Thursday, 25 February 2010

Hurricane Cluny

It must have been a bit of a shock when the king Alfonso VI began to import his wife Constance’s relatives from Burgundy almost lock, stock, and barrel and with them came a lot of Cluniac influence. Raimundo, who as we have seen married Alfonso’s daughter, Urraca, had close ties with Hugh, the powerful abbot of Cluny. Alfonso began to set up Cluniac houses in places such as Sahagun which was to become very powerful. Bernardo of both Auch and Cluny was consecrated as its bishop. He was later to become Bishop of Toledo, the Primate of Spain, and the most powerful churchman in the country. He was to become a constant thorn in Diego Gelmirez’ side.

In the meantime, Roman winds of change were speeding across the mountains and they spoke in French accents. Diego Pelaez, being bishop of Compostela, would have been expected to spearhead the new movement to replace the Visigothic (sometimes called the Mozarabic) Rite with the more “fashionable Roman” one. The chances are he did not like this at all; and neither did the nobles of Galicia. Galicia was no longer the undisturbed and inaccessible province it once was. It was about to become a small clerical outpost of France!

In the wings, the nobles muttered amongst themselves; the townspeople saw their established ways of worship about to be obliterated before a French onslaught.

And so without the need to draw a sword, through the mighty arm of the Order of Cluny, the Roman Catholic church swept all ecclesiastical opposition in its path and established itself across the length and breadth of the Peninsula, and thus achieved what the Moors never had: total dominion.

It is no surprise that the Gallego nobles, with their powerful connections to the Cathedral of Compostela, acted...and when it came, it was a surprise to all.
(See post Wednesday 18th November 2009 "The Bishop Rebels")

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Winds of Change...

In order to understand the history of Galicia, we have to consider it from a geographical point of view. For centuries traffic between Galicia and the rest of the peninsula to the east was limited by the access afforded by the pass at Piedrafita. The south, of course, was still considered the Kingdom of Galicia and not the Portugal it was to become.

This had the impact of isolating it in many ways. It is highly unlikely, for example, that any of the bishops had any contact with the Pope. It would not be practical or appropriate. Galicia followed the Visigothic Rite in the Mass not the Roman one and there were subtle differences; differences that the Gallegos were rather fond of.

The structure of the Visigothic Church was disrupted by the short lived Islamic invasion of the north west, but not for long. The memories survived in Gallego hearts and the Rite was revived and followed by all bishops up until the time of Diego Pelaez. Including Diego Pelaez, and that is an important point for our story.

Pelaez you will remember was consecrated by Sancho II, the about to be deposed and disposed of brother of Alfonso VI of Leon and Castille with whom by now, if you are a regular reader, you will be be becoming familiar.

It was an earlier Sancho, “the Great” who invited monks of Cluny to establish a monastery at San Juan de la Peña near Jaca, in Aragon. Richard Fletcher writes in St. James' Catapult that the Cluny monks were “expert at prayer for sin laden kings, and Sancho’s dynasty was to become very rich”.

We are left to make of this what we will.

In this the Order of Cluny gained an ecclesiastic foothold on Spanish soil as early as the first quarter of the 11th century. Aragon, however, is a goodly hike from Galicia (as many of you who have walked the lovely Camino Aragones will know), and the people of Galicia remained firmly entrenched in their Visigothic ways, with a bit of left over Priscillianism and pagan ways mixed in for good measure.

In the face of the Roman Church's hegemony, it was only a matter of time.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Pilgrim's Scallop Shell: A symbol of love...?

Today is Valentines Day. It also happens to be my birthday! The origin of St. Valentines Day and the saint's history are interesting in itself, but I thought I would look at another potential symbol for love: la concha, a vieira: the scallop shell.

There are many interpretations of the scallop shell as a symbol of the St. James' pilgrimage. We are told that, as the boat carrying the Apostle's body approached, a rider - sometimes a bridegroom - fell into the sea and emerged (through a miracle of St. James) covered in "vieiras". The scallop shell was also considered useful for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. It was the right size for gathering drinking water or for receiving scraps of food from the people along the way: a size so small that even the poorest could afford to give out of charity. It was also a symbol of the pilgrim him or herself, generally being worn on a "cockleshell" hat or sometimes sewn on the cape.

All this is all very well, but I have often wondered how pilgrims from say central Germany would have found such a shell. Perhaps there were itinerant shell sellers along the way. Perhaps I am a cynic...

It does make sense, however, if those walking on to Finisterre found their "badges of pilgrimage" at the end of their journey. This of course begs the question as to where the Camino de Santiago ends? The church would say at the Apostle's tomb; however, Compostela is many miles from the sea and shells would have been sold in the Azabachería just as they are today. But for the authentic Camino de las Estrellas experience, the pilgrim would have to journey on westward if s/he wanted to find a shell on the beaches of Finisterre or in the harbour where once they littered the sand.
So what about other options for the shell?

Rafael Lema in his wonderful book El Camino Secreto de Santiago, which I have just finished reading (slowly) claims a much earlier origin. And it is very convincing.

In Moraime on the Costa do Morte there was once a Benedictine monastery. Archaeological investigations have also found, on this site, remains of a Visigothic settlement, and a Roman necropolis. Amongst other things, two bronze scallop shells were discovered, dating from early Roman occupation of the Peninsula. They are evidence of the worship of Venus. This symbol, claims Lema, was converted into one of the Camino de Santiago, but its origins are clearly maritime, and pagan.

Along with the Venus Cult, the Romans, especially those from North Africa brought the Cult of Isis. Both are considered goddesses of love. The cathedral itself is built over a pagan site dedicated to Jupiter and I myself have seen, in a tiny church near Padron, a large stone marker on which the name of Mercury is inscribed. I have promised never to reveal where as the lady with the key didn't even know its significance but said that it must never go a museum. I agree.

The lines and grooves on the scallop shell are said to represent the meeting of all the roads to Santiago in Compostela; it is a nice image. However, the shell is also claimed to represent the setting sun; the rays off the horizon at the ends of the earth:

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Little Bit About Cluny (not George!)...

Pretty well everyone these days will have heard of the Knights Templar, those enormously wealthy and powerful knights who were arrested in France by Phillipe "Le Bel" and disbanded in the early 14th century.

But over two centuries earlier than the Templars, the most powerful religious order by far was the Monks of Cluny in Burgundy, France. Before the building of St. Peter's in Rome in 1505,the Abbey of Cluny was by far the largest ecclesiatic building in the known world.

Cluny Abbey was founded by William I, the Count of Auvergne in 910. He donated his hunting preserve for its lands and gave Cluny the very unusual privilege of releasing it from any further obligation to him, other than interceding on his behalf in prayer.

Normally, rich patrons who endowed monastic and religious communities expected at the very least to install their relatives as abbots and bishops, but William did not.

The Cluniacs followed the Order of St. Benedict and they were to produce several popes instrumental in the origins of the Cult of St. James, and Diego Gelmirez.

The Abbey was wealthy and the work was done by hired managers and workers instead of the brothers themselves which left them time to spend in almost constant prayer.

But despite vows of poverty, the monks enjoyed rich fare and fine wines on their tables and decorated their altars with cloth of gold and gemstones. There was nothing gloomy about Cluny.

The vast community required buildings to match. Ferdinand I of Leon-Castille, whom we have met before, personally donated a vast sum towards the abbey, and as if this were not enough, Alfonso VI doubled it in 1090. To set this in context, this would likely have been around the time that Diego Gelmirez left the cathedral school in Compostela and joined the court, to become Duke Raimundo's secretary a few years later.

Raimundo, you will remember, was French himself, from Burgundy. So was his relative Constance, the wife of Alfonso VI.

I am sure you can see where all this is leading to...