Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Things take an unexpected turn (as they do)...

(The photo is taken from the annual Festival of the Moros y Cristianos in Benamahoma, a village in Cadiz province which I love well and retreat to whenever I can. Pilgrimage to Heresy was edited there.)

In December of 1107 a council was convened in Leon. Urraca was confirmed as "Countess of Galicia" in her husband's place. Her father, Alfonso the king was still around but was bedridden and perhaps mentally impaired as well as physically incapacitated. This provided an excellent opportunity for the nobles with influence to exercise just that. Perhaps they reckoned without Urraca's strength (or should I say "womanly wiles?"), but I am getting ahead of myself.

Be that as it may, in the summer of 1108, events were about to endure a tragic turn of fate.

All hell broke loose on the frontier between the kingdoms and the increasing determination of the Moorish Almovarides. The Castillian army was despatched toute de suite to deal with this insurrection with the young Sancho - who was only 15 - at the head. And now the language must take a distinctly medieval turn because Sancho was "dealt a mortal blow".

Alfonso the king was devasted. The light of his aged eyes had been extinguished, perhaps because of a royal decision taken with overconfidence. The ailing king withdrew completely at a time when his kingdom had never needed him more. Clearly some decision had to be taken.

Duke Raimundo (whom Alfonso VI trusted) was dead. His cousin Henry (whom he did not and had reason not to) was married to Teresa, Urraca's illegitimate sister and both lorded it in Portugal. Between them they were a force of power and sedition to be reckoned with. Henry was treacherous. It seems that everyone in medieval times had their own agenda, and Henry and Teresa were no exception. Far from it.

Urraca the true heir (as we would see it today) was a woman, and well, no more need be said about that!

The Almoravides were pressing the frontier big time. The kingdom of Leon-Castilla needed a leader: a man of proven strength, military experience, and strategic capacity.

If the resumes were appearing on the desks of the royal counsellors, Alfonso I, the King of Aragon, called "El Batellador" must have swept all rival claimants into the wastebasket.

He was 36, never married (which in itself was unusual). Established as undisputed ruler of the kingdom of Aragon. He had a great reputation as a soldier and didn't seem to have a lot of time for women. There did not appear to be any illegitimate children scattered around Aragon. (I am tempted to come to a few conclusions here, especially in light of what follows, but I won't.)

Unfortunately, despite his immaculate CV, Alfonso the Battler wasn't well liked by the nobles of Leon, and especially Castilla.

Galicia, no doubt - and perhaps its bishop, Diego Gelmirez - trembled in its 12th century boots.
P.S. Comments also taking unexpected turns - of phrase in this case. I am wondering whether they are evidence of alien contact. Do see...

Thursday, 25 March 2010

"Ok, so who is going to be King then?"

It is all beginning to sound a bit Monty Pythonesque...

Urraca gave birth in Caldas del Reyes, and if you are planning to walk the Camino Portuguese you will pass through. My recommendation is that you don't. Pass through that is. As of the time of writing there is no albergue there, but, there are some wonderful spa hotels which are not expensive, and soaking in one of the hot pools (and a massage after) is a treat you have deserved. So enjoy. (Recommended: the Hotel Davila.)

It's also a beautiful little town with a Roman bridge. Check out the "other side" of the cross which stands beside it. You'll see something not seen anywhere else and you can look for it from here until well after Padron. An interesting area this in light of the Priscillianist "infestation". (Sic)

Anyway, back to my story.

We left off in 1105. Urraca's child has thrown a...forgive me...Spaniard in the Works. Where before there was no clear legitimate male heir to the throne, now there is and his name is Alfonso, known at that time as Alfonso Raimundez, the patronymic being after his father, Raimundo, Duke of Burgundy, whom we have already met.

Alfonso the king, while perhaps flattered that his grandson had been named after him, still intended to put his illegitimate son, Sancho on the throne. But events were about to unfold that would change all this, and history, forever.

It is interesting to posit what might have happened to the Spanish succession had this half-Moorish boy become king. But history has this nasty habit of being unpredictable and I'll leave that to the historians.

And why? Well, two reasons really.

In 1107 Duke Raimundo the "consort" of the Infanta Urraca was taken ill, and died.

That might not have made much difference to the succession as Sancho remained the Heir Apparent, but don't give up on me just yet.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Never too old to be a "Pilgrim": an inspirational story...

"Ireland surely breeds them tough!"

This entry was posted recently by my friend and fellow peregrina in South Africa, Sil, a.k.a. "Silly Doll".

Sil is far from Silly and is a regular poster on the pilgrim forum http://www.caminodesantiago.me
and has been since 2004.

I think that Sil is a wonderful example of how, no matter how far away you might be geographically, once you have made the Pilgrimage, it stays with you. She regularly posts updates on hiking the Camino - in practical ways and others - and related articles. I'm sure she won't mind my including this post here. Her own website is http://amawalker.blogspot.com. If you have been a pilgrim or intend to be - or even if it is just an, as yet, unrealisable dream for you - the Camino Forum is for you, Sil's own also carries some truly inspirational and practical insight. The Camino Forum, hosted by Norwegian and now Gallego trasplant, Ivar, is a wonderful introduction to the Camino. I post as Priscillian on the Camino Forum if you are interested.

Sil writes:

"Galway is mourning the loss of one of its most remarkable citizens after former Alasdar MacCana army captain and NUIG lecturer passed away last week. He would have been 102 years old on Tuesday.

The Oughterard centenarian earned acclaim last year when he completed a Certificate in Computing at Moycullen VEC at the age of 101 with a view to starting his own business.

He remained physically adroit and could regularly be seen walking from his home at Portacarron into the village of Oughterard. He travelled to Northern Spain with his son (who couldn't have been too young himself - Tracy) to complete the 100-mile Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage at the age of 97, covering ten miles a day over ten days. He recently turned his attention to studying Ancient Greek before he died at his home in Portacarron, Oughterard last Monday.

Alasdar had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and completed a computer course last year driven by an ambition to start his own business as an educational adviser. He had also started to learn Ancient Greek.

Described as a spiritual man of deep faith, Alasdar attributed his remarkable longevity to “everything in moderation” and habitually enjoyed cigars, a glass of red wine before dinner and a glass of whiskey before bed."

I was very moved by this story of Alasdar, especially as there are still some people out there who think that the Camino is just a "young person's thing". Rest assured, there are as many people in their middle age (and older: I tend to judge "Middle Age" differently with every year I approach...something different!) as there are pilgrims in their 20's, especially in the "off season".

What perhaps impressed me most about Alasdar was that at the age of 101, he thought to turn his skills and knowledge to a new career! As an Educational Consultant myself, I have to say: what an inspiration for all of us.

I hope one day to be just like him, but I might have to develop a taste for whiskey!

A friend of mine, years past, said to me: "Tracy, everyone is Irish or wants to be!" There may or may not have been alcohol involved...

It was St. Patrick's Day two days ago. A fellow teacher at the school I work at brought in Bailey's and Whiskey Cake for our break. The afternoon was quite laid back... I'd like to add to it in honour of Alasdar:

Here's to your coffin!
May your coffin have six handles of finest silver!
May your coffin be carried by six fair young maids!
And may your coffin be made of finest wood
from a 100-year-old tree,
that I'll go plant tomorrow!
(Traditional Irish Toast)

More on the 12th century soon, but this week, let's celebrate Today!


Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Boy who would be King?

Alfonso VI, king of Leon and Castilla, was growing old, and there was still no successor to the throne. Garcia, his youngest brother had died in prison in 1090 and his other brother, Sancho, was ancient history. His only legitimate child, with Constance of Burgundy, was the Infanta Urraca who as we have seen was married to Constance's relative Raimundo. He certainly would have had his eye on the throne.

Alfonso also had two illegitimate daughters, Teresa and Jimena, both by his mistress Jimena Muñoz. Teresa had married Raimundo's cousin, Henry of Burgundy who was recognised as "Count of Portugal" and the French contingent was well established. With them had come the influence of the Abbey of Cluny. But there was still no son to succeed Alfonso. Queens were not considered a viable option.

Raimundo's expectations were not without foundation. Alfonso had more or less promised him the kingship of Leon and Castilla with his bethrothal to the young Infanta. In fact, the Historia Compostelana - partisan as always - has the following to say:

"King Alfonso had caused him to come from Burgundy to Spain and had promised him all of his kingdom with a sworn oath."

Urraca had been so young at her marriage that there was no question here of a love match. The union was purely political.

Way back in 1091 - while Diego Gelmirez could only dream of greatness; and you can be sure he was - the city of Córdoba had fallen to the might of the conquering Moorish forces of the Almoravides. The widow of the governor, Zaida, took refuge first in Sevilla, but presumably didn't feel safe with her own people. She fled north and took refuge at the court of Alfonso. We learn that "her beauty and her plight softened the heart of the king, Alfonso", and we cannot discount that the promise of certain fortresses at the southern region of his kingdom would have also moved him in a more practical way. What is certain is that the elderly Alfonso's other southern regions were far from softened because in 1093, she gave birth to a son. He was called "Sancho".

This development changed everything. Sancho became the beloved of Alfonso's old eyes. The young prince was even given Toledo, now the capital in terms of centricity and power; and perhaps even more importantly, it was the site of the treasury.

This, not surprisingly put Count Raimundo's aristocratic nose more than a little out of joint!

Raimundo resented Alfonso's ambitions and Sancho's claims and he turned for assistance to the House of Cluny and in particular, Hugh, its very influential abbot.

Now having established such a firm hold in northern Spain, Cluny was not about to give it up to the fruits of a questionable Moorish liaison. The expansion of the Almoravide influence had cut off a good part of the kingdom's wealth and no longer could the king rely on the "Taifas": the tribute from the Moorish rulers of ther various disputed territories which before had been paid directly to the king.

Coffers which had previously subsidised the building of the vast Abbey of Cluny in France were now drying up and the Cluniac bishop must have had his concerns. What would become of his ambitious building programme? What would happen to the kingdom of Leon and Castille after Alfonso died? Would he partition his kingdom between Sancho, Raimundo and Henry of Portugal? Political instability would have meant disaster. Hugh was forced to take sides. Not surprisingly he went with the French contingent.

Raimundo had to do something to reclaim what he considered his "inheritance". Remember in these days women had little to say and Urraca would have been subject to Raimundo's - and naturally her father's - influence.

A secret agreement was made between the Burgundian cousins, Raimundo and Henry. A letter was sent to Hugh of Cluny which said that in gratitude of Henry's support for Raimundo, Henry would receive Portugal AND a share of the treasury of Toledo (remember - Sancho had been given this by his father). Raimundo in this way was clearly buying Henry off. No need to encourage more claimants than was necessary - cooperation was the best policy and allies were the best friends.

By 1107 - by which time Sancho was but 14 - it was very clear to all that he was Alfonso's heir.

But in the interim, Urraca had done something to gain the upper hand that was all women could do in those days: in the castle at Caldas del Rey in Galicia she gave birth to a son. His name was Alfonso. There was now a clear legitimate heir to the throne of Leon and Castille.

Whether Alfonso VI and Sancho liked it, or not, because of a male child clearly directly in the line of succession, things had become much more complicated than before!

What now?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

"El Pio Latrocinio"

The Historia Compostelana calls it, innocently, El Pio Latrocinio: “To Purify with Sacred Rights", but by any other name it was out and out theft!

Imagine this:

On the pretext of visiting various church holdings in and around the area, Diego and two of his canons, Diego and Hugo – who was one of the authors of the Historia Compostela – paid a visit to Giraldo, Bishop, the guardian of the saint’s shrine and the man responsible for the diocese of Braga. Needless to day, there were more in Gelmirez’ retinue than just the bishop and the canons and one author suggests that a few stone cutters may have been thrown in for good company...and an extra mule or two. Diego Gelmirez was received with cordiality and welcomed as a brother in Christ...

For several days Diego enjoyed the hospitality of the diocese, dining with his host in great splendour. Meanwhile, little by little, his partners in crime were removing the remains of not only San Fructuosus but also San Silvestre, San Cucufate and Santa Susana – who now is the co-patron of Santiago de Compostela along with San Roque (note: not Santiago who is the Patron of Spain)! Oh, and the head of St. Victor. Well, why not? While they were at it they also lifted several items thought to have been touched by Jesus Christ himself. It seemed they first worked on one church and the next night shifted their attentions to the next, and so on.

We can learn a great deal about Diego the man when we consider his “reasons” for this unholy theft: they were “not being taken care of properly”.

Yes indeed. Diego said that these would be better taken care of in the Cathedral of Santiago. The trouble was he said no such thing to San Giraldo. In fact he said nothing to him at all about the relics. He just made off with them! By night!

Needless to say, Diego didn’t stick around too long after the deed was done but rushed back to the safe side of the Miño at Tui as fast as he could. The Historia Compostela tells us in glowing imagery what Diego did when he was approaching Compostela. Being the consummate showman that he was, just southwest of the city near Milladoiro, Diego took off his shoes (and so of course did everyone else) and walked barefoot in Triumph into his city, bearing the relics in great splendour. He was welcomed with great joy from the people of the city - the HC tells us in glowing terms - knowing that with this added protection to the city which could only become the greatest site of pilgrimage (read business) in the known world (well almost but who is counting?). You’ve just gotta love it!

It was, of course, a moral outrage even though “legally” Diego had a right to “translate” (love this word from translatio!) the relics wherever he wanted and for whatever reason.

Giraldo wrote to the Pope. Urban wrote to Diego telling him to give his brother his toys back at once!

Diego ignored him.

Such is our hero. I look forward to telling you more of his exploits in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile if you would like a “sneak peak” at the prologue of “Compostela” do check out my website at http://www.pilgrimagetoheresy.com/compostela_the_stages_of_a_book_in_progress

Monday, 1 March 2010

An Unholy Theft

It’s been a long journey to get to this point since I began this history of the Cult of Santiago. We’ve taken a few detours and met many characters along the road. Now it’s time to take the way south, to Braga in what is now Portugal.

And to my favourite Diego Gelmirez story…

Churches are a network, or perhaps more accurately a hierarchy. A cathedral church will have certain properties, or "sufragens". The church of St. Fructuosus on the outskirts of Braga was just such a one.

It had been built by the saint himself and harboured his relics. However, the church had been granted to the Church of Santiago in 883, in the time of Alfonso III shortly before the consecration of the second cathedral in Compostela. Fructuosus held the same place in the hearts of the people of Braga as Santiago was to do in Compostela. There was no question though, I have to add, of the authenticity of THIS saint’s remains. Fructuosus surrounded himself after his death with his church and with his followers and believers. And they were many.

Diego Gelmirez, however, knew that to cultivate a Cult, if you will pardon the pun, one needs relics. He already had those of “St. James” (and he was about to make sure that the world knew it), but when it comes to relics, well you can never have too many can you? Diego had already visited Braga in 1092 and knew the monetary, um... spiritual attraction of the earthly remains of San Fructuosus. It was time, reasoned our bishop, to pay a visit to Braga and its bishop, Giraldo.

And so Diego conceived “a cunning plan”!