’t happen."
On the Road to Compostela” by: Nancy Marie Brown (Research/Penn State, Vol. 20, no. 2 (May, 1999)

Wiki will tell you that it is,  ' ...  a 12th century illuminated manuscript formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II, though now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. The principal author is actually given as 'Scriptor I'.

It was intended as an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. The codex is alternatively known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Book of Saint James. The collection includes sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and a most interesting set of polyphonic musical pìeces. In it are also found descriptions of the route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people."

For a more accurate a description visit Peter Robins' site at:
Peter Robins:  Only 12 copies are known, most Spanish (a complete copy of the Codex, as well as a fragment including chapters I-VII of the Guide, are in the British Library). None of these copies is in France, which seems to be the country it is primarily aimed at. Moreover, at no time does Book IV/V seem to have been copied separately from the rest of the Codex, which would have been the case if it were to have been used on a pilgrimage. After being compiled, it seems to have been taken to Santiago, where it was filed away and, apart from these dozen copies, forgotten about for 750 years when Father Fita produced his Latin edition, around the time of Leo XIII's Apostolic Letter confirming the identity of the recently excavated relics of St James. So, although it seems to have been written as a guide for pilgrims, it does not appear to have been used as such, and appears to have been completely unknown in what we now know as France until the 19th century."

Only one copy of the Pilgrim’s Guide was made during Gelmírez’s lifetime; it was sent, along with a bone from St. James’s jaw, to Bishop Atto in the North Italian city of Pistoia. The original was kept in Santiago for 200 years before being copied. The others were laboriously copied in the late 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The original was 'lost' once before, for centuries, and was rediscovered by Father Fidel Fita in 1886 - at the same time that the relics of St James were 'found' and authenticated after being lost for 350 years.

Of course, none of this matters - the Codex Calixtinus is a priceless medieval jewel and its loss is critical.

E.O. Pederson: 
Whatever its status and history as the first European travel guide, loss of the Codex is a cultural tragedy. One of the most important extant collections of medieval music, the Codex Calixtinus is a key document for students of musicology. Other materials contained in the stolen document are equally important for scholars in various fields of medieval studies. This theft is at least on a par with the theft of a first folio of Shakespeare from Durham University (see the fascinating display currently on view at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC) or the art works taken from the Gardiner Museum in Boston as one of the great crimes against the human patrimony committed against an institution devoted to preservation of that heritage.
One must hope the Codex Calixtinus is returned to the cathedral archive quickly and undamaged, and that it is not broken into pages then sold to unscrupulous dealers who in turn sell them to unethical collectors in a vast and, one hears hideously lucrative, illicit market for purloined works of art. Once in that market, documents tend to disappear forever. Should the document be irretrievably lost, there are at least good quality reproductions for scholars and pilgrims to see, though those can never convey the thrill of examining the original nor contain the possibility of discovery some new scholarly examination may uncover. Meanwhile the Cathedral needs to evaluate its security precautions, for its archive and treasury contain numerous other items of potentially great value in the illicit art market.

You can buy an English copy of the Bookj of St James from  or a replica of the Medieval manuscript from


  1. This is really sad news! They could just buy John Brierley's Guide, and then the info in their guide would be 800 years more up to date!

  2. Wow Sil, very sad. Thanks for sharing all that wonderful info about it.