Codex Calixtinus, or the tourist guide for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela

Codex Calixtinus, the precious 12th century guide for pilgrims heading towards Santiago de Compostela,  was stolen yesterday from the Cathedral of that Spanish town. Since Santiago (Saint James) had a very influential cult in the Middle Ages, his alleged tomb in Compostela became an extremely popular pilgrimage site for people from all over Europe – in fact, the third most important one after Jerusalem and Rome. Streams of devout people came walking (there were no cars or bikes back then!) the Way of Saint James  all the way from France, Italy, Poland,  Hungary to ask the Saint for a favor or as a penance. Quite a feat.

So Codex Calixtinus, an amazing manuscript with rich illuminations and beautiful writing (in Latin, of course, the lingua franca of the times), was born as a description of the cult and of the places through which a prospective pilgrim would pass. It warned of evil Basque toll-keepers and libidinous Guascons, of beautiful valleys and dangerous mountains. And of course, also of other saintly tombs along the way a pilgrim might just as well visit. Deep, funny or curious text that moves, mocks and tells some great stories. I have to admit, though, that most of the comments this guide has on the peoples along the route are pretty negative, reflecting the inhospitable realities pilgrims had to face not only in terms of nature but also local people.

In homage of this precious book, I am going to post some selections from the text. They are mostly from Chapter VII (dedicated to the lands and peoples on the road to Santiago).

***

Gascony

Indeed, having crossed this deserted region, one comes to the Gascon country, bountiful in white bread and excellent in red wine, healthy on account of its woods and meadows, rivers and pure springs. The Gascons talk much trivia, are verbose, mocking, libidinous, drunkards, prodigious eaters, badly dressed in rags and bereft of wealth; however, they are given to combat but are remarkable for their hospitality to the poor. Their custom is to sit around the fire and eat without the table, all drinking with one cup. They eat and drink liberally and are poorly dressed, and they all lie down together on a bed of dirty rotting straw – the servants with the master and mistress.

Navarre 

This is a barbarous race unlike all other races in customs and in character, full of malice, swarthy in color, evil of face, depraved, perverse, perfidious, empty of faith and corrupt, libidinous, drunken [and let’s skip the other items on this long list!]; in everything inimical to our French people. For mere nummus, a Navarrese or a Basque will kill, if he can, a Frenchman.

Galicia

Wooded and has rivers and is well-provided with meadows and excellent orchards, with equally good fruits and very clear springs; there are few cities, towns or cornfields. It is short of wheaten bread and wine, bountiful in rye bread and cider, well-stocked with cattle and horses, milk and honey, ocean fish both gigantic and small, and wealthy in gold, silver, fabrics, and furs of forest animals and other riches, as well as Saracen treasures. The Gallicians, in truth, more than all the other uncultivated Spanish peoples, are those who most closely resemble our French race by their manners, but they are alleged to be irascible and very litigious.

It’s clear the author is French and just as today’s French, very weary of other cultures 🙂

You can find the full edition of this manuscript on amazon. So sad the original is gone!

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