In the “Codex Calixtinus” the Camino is seen as the earthly replica of the Milky Way. According to the book, Charlemagne one night saw “a road of stars. It started at the Frisian Sea and led (...) to Galicia, where in that time the remains of the holy James rested without anyone knowing.” James himself then gives Charlemagne the task to liberate “my pilgrimage route (...), so that one (..) can visit my grave.”
Whether this is true or not, Charlemagne never got further than Zaragoza, from where he made his famous retreat via Roncesvalles.
Faith in holy places is of all times. For example, the Camino de Santiago follows an old road to Cabo Fisterra (= the Cape at the End of the World) which had already been used by the Celts. There the sun sets and both the underworld and the world of rebirth begin. According to some, the Celts in their turn followed an old star road, which led back to the lost kingdom of Atlantis.
In the Middle Ages many Christian pilgrims followed this old example, by walking on to Cabo Fisterra after Santiago de Compostela. This old tradition is followed by more and more pilgrims nowadays.
Also called: Liber Sancti Jacobi" (= the book of Saint James), The Codex, named after pope Calixtus II, dates from the 12th Century and is one of the oldest books about the Camino de Santiago. The Codex is said to have been written by the French monk Aymeric Picaud, in Asquins, at the foot of the Vézelay hill.
There is, of course, also a lot of attention for Saint James, the miracles he is supposed to have performed and the transportation of his remains to Galicia. The Codex also urges the pilgrims to behave themselves and curses anyone who wants to steal money from pilgrims, such as: dressed up priests, prostitutes, money changers and... certain innkeepers. Particularly the last part of the Codex is a practical travel guide for pilgrims. In this part, the four main roads through France and the road through Spain are described.
This is Spanish for Saint James. James (the Greater) was one of Jesus’ apostles. The Codex Calixtinus tells us that he used to preach in Spain. In later years, he returned to Jerusalem, where he died as a martyr. Supposedly, his body was then transported to Spain, where he was buried in the place which is known today as “Santiago de Compostela”.
It is described in the Codex how the grave was rediscovered in the 9th century. The news travelled quickly and Compostela became one of the most important pilgrimage destinations. Until then, the only European grave of an apostle could be found in Rome.
During the recapture (“Reconquista”) from the Muslims of present-day Spain, the peace-loving apostle was gradually assigned a new role, namely the role of knight in shining armour. His name became a battle-cry, his nickname “the Moor Killer” (Matamoros).
The conquest of Granada, in 1492, signified the end of the Reconquista. In that same year, America is discovered. The Spanish “conquistadors” (conquerors) continue their battles in the New World in name of their faith and Santiago. Several towns and villages are named after him in Central and South America.
After that, Santiago disappears into the background until… General Franco puts him forward as Spain’s patron saint during the Civil War.
The great revival of the Camino de Santiago, however, does not come about until the 1980s. By that time, Franco has died, Spain has become a democracy and the “Camino” – literally and figuratively, has become a movement of tens of thousands of people who take the road by their own choice: peacefully and with an open attitude towards others, irrespective of race, political conviction or faith.