Monday, September 10, 2012

Back from Santiago de Compostela

Codex Calixtinus

We're just back from Santiago de Compostela, a beautifully conserved yet lively town that any cultural visitor to Spain, or any devout Catholic, should see. We much preferred it to A Coruña. Indeed I would rank it up with Granada and Cordova. It's a Christian contemporary of both of them in a green corner of Spain that the Muslims never conquered.

I'd gone expecting to hear and see Galego, the regional language (rather than Gallego as I wrote in the previous post, which is the Spanish name for it). It hits you in the eye as soon as you enter the airport terminal at Santiago, in the form of saida, the Galego word for exit. So I was prepared for bilingualism (Galego and Spanish). What I was not prepared for was the multilingualism of the place. For a thousand years, Santiago has been an important place of international pilgrimage. For most of that time the pilgrims came only from Europe, entering Spain over the Pyrenees – I've done it myself over the Somport pass – or, as in the case of the British and Irish, by sea to the Cantabrian and Galician ports and thence on foot. Nowadays, however, they come from much further afield. We fell in with a retired engineer from Alaska. The genuine pilgrims, those who've walked the roughly 750 km of the Camino de Santiago (St James's Way) from France if they started from there, are recognisable instantly by their tanned bodies, sturdy legs and walking shoes, tall walking staffs and heavy backpacks. Their lingua franca is principally Spanish, but you hear many other languages as they talk among themselves. Besides them there are as many 'tourist pilgrims' like us who accompany them as they stride through the old town on the last lap to the spectacular cathedral. Hundreds of both kinds.

There's also Latin. Not any more in the church liturgy but in the fascinating Codex Calixtinus.
"The Codex Calixtinus is a 12th-century illuminated manuscript formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II,... 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.. 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.

"The book was stolen from its security case in the cathedral's archives on 3 July 2011 and retrieved almost exactly a year later on 4 July 2012."
Not surprisingly, it's now kept out of sight in a strongroom. The pilgrims for whom it was written as a guidebook were the tourists of the Middle Ages.

Across a wide square to one side of the cathedral is the Rajoy Palace, an imposing 18th-century building. It was intended for several purposes, notably to house visiting dignitaries, both religious and secular. Another purpose was to accommodate the lenguajeros (literally language men, i.e. linguists). These were priests whose job it was to listen to confession in foreign languages, confession being a religious duty that most of the laity couldn't perform in universal church Latin. They were therefore not professional linguists but clergy who happened to be bilingual. I came across an unexpected relic of the lenguajeros in today's cathedral. Along one wall of the nave from the transept to the main door there was a long row of confessionals, many of them manned and 'open for business' after the midday mass. Over the last two of them (the ones nearest the door) there was faded painted lettering:
Pro Linguis Italica et Gallica [For Italian and French] and
       Pro Linguis Germanica et Hungarica [German and Hungarian]

The linking of German with Hungarian was a sure clue that the signs dated from the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, prior to 1918.

Santiago de Compostela. The Wikipedia article is here.

The Way of Saint James. The Wilkipedia article is here.

Codex Calixtinus. The Wikipedia article is here.

Page from the Codex Calixtinus. Source:
Notice the regularity of the black-letter calligraphy. There are 225 double-sided folios.

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