Saint James's Catapult:
The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez
of Santiago de Compostela

R. A. Fletcher
© R.A. Fletcher 1984
Used with permission of Oxford University Press


The Early History of the Cult of St. James

[53] By the middle years of the eleventh century pilgrims on their way to Compostela were a common sight on the roads of western Europe. To take an example at random, a donor to the monastery of Savigny, near Lyons, in 1046 could refer casually to the number of 'foreigners making their way to the shrines of the saints, whether to St. Mary or St. Peter, St. James or St. Gil'; that is, to Vézelay, Rome, Santiago de Compostela and Saint-Gilles-de-Provence.(1) Would Compostela have been included in this quartet of famous shrines if the Savigny charter had been drawn up a hundred, or even fifty years before 1046? Probably not. As we shall see, there was a surge in the popularity of pilgrimages as such, and of the pilgrimage to Compostela in particular, during the eleventh century. We shall examine in due course what sorts and conditions of people went on these journeys, why they undertook them, and how they thought that they profited from them. But before we turn to the men and women who made the journey we must look to the end to which their journeying tended.

The Historia Compostellana provides us with a summary of the legend of St. James the Greater as it was believed at Compostela in the lifetime of Diego Gelmírez. Two propositions are central to it: first, that St. James preached the gospel in Spain as well as in the Holy Land; second, that after his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Agrippa I his disciples carried his body by sea to Spain, where they landed at Padrón on the coast of Galicia, and took it thence inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.(2) Other embellishments were added later, but they need not concern us. Neither are we here concerned with the question of whether or not the [54] legend contains any grain of scientific historical truth. It need hardly be said that the story is in the highest degree unlikely. But our concern is not with what St. James and his disciples may or may not have done, but only with what later generations of Christians chose to believe.

Any enquiry into the early history of the cult of St. James in Spain must still take as its point of departure a masterly study by Louis Duchesne published nearly a century ago.(3) Gleefully bellowing gales of rational air about the dusty obfuscations of cherished Spanish mythology, Duchesne established once and for all that there is no sign whatsoever that during the first six centuries of the Christian era anyone believed that St. James had either preached or been buried in Spain. Research conducted since his day has unreservedly endorsed Duchesne's findings. So far, so good. But when we advance beyond the sixth century we enter at once a thicket of highly problematical texts. Their origins are often obscure, their testimony not easy to interpret, and their historical value debatable. However, they are important for us. No enquirer may shirk the task of trying to thread a path through them.

The earliest, probably, is a short tract known as the Breviarium Apostolorum.(4) It is a list of the apostles, giving details about where they preached, how they met their deaths, where they were buried and when their feasts were celebrated. The version which circulated in western Europe was a Latin translation and amplification of a Greek original. The editor of the Latin version seems to have been a western divine who wanted to show that not all the apostles had restricted their labours to Italy, the eastern Mediterranean provinces of the Roman empire and the lands beyond the [55] eastern imperial frontiers. To this end he brought Philip to Gaul and James to Spain. For him, James the son of Zebedee preached the gospel in Spain but was not, be it noted, buried there. When and where the Latin Breviarium originated we cannot say. It would seem to have been a seventh century production. In England it was known to Aldhelm (d 709), in Spain it was cited by Julian of Toledo in about 686, though he chose, most interestingly, to disregard the connection it postulated between St James and Spain (a point on which Duchesne laid great stress.).

It may have been as early as Julian's day that a writer who knew the entry in the Breviarium concerning St James interpolated a short passage about the apostle into the treatise known as De ortu et obitu patrum, attributed, probably incorrectly, to Isidore of Seville. He too believed that St James had preached the gospel 'to the peoples of Spain and the western places, at the world's edge', but he too was emphatic that James had not been buried in Spain.(5) Spanish symptoms in the earliest manuscript tradition (which is south German) have led the foremost modern authority to suggest that the interpolated passage was composed in Spain or Septimania at some point before c.750.(6)

Our next two witnesses may be located with certainty in the Iberian peninsula; furthermore, we can satisfactorily date their testimony. A hymn in honour of St. James was composed somewhere in the Asturian kingdom of northern Spain, and an acrostic formed from the first letters of its sixty lines dates it to the reign of king Mauregato (783-8).(7) The author clearly believed that St. James had preached in Spain, though he had nothing to say about the apostle's place of burial. Noteworthy too, and a theme to which we shall return, is that for the first time the cult of the saint is [56] associated with a king. At about the same time the monk Beatus of Liébana composed a celebrated commentary on the Book of Revelation. Beatus is remembered for the stand he took on the orthodox side in the controversy over the heresy of Adoptianism. His commentary was in part a by-product of that dispute. It is a work well-known to art-historians owing to the survival of a large number of manuscripts dating from the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries furnished with illustrations of startling beauty.(8) In the prologue to Book II Beatus listed the apostles and the regions where they preached in a passage which depends upon either the Breviarium or the interpolated De ortu et obitu patrum. Moreover, he referred to the illustration which accompanied this passage in his autograph manuscript. The illustrative scheme which survives with remarkable consistency in the extant, later manuscripts descends therefore from the scriptorium of Beatus himself. One family of manuscripts, that classified by Neuss as IIb, contains at this point in the text an illustration of the twelve apostles with captions to tell the reader where they preached. Thus, in the manuscript now at Gerona, which was copied in 975 perhaps in or near León, we find the apostles depicted at fo. 52v-53r; the fourth figure from the left is captioned Iacobus, Spania.(9)

It is from the following century that we have our first evidence for the belief that the apostle's tomb was in Spain. It is contained in the Martyrology of Usuard of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was completed about 865.(10) Usuard had travelled in Spain, and it is likely that he had picked up his information about St. James while he was there. He listed St. James's feast-day on 25 July, noted the circumstances [57] of his martyrdom, and continued thus 'his most holy remains were translated from Jerusalem to Spain and deposited in its uttermost region (in ultimis finibus), they are revered with the most devout veneration (celeberrima veneratione)by the people of those parts'.  Thus we now have trustworthy evidence for the presence of what were believed to be the relics of the saint in the extreme north west of Spain, and for the existence of a cult there. It is time to turn our attention to Santiago de Compostela.

Remains which were believed to be those of St. James were discovered at Compostela in the first half of the ninth century. Of this we may be certain, but of little else besides. Compostelan tradition placed the discovery of the saint in the time of king Alfonso II (791-842) and of bishop Theodemir of Iria. Theodemir's predecessor Quendulfus was still alive in 818.(11) Bishop Theodemir died on 20 October 847. The discovery therefore occurred between 818 and 842: we cannot date it more precisely than this.(12) The bishop's death can be dated with a precision all too rare in the history of ninth-century Spain because it was inscribed on his sarcophagus, which was discovered in the course of excavations some years ago. What is particularly interesting about the bishop's tomb is its whereabouts. The sarcophagus was found during excavations beneath the nave of the existing cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The bishop had chosen to be buried not in or near his own episcopal church of Iria but rather at the site where the resting-place of St. James had been revealed. Even had we no other evidence to go on, the site of Theodemir's tomb would alone permit us to infer that the place which was to become known as Santiago de Compostela was already, in his day, a specially venerated holy place; as Usuard's testimony of some twenty years later confirms.

It is possible that the site had been venerated at, or from, a considerably earlier date. So much is suggested by the results of archaeological excavations which were conducted beneath the cathedral of Compostela in 1878-9 and again [58] between 1946 and 1959. These excavations were ill-conducted, ill-recorded and ill-published. Any conclusions drawn from them must be tentative. Yet their results are, at the least, suggestive.(13) The more recent series of excavations took place beneath the nave and transepts of the cathedral. A large number of human burials was revealed. They lacked grave-goods and were aligned on an east-west orientation. Some of the burials, probably the later ones in the series, were covered by grave-slabs of local granite. These slabs could be roughly dated by association with similar slabs from early Christian sites in Galicia, some of which bear dated inscriptions, to the period between c. 400 and c. 650. The nineteenth-century excavations took place further to the east, under the sanctuary of the existing cathedral. Unhappily these were unscientifically conducted and far from adequately recorded. Antonio López Ferreiro, canon of Compostela and later her incomparable historian, himself took part in them and has left us a usable account of what was found. López Ferreiro described the discovery of the remains of a structure which irresistibly recalls an early Christian cella memoriae or martyrium. The foundations of a rectangular stone enclosure or building were disclosed, whose overall measurements were 6.4 metres (East-West) by 4.7 metres (North-South). It had been divided internally into two parts of unequal size by a partition wall running North-South. This wall was interrupted in the middle by an aperture giving access from the smaller western chamber into the larger eastern one. The eastern chamber was paved in mosaic, the western in brick tiles (? opus signinum): it would seem therefore that the western chamber was of lesser importance than the eastern, as it were an atrium leading to a place of special significance. At the centre of the eastern chamber was a rectangular pit, lined with stucco and covered with [59] slabs of marble. It contained no human remains. (There is some reason for supposing that the mortal remains of the patron saint were abstracted from an earlier resting-place in the sixteenth century and re-buried beneath the apse of the cathedral) The emplacement for some fixture, conceivably an altar, was discovered beside the pit. Here then we seem to have a shrine of some kind which attracted the devout to be buried near it. The constructional details, in particular the use of mosaic, permit it to be dated in the Roman or immediately post-Roman period. Its Christian character cannot be established with absolute certainty, but the series of apparently Christian burials near by which seems to start about, very approximately, the year 400 at latest, renders it very likely that the shrine was a Christian one.

We seem to be confronted by a phenomenon not uncommon in the early Christian archaeology of Europe: the grave of some holy man or men which attracted adherents of the cult to be buried near by; a celia memoriae or martyrium, with burials ad tumbas. There are plenty of analogies scattered from Syria to Ireland. It is worth noting in this context that most scholars are now agreed that the place-name Compostela is derived from late Latin componere, 'to bury', compositum > compostum, 'burial', with diminutive suffix -illa > -ela, 'little cemetery'.

In the light of the foregoing (if light it may be called), a recent suggestion deserves serious consideration. At the end of his fine study of Priscillian, Dr Henry Chadwick cautiously raised the possibility that the heretic Priscillian might himself have been the holy man whose tomb was venerated at Compostela.(14) Priscillian may have been a native of Roman Gallaecia. After his execution at Trier in 385 his disciples brought his body back to Spain for burial, where it was reverenced as the relic of a martyr. Oaths were sworn at his tomb, miracles sought and perhaps claimed. The centre of his cult appears to have been somewhere in Galicia, and it was certainly in Galicia that Priscillianism survived to trouble orthodox churchmen such as Hydatius, Turibius of Astorga and Martin of Braga throughout the [60] fifth and sixth centuries, even possibly into the seventh. It would be ironic indeed if the shrine of St. James did and does in reality shelter the mortal remains of the first schismatic and heretic ever to be executed by the secular authorities at the instance of orthodox Christian churchmen. This piquant --  and of course highly speculative --  possibility aside, what is tolerably clear is that an early Christian holy place existed at Compostela and that it was attracting devotion until at least the early seventh century. From there to the time of bishop Theodemir is a mere two hundred years. It is not impossible that the memory of such a cult, or even manifestations of it that have left no archaeological trace, should have persisted through this intervening period.

Of the circumstances in which the early cult site was rediscovered by bishop Theodemir in the ninth century we know next to nothing. The two surviving accounts of the discovery date, in the form in which we have them, from the latter part of the eleventh and the early part of the twelfth century.(15) It is doubtful whether much trust may be reposed in these late and meagre narratives. What we should like most of all to know is why Theodemir was convinced that the relics discovered were those of St. James. We have already seen that the Christians of northern Spain were interesting themselves in St. James in the latter part of the eighth century. Is there any trace at all of a cult of St. James in Spain before then -- and in particular before the Islamic conquest? For long it was thought that none existed, until, about a generation ago, an archaeological discovery at Mérida brought about a reversal of accepted views. An inscribed stone was found which recorded the dedication of a church in honour of St. Mary and stated that the relics of a number of other saints had been deposited beneath the principal altar: these saints included St. John the Baptist, St. Stephen, St. Paul, St. John the Evangelist, St. James, St. Julian, Sta Eulalia, St. Tirsus, St. Genesus and Sta Marcella.(16) [61] Although that part of the inscription which bore the dating clause had been damaged, there is some likelihood that the date had read ERA DCLXV, that is AD 627. Whether or not this is so, what is quite plain is that the dedication stone dates from the Visigothic period. Here then are relics of one of the saints named James present in seventh-century Spain, and where there are relics there is a cult.(17)

It has long been recognized that certain cults moved northwards in the eighth and ninth centuries, as their adherents fled from Islamic domination towards the security of northern Spain or Francia, taking their relics with them. We should bear in mind that Islamic rule in the Asturias and Galicia was short-lived: it lasted for only about a generation. Arab chroniclers furnish an account of the siege and conquest of Mérida in 712-13, probably based on a document which recorded the terms of surrender, which tells us that some of the Christian inhabitants had fled to the north, leaving their churches in Mérida deserted. Sta Eulalia was of course Mérida's own saint, and a very powerful patron she was in the sixth and seventh centuries, as the Vitas sanctorum patrum emeretensium vividly shows us.(18) Her body is now held to repose not in Mérida but in Oviedo, so a translation must have occurred at some point. Oviedan tradition, represented by bishop Pelayo in the early twelfth century, held that the translation took place during the reign of king Silo (774-83). Pelayo's reputation for historical veracity is at best a tarnished one, but we have no means of showing that he was wrong; and there are indeed some independent indications that, even if he got the date wrong, a translation of Eulalia's relics to Oviedo did occur late in the eighth or early in the ninth century. Or take a different saint from a different city. The Visigothic kings of the seventh century had vigorously promoted the cult of [62] Sta Leocadia whose relics rested in Toledo. In the early ninth century Alfonso II built an elaborate church in her honour in his royal city of Oviedo. Comparable early medieval practice elsewhere suggests that it would be very unlikely indeed for a royal foundation of this scale to have been unfurnished with relics of the saint in whose honour it was built. It is likely that the relics of Sta Leocadia had made their way northwards from Toledo to Oviedo.(19) One last example will drive the point home. The Galician monastery of Samos was refounded and dedicated to St. Julian -- whose name features on the Mérida dedication stone -- by abbot Argericus between 842 and 850: Argericus was an immigrant from the Muslim south.(20)

The principal line of communication from south to north on the Atlantic side of the peninsula was the great Roman road which ran from Mérida by way of Salamanca and Astorga to Lugo. If we are prepared to trust some notoriously controversial evidence, we may discern by its fitful light a group of travellers who made their way (in all probability) up that road during the first half of the eighth century. Their concerns are not without interest to our enquiry. The evidence is contained in a group of charters associated with the name of Odoario, bishop of Lugo from c. 740 until c. 760. These charters present formidable problems. None of them survives in its original form: they are copies, variously of the tenth, eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The lands with which they deal are in or near Lugo: all were the subject of litigation in the eleventh or later centuries. We should expect to find that their texts have been tampered with, and all historians who have examined them are agreed that this has occurred. Disagreement arises over the extent of the tampering. Are these documents, at one extreme, outright forgeries of a much later period? or are they, at the other, fundamentally authentic eighth-century texts which have undergone only minor touchings-up later on? These questions, [63] all too familiar to the student of early diplomatic, cannot be answered with confidence. This is not the place to attempt a thorough examination of the charters. Let us simply agree to look on them with a kindly eye while tracing the story told by the two most important for our purposes, which I shall call the Odoario charter and the Meilán charter.(21)

The Odoario charter, which happens by a stroke of good fortune to be the least unreliable of the series, purports to have been issued by the bishop himself. It opens with a narratio cast in the form of an autobiographical fragment. I was consecrated a bishop in Africa, he tells us. There came a time of Muslim persecution of Christians: they were deprived of their property and reduced to slavery and their churches were destroyed; some, including myself, were expelled from their native land. We (for at this point he shifts into the first person plural) remained in exile for a long time, during (?) the time of Pelayo until (?) the reign of king Alfonso. (The very corrupt text is unfortunately well-nigh incomprehensible in its references to time at this point.) Then we went to Lugo, which we found uninhabited. Now we are working to rebuild the city, to construct the church of St. Mary there and to restore agricultural life near by. There seems to be a kernel of historical truth, or at least plausibility, in the bishop's story. The Christian communities of north Africa did experience persecution in the second decade of the eighth century. Pelayo, first ruler of the Asturian principality, is said to have exercised power between 718 and 737; Alfonso I ruled from 737 until 757. The Berbers who had been settled at and near Lugo abandoned the region in about 740 at the time of their revolt against the Arab and Syrian Muslims of the south. It is unlikely that all these facts would have been known to whoever at Lugo put together the Odoario charter in the form in which we have it, at some point in the tenth century. It is a pity that the bishop does not tell us where he spent his exile. The implication is that it was in southern Spain.

[64] Bishop Odoario went on to record the arrangements he had made for the resettlement of a number of places near Lugo. At three of them he had caused churches to be built, and had dedicated them. At Bocamaos the church was dedicated to St. Julian, at Mazoy to Sta Eulalia and at Meilán to St. James: three saints, it will be noticed, whose names feature in the Mérida inscription. At this point the Meilán charter takes up the story. It runs in the name of a certain Avezano, already identified in the Odoario charter as one of the bishop's followers. Avezano tells us that, with his wife and sons, he came from Africa and settled in Galicia. Under the authority of Alfonso I he resettled various places in the neighbourhood of Lugo. At one of these places, which he calls by his own name (villa Avezani) but which may be identified as Meilán, he built a church in honour of St. James. He provided it with endowments in land and livestock, and gave its clergy vestments, plate and books. It was consecrated by bishop Odoario.

At this point we may pause. It is regrettable, but inevitable given the nature of the evidence, that a discussion so laborious should have issued, thus far, in findings so frail and so ambiguous. However, if we cannot establish certainties, we can state plausibilities. Before we proceed further some sort of summary of suggestions is in order. There was evidently a Christian cult-site of early type at what is now Santiago de Compostela. The archaeological evidence suggests that the cult was focused upon the shrine of some unknown holy man and that it was active from the late or sub-Roman period down to the early seventh century. At about the time that the archaeological evidence at Compostela appears to peter out we have our first secure indication of a cult of one of the saints named James at Mérida in southern Spain. At about the same time, again, some western churchmen were beginning to claim that the apostle St. James the Greater had preached in Spain. The claim, apparently unknown to Isidore, seems to have been rejected by Julian of Toledo. Then came the Islamic invasion and conquest of Spain. From the ensuing wreckage of Visigothic Christian culture, certain saints' cults (among other things) were salvaged. The movement of these cults from south to north, [65] and sometimes the physical translation of relics, is reasonably well documented. We can even discern a little, albeit through a glass darkly, of the travels and tribulations of one party of refugees. We have a plausible context -- and it would be rash to pitch it more strongly than this -- in which to place a northward drift of devotion to St. James. Towards the end of the eighth century, courtly and monastic circles in northern Spain were displaying interest in St. James. And then the miraculous intervenes. The early Christian site is rediscovered: a tomb is revealed at the ends of the earth. Men believe it to be, know it to be, the tomb of St. James. A bishop chooses to be buried there, and not long afterwards a writer in distant northern Francia can refer to a celeberrima veneratio. In the present state of our knowledge this is as far as we may go.

We must now return to the hymn in honour of St. James composed in northern Spain between 783 and 788. We do not know why it was composed, let alone by whom. Could it possibly have been written for the occasion of the dedication of a church to St. James? Be that as it may, it is in this hymn that we encounter for the first time the association of a king, Mauregato, with the cult of St. James. But it does not seem to have been a specially close association. St. James is 'the shining golden head of Spain' (caput refulgens aureum Ispanie); he is 'possessed of Spain' (potitus Ispania). He is the guardian and patron (tutor, patronus) 'to us' (nobis), that is to Christian Spaniards in general, not simply to king Mauregato. Similarly, St. James is a 'mild shepherd' (mitis pastor) not merely to the king but also to the clergy and the people. The acrostic which enables us to date the hymn is a prayer on Mauregato's behalf addressed not to St. James but to God. The king's relationship with the saint was not a particularly intimate one and certainly not an exclusive one.

The same may be said of Alfonso II, in whose reign the resting-place of St. James was revealed. A royal charter of 4 September 829 has survived in a twelfth-century copy, purporting to be a grant of privileges to the apostle's church: but it is manifestly spurious. Later Compostelan tradition held that Alfonso II built there not only a church in honour [66] of St. James but two further churches, two monastic houses and a wall to surround the whole complex.(22) This report must be treated with the greatest caution. The church of St. James is all that we may be sure about. Our only indication of what it was like is contained in a document of 899 drawn up at the time of the consecration of the church which replaced it, that is the church known as Compostela II built by Alfonso III. We learn from this that Alfonso II's church had been small and poorly built, of rubble puddled in clay.(23) Perhaps we should make some allowance for the understandable desire to magnify the splendour of Alfonso III's church by stressing the simplicity of its predecessor. But there is no good reason for rejecting the report out of hand. Alfonso II's church seems then to have been a modest little affair. It would therefore have been in marked constrast, in both size and quality of construction, with the buildings with which the king had embellished his urbs regia of Oviedo -- an architectural ensemble which in conception if not in scale may be compared with the works undertaken by Charlemagne at Aachen.(24) The same contrast greets us when we consider the endowments of the church of Compostela. The forged charter of 829 apart, we can trace only one grant of property by Alfonso II to the church of St. James, referred to in an undated precept of Alfonso III.(25) Of course, there may have been other grants of which record has been lost. But the care with which the early charters of Compostela were preserved -- of which we shall have something to say in a later chapter -- renders this unlikely. The church of Oviedo on the other hand -- though here too the early charters present extremely knotty problems -- was magnificently endowed by Alfonso II.

The record of Alfonso II's two successors was no more striking. Ramiro I (842-50) continued and extended the [67] building programme of Alfonso II in the Asturias. Oviedo and Naranco were the royal centres from which he ruled. A very late source, from Muslim Andalusia in the thirteenth century, tells a story of the poet al-Ghazal's embassy to the Vikings (of Ireland?) in about 845, on the way back from which he called at Santiago 'with a letter from the king of the Vikings to the ruler of that city'.(26) This might, just possibly, indicate that Ramiro I sometimes used Compostela as a royal residence; but it would be most unwise to repose much trust in such evidence as this. At a much later date it was believed that Ramiro I had been assisted by St. James to win a victory over the Moors at Clavijo in 844, in gratitude for which the king was supposed to have lavished upon the church of Santiago de Compostela the right to certain categories of annual tribute paid by all the dwellers within Christian Spain. But the story is without historical foundation. The battle of Clavijo was fought not in 844 but in 859, and its victor was Ordoño I, not Ramiro I; the diploma of Ramiro I by which the privilege was granted is a forgery of the mid-twelfth century; and the legend of the apostle's assistance, however interesting the light it may cast on what the men of the twelfth century wished to believe, tells us nothing at all of the ninth.(27) As for Ordoño I (850-66), he showed no more interest in St. James than had his father Ramiro. The charter for Compostela that bears his name and purports to be a confirmation and amplification of Alfonso II's charter of 829, is, like the earlier one, a later forgery.(28)

The ninth-century evidence suggests that the Asturian kings down to and including Ordoño I were not greatly interested in St. James. A small church, meanly built, with modest endowments: it is an unimpressive record. All this was to change very suddenly in the latter part of the century. [68] It is an easy matter to identify the agents of change. They were Alfonso III, who reigned from 866 to 910, and Sisnando, bishop of Iria from 880 (at latest) until 920.

In early medieval Europe saints' cults did not simply happen: they were made. Perhaps that statement is too sweeping. It would a little refine and qualify it if we were to say that small-scale, local and popular cults might be transformed if influential people were persuaded that it was in their interests to show devotion to one, or several, saints' shrines. In western Francia the shrines of St. Martin at Tours, St. Denys near Paris, and St. Remigius at Rheims mattered to the Merovingians and the Carolingians in ways that the shrines of other saints did not. This was partly because the clergy who were the guardians of these shrines had taught their rulers that certain directions and forms of devotion were expected of kings who hoped to live long, father children, defeat their enemies, win land and booty, attract followers and perhaps above all be remembered; partly because kings looked to holy protectors, saintly companions, the more readily when these saints were, in a sense, theirs-and no one else's. The cult of a saint could, thus, be influential in moulding a kingdom. When in the sixth century king Leovigild made Toledo his capital city it was under royal influence that a new cult was promoted. It is clear that the cult of Sta Leocadia mattered to the later Visigothic kings, though it is hard to find words in which to say why it did so which will carry meaning and conviction to a twentieth-century understanding. Being protected by Leocadia, showing reciprocal devotion for Leocadia -- more jealous protection than she showed for anyone else, more lavish devotion than anyone else could show for her -- were two sorts of activity which were inseparable from other sorts of kingly activity which took place in Toledo: legislating, striking coin, presiding over church councils, commissioning sculptors and goldsmiths to fashion wonderful works of art -- to name just some of the things we happen to know about. Like many rulers of Spain before and since, Leovigild wanted to persuade his nominal subjects that Spain was one country, ruled by one king, from one place, under one law. Leocadia's was a royal cult in a [69] royal city. She could make a king more imposing, perhaps more powerful.

The Asturian kingdom in the ninth century was different in several obvious and important ways from its Visigothic precursor. But its kings wanted it to look as Gothic as possible. If when we try to imagine what ninth-century Oviedo was like it is with such places as Aachen or Pavia or Winchester that we most readily compare it, we must remember always that it is of Visigothic Toledo that we are meant to be thinking. 'He established at Oviedo, both at court and in the church, all the ceremonial (ordinem) of the Goths, just as it had existed in Toledo.' The words are those of a chronicler writing in the 880s about Alfonso II.(29) Unlike their contemporaries in western Francia or Wessex, the Asturian kings issued no legislation. They did not need to, because they had made their own the great Visigothic codifications of the seventh century. Like the Gothic kings, too, they wanted a saint of their own. Their choice fell on St. James. His cult was deliberately fostered and promoted by Alfonso III and bishop Sisnando. We know just enough about them to be able to see how they did it.

Alfonso III was a very generous benefactor of the church of St. James. Among his earliest gifts was a processional cross of gold, elaborately worked and studded with precious stones, a copy of the famous 'Angel Cross' (Cruz de los Angeles) presented by his ancestor Alfonso II to the church of Oviedo. This Compostela cross was stolen in 1906 and has never been recovered, but photographs of it survive and it was described by López Ferreiro.(30) It bore an inscription recording that it had been given to Santiago by Alfonso III and queen Jimena in 874, and continuing: Hoc signo vincitur inimicus. Hoc signo tuetur pius.These words recall, as they were surely intended to do, the vision of Constantine and his victory at the Milvian Bridge. They may have had a special relevance in the 870s. On the death of Ordoño I a certain [70] Froila, count of Galicia, had claimed the throne in opposition to Alfonso III. Froila did not last long but for a short time he had been very dangerous. His bid had started in Galicia, but he had evidently taken possession of Oviedo, for it was by 'the senate of Oviedo' (a senatu Ovetensi) -- whateverthese words may mean -- that he was slain. Alfonso, meanwhile, had fled eastwards into Alava. Now we also happen to know that count Froila had deprived the church of Santiago de Compostela of some landed property, for it was restored by Alfonso III in January 867, which must have been very soon after Froila's death.(31) In other words, St. James had been on the side of the rightful, or at least the victorious, claimant. He was a patron worth having. The cross was a mark of gratitude.

Alfonso III vastly increased the landed endowments of the church of St. James. The extent of his generosity may be most vividly apprehended in a diploma dated 6 May 899, a sort of pancarte confirming all the properties of the apostle on the occasion of the consecration of his new church.(32) Two points about these grants are significant. First, that certain of them were conveyances of estates which had been forfeited by men who had rebelled against the king;(33) and second, that others were grants of land in territories recently conquered by the king from the Moors.(34) The preambles to these charters, which deserve attentive scrutiny, testify to the intimacy of relationship between king and saint. St. James's intercession protects Alfonso III from rebels and helps him to enlarge his kingdom. St. James is the king's patronus; he promises 'an ample recompense' (remuneratio copiosa) to the king his servant; he is the giver of victory over the king's enemies.(35)

It is well to bear in mind that St. James was not the only saint whom Alfonso III could regard as his patron. Facundus and Primitivus, the saints of his new monastic foundation [71] Sahagún on the plain of León, were also for him 'very powerful patrons' (fortissimi patroni).(36) Due allowance being made for this, however, the links forged between king and apostle to which the royal charters testify were formidable. It was Alfonso III, again, who together with bishop Sisnando rebuilt St. James's church at Compostela. Not only was this, as we have seen, a bigger and better church than that erected by Alfonso II: it was also bigger than any other of the several surviving buildings which may be attributed to the patronage of Alfonso III.(37) Basilican in form, its nave about eighty feet long, with arcades giving on to side-aisles, and a rectangular apse, it was decorated with marble and sculpture (petras marmoreas, columnas sculptas, columnelis marmoreis) brought by sea from sites in Portugal of (presumably) the Roman or Visigothic periods: thus in yet another way St. James profited from Alfonso III's wars of conquest.(38) The consecration in 899 was attended by no less than seventeen bishops, one of them from far-off Zaragoza. The relics of numerous saints were deposited there: these included, we note with interest, relics of Sta Eulalia and Sta Leocadia.(39)

We possess one further testimony to Alfonso III's promotion of the cult of St. James which, if genuine, is a document of the utmost importance for its early history. It takes the form of a letter addressed by the king to the clergy of Tours in 906. If genuine: for it has generally been regarded with scepticism by modern historical scholarship. I believe it to be authentic. However, lest a chapter already bearing a heavy freight of technicality be overloaded with anxious hesitations, I have relegated discussion of it to an appendix, and shall proceed here on the assumption that it is indeed what it purports to be.(40) The letter concerns Alfonso III's [72] negotiations with the clergy of Tours for the purchase of what he refers to as an imperial crown (corona imperialis). He proposes that the transaction be mediated through the offices of the count of Bordeaux in the coming month of May 906. He goes on to request a copy of any book available at Tours relating the posthumous miracles of St. Martin. In return he can provide the community there with a copy of a work little known (he believes) outside Spain, devoted to the bishops of Mérida. (That is, the Vitas sanctorum patrum Emeretensium, which we have already met; and we should note in passing the interest of the passage of this hagiographical text from Mérida to the north-west.) They have asked him, he continues, who the apostle is whose tomb is venerated in Galicia; let them know that it is James the son of Zebedee. This is attested by many reliable texts (multae veridicae historiae); and miracles are worked at his shrine. He closes by indicating exactly where the centre of the cult is to be found; at the place we know today, though the king gives it no name, as Santiago de Compostela.

Alfonso III's letter to the clergy of Tours furnishes us with an account of what influential people in northern Spain believed about St. James in the early years of the tenth century. It shows us how closely the king was associated with the cult. Its reference to miracles worked at the tomb suggests that the resting-place of St. James was already the goal of pilgrims; in the following chapter we shall encounter evidence which demonstrates that this was indeed so. It refers, rather vaguely, to the existence of a literature bearing on the martyrdom of St. James and the translation of his remains to Galicia. It provides evidence that the cult was not widely celebrated, or even known, outside Spain. Perhaps most interestingly of all, the letter implies that the king and his circle would like to know more about the workings of the cult of St. Martin. The power of St. Martin is made manifest in his miracles -- of course it is; so too the power of St. James. Martin's miracles have been recorded in writing (so the king has heard rumour); there is no evidence in the letter to suggest that James's have been similarly given permanent memorial. The king would like to know more. His is the letter of a man who is still something of [73] a beginner in this business of shrine-promotion; who is eager to learn from experts. What better mentors could he have picked on? The king's letter reinforces the argument deployed in this chapter, that the growth of the cult of St. James at Compostela was tended, principally, by Alfonso III and his bishop Sisnando.

This is one way of making the growth of the cult of St. James intelligible to us. But this line of approach carries in its train a difficult question; which may best be stated thus: the Asturian kings had chosen Oviedo as their urbs regia, their seat of royal power and majesty; besides embellishing it with palaces and churches they had made it into 'a veritable spiritual fortress' by packing it with relics of the saints assembled from all over Spain.(41) Why did Alfonso III not take the body of St. James to add to his relic-collection at Oviedo? In the light of all we know about kings and their patronage of saints' cults during this period, this is something that should have happened-but didn't. Why not?

The answer to such a question can be neither simple nor confident. By way of approach it might be useful to direct our attention for a few moments to the contemporaries of the Asturian kings in a different corner of Christendom, the Anglo-Saxon rulers of Wessex. Two features of West Saxon kingship during the period between, roughly, the mid-ninth century and the mid-tenth are germane to our enquiry. In the first place, this was an expanding kingship, in the sense that it was during this period that the 'small Wessex' created by the princes who were Bede's contemporaries was enlarged into a 'greater Wessex' embracing first the whole of southern England, then the midlands and finally much of the north as well -- most, in short, of the area of what we now call England. Second, this movement of expansion was accompanied by manifestations of royal munificence, royal patronage and piety, directed towards the shrines of local saints in the areas which were undergoing aggregation to a West Saxon system of royal authority. The two processes were related.

Take Alfonso III's younger contemporary, king Athelstan [74] (924-39). His reign saw the almost definitive subjugation of a hitherto independent Viking Northumbria to West Saxon rule. It also witnessed some spectacular royal generosity towards the great shrines of Northumbria, of St. Wilfrid at Ripon, of St. John at Beverley and of St. Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street. It is about the king's relations with the last of these that we are best informed. When Athelstan visited Chester-le-Street in 934 he offered 'royal gifts' (regia munera) at the saint's shrine. The author of the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto listed them: three gospel-books, a missal, a very sumptuous copy of the Vita Sancti Cuthberti; a number of ecclesiastical vestments including the magnificent stole and maniple which still survive among the relics of St. Cuthbert at Durham; church plate in gold and silver, candelabra, bells, drinking-horns, standards, an enormous quantity of cash, and a huge landed estate at Wearmouth. 'Royal gifts' indeed. It has been well said recently that the West Saxon kings of the tenth century 'would have to earn Saint Cuthbert's favour if they were to rule the north'.(42) Here we can see one of them doing it. And it worked. No wonder St. Cuthbert's intercession made Athelstan victorious in his wars. No wonder St. Cuthbert's clergy offered grateful and loyal prayers for the West Saxon kings. No wonder they inserted Athelstan's name prominently in their Liber Vitae.

Now suppose that we were to read, for Wessex, the Asturias; for Northumbria, Galicia; for Athelstan, Alfonso III; and for St. Cuthbert, St. James: would our understanding be advanced? Misgivings might cluster about the implied suggestion that the relationship between the Asturias and Galicia was akin to that between Wessex and Northumbria. Had not Galicia been a part of the Asturian kingdom from at least the time of the departure of the Berbers in about 740? But this is precisely the point. Had it?

All that we know of the Asturian rulers in the century and a half which separates Pelayo from Ordoño I -- and, notoriously, it's precious little -- suggests that these princes were [75] small-scale operators whose effective authority, whatever the claims and traditions to which they considered themselves the heirs, was confined to a restricted zone of territory between the Cordillera Cantábrica and the Bay of Biscay. This was where the 'royal places' from which they exercised their rule were situated: Cangas de Onís, Pravia, Oviedo, Naranco. This was where, on the evidence of the charters, their demesne lands lay. This was where they concentrated their relic-collection, built churches, founded monasteries. This was where they were buried and remembered. If they looked further afield for their wives, they tended to look eastwards, towards Alava. And it was often eastwards that they fled when they were in trouble; Alfonso II in 783, for example, or Alfonso III in 866. This in itself suggests that trouble was something that tended to come from the west, that is from Galicia. Now these indices of a firm royal presence just cited are conspicuously lacking in Galicia: no royal places, very little demesne land, no royal monasteries, scarcely any church-building, no known marriage-connections, not a single royal burial.

We hear of Galician rebellions: against Fruela I, against Silo, perhaps against Alfonso II, against Alfonso III. Rebellions imply an authority to rebel against. But we cannot be absolutely certain that in these instances they do. Our only sources for these revolts are the chronicles of the reign of Alfonso III, and we need to ask ourselves when, where, by whom and for whom these were composed. These questions have not yet satisfactorily been answered, but it is commonly agreed that these works were 'court' productions. It was as rebellions that the king and his circle wanted these goings-on to be interpreted; but they may have looked rather different at the time they happened. There is a related difficulty about the word comes. We all know that it means a count, and that a count is an officer appointed by the king to exercise certain powers in his name. A count is a royal functionary. But not all counts were. There were men in western Francia in Alfonso III's lifetime who were self-styled counts and owed nothing to their king; Gerald of Aurillac is one example. But we do not need to look beyond the Pyrenees. Count Diego of Castile and count Vela of [76] Alava, who lived in the days of Alfonso III, do not look like royal officers. Neither does count Froila of Galicia.

What influence the Asturian kings of the mid-ninth century may have exercised in Galicia was probably beginning to be mediated through the bishops. Bishop Sisnando of Iria, the collaborator with Alfonso III in the promotion of the cult of St. James, was the nephew of his predecessor bishop Adaulfo (who seems to have held the see about the late 850s and early 860s). It is of great interest that this prominent ecclesiastical dynasty was not Galician. The family came from the Asturias. Furthermore, it enjoyed close relations with the royal house. Bishop Adaulfo is a very obscure figure, but what seems to glimmer through later legend about him is that he was not well liked in Galician aristocratic circles and looked to the king to uphold him. Let us not forget that in the course of his movement against Alfonso III count Froila had seized some of the temporalities of the church of St. James; nor that one of Alfonso's earliest actions as king was to restore this property. The surge of royal generosity to Santiago occurred from the early 880s onwards -- shortly after Sisnando's succession to the bishopric. This may not have been coincidental. Perhaps it was Sisnando who persuaded Alfonso III that if the royal authority were ever to make any headway in Galicia some new initiative was needed. Certainly Sisnando would have had every interest in so doing. Moreover, there were important ways in which he could help. It was Sisnando, for instance, who handled the earlier stages of the negotiations with the clergy of Tours which are alluded to in the king's letter of 906.(43)

The new initiative was going to be costly. Precisely how costly we can see very clearly in Alfonso III's charters. If the king had ever entertained anxieties on this score, the passage of time would have allayed them. Alfonso III could afford it. He could afford it because he was both the creator and the beneficiary of an expanding kingship --  comparable in many ways, which deserves exploration, to West Saxon kingship or, a more imposing parallel, Ottonian. At the end [77] of Alfonso's long reign the Asturian monarchy was something different from what it had been at its beginning. Alfonso conquered and started to settle vast new tracts of land in northern Portugal and on the plains of León. (The Galician nobility did well out of this, as we may see from the abundant charters of the tenth century. It helped to attach them much more firmly to the royal dynasty.) The king's propagandists, whose work survives in the chronicles composed during his reign, were confecting a new image of kingship. The king was predestined with God's help to unite all Spain under his rule. Imperial claims and pretensions were taking shape, shortly after Alfonso's death (if not indeed before it) to become visible in the imperial title. Here again there are comparisons with England and Germany to be investigated; and here of course is the explanation for the king's desire to acquire an imperial crown from Tours.

Our knowledge of the early Asturian monarchy is so fragmentary that these remarks, at the end of a chapter in itself somewhat discursive, are bound to be hesitant, exploratory, speculative. Alfonso III believed, as he tells us in his charters, that St. James had helped to make him a great king. The reciprocal process, it may be suggested, was equally interesting and important. Alfonso III made James a great saint. He put him (so to say) on the map. They rose to prominence together. The king advertised and diffused a cult even as he consolidated a tenuous hold over Galicia and defeated his enemies and enlarged his kingdom. Alfonso III and bishop Sisnando could not know, as we know, that something far bigger was being launched than ever they could have anticipated. How and why that happened, how and why the shrine of St. James became a great international attraction, is quite another story. It will be examined in the following chapter.

Notes for Chapter Three

1. Cartulaire de l'Abbaye de Savigny, ed. A. Bernard (Paris, 1853), I, no. 731.

2. HC, pp. 5-7.

3. L. Duchesne, 'Saint Jacques en Galice', Annales du Midi 12 (1900), 145-79.

4. B. de Gaiffier, 'Le Breviarium Apostolorum (B.H.L. 652). Tradition manuscrite et œuvres apparentées', Analecta Bollandiana 81 (1963), 89-116. The passage relating to St. James is best edited by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, 'Die spanische Jakobus-Legende bei Isidor von Seville', Historisches Jahrbuch 77 (1958), 467-72. The Breviarium and other early texts have recently been subjected to close scrutiny by J. van Herwaarden, 'The origins of the cult of St. James of Compostela', Journal of Medieval History 6 (1980), 1-35. I had completed the first draft of this chapter in 1979, before Dr van Herwaarden's article (of which he kindly sent me a copy) was published. I was comforted to find that we had independently reached broadly similar conclusions on all essential matters.

5. Patrologia Latina, LXXXIII, col. 151.

6. B. Bischoff, 'Die europaische Verbreitung der Werke Isidors von Seville', in his Mittelalterliche Studien (Stuttgart, 1966), I. 171-94. See also M. Herren, 'On the earliest Irish acquaintance with Isidore of Seville', in Visigothic Spain. New Approaches, ed. E. James (Oxford, 1980), pp. 243-50.

7. Critical edition and excellent discussion in M. C. Díaz y Díaz, 'Los himnos en honor de Santiago de la liturgia hispánica', Compostellanum II(1966), 457-502; reprinted in his collection of essays, De Isidoro al siglo XI (Barcelona, 1976), pp. 237-88.

8. The best edition of the text is that of H. A. Sanders, Beati in Apocalipsin libri XII (Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, no. 7: Rome, 1930). For the illustrations W. Neuss, Die Apokalypse des Hl. Johannes in der altspanischen und altchristlichen Bibel-Illustration (Münster, 1931) is fundamental. See also C. Cid, 'Santiago el Mayor en el texto y en las miniaturas de los códices del Beato', Compostellanum 10 (1965), 231-73, and for the general art-historical context J. Fontaine, L 'Art pré-roman hispanique (Paris, 1973-7).

9. This MS has been published in facsimile: Sancti Beati a Liebana in Apocalypsin codex Gerundensis (Lausanne, 1962).

10. But not, it seems, in the slightly earlier martyrologies of Florus of Lyons and Ado: see van Herwaarden, art. cit., at pp. 18-22.

11. Sobrado Cart. I, no. 43.

12. R. 4 September 829 might be thought to provide an earlier terminus ante quem, but (as we shall see) it is a forgery.

13. For the nineteenth-century excavations see LFH I, ch. 6, and F. Fita and M. Fernández Guerra, Recuerdos de un viaje a Santiago (Madrid, 1880); for those of the twentieth century see M. Chamoso Lamas, 'Noticia de las excavaciones arqueológicas que se realizan en la catedral de Santiago', Compostellanum 1 (1956), 5-48, 275-328, and 2 (1957), 225-330. In the absence of any adequate archaeological report the best general account of all the excavations and their significance is to be found in J. Guerra Campos, 'Excavaciones en la catedral de Santiago', La Ciencia Tomista 88 (1960), 97-168, 269-324.

14. H. Chadwick, Priscillian of Avila (Oxford, 1976), p. 233; cf. also pp. 150, 224-30.

15. LFH III, ap. i, pp. 3-7; HC, pp. 8-9.

16. J. M. Navascués, 'La dedicación de la iglesia de Sta María de Mérida', Archivo Española de Arqueología 21(1948), 309-59, and the emendations to Navascués's reading proposed by J. Vives in an article of the same title in Analecta Sacra Tarraconesia 22 (1949), 67-73.

17. We have no means of determining which James: whether James the son of Zebedee ('the Greater'), or James the son of Alphaeus, or James 'the brother of the Lord'. For the suggestion that the liturgical evidence (which I am altogether unqualified to assess) might point in the direction of St. James the Greater, see J. Pérez de Urbel, 'El culto de Santiago en el siglo X', Compostellanum 16 (1971), 11-36.

18. R. Collins, 'Mérida and Toledo: 550-585', in Visigothic Spain. New Approaches, ed. E. James (Oxford, 1980), pp. 189-219.

19. For Eulalia's translation see ES XXXVII, ap. xv, pp. 354-5; Alfonso II's building operations have been most recently discussed by J. Fontaine, L'Art pré-roman hispanique (Paris, 1973), I, ch. 17 and 18.

20. Diplomática española del período astur, ed. A. C. Floriano (Oviedo, 1949- 51), I, no. 57.

21. L. Vázquez de Parga, 'Los documentos sobre las presuras del obispo Oduario de Lugo', Hispania 10 (1950), 635-80, where all the charters are printed in an appendix to the study: the Odoario charter is no. i and the Meilán charter no. iii.

22. Discussed fully but uncritically in LFH II, ch. 2: I doubt whether much reliance can be placed on the eleventh- and twelfth-century charters as a guide to the architectural arrangements of the ninth K. J. Conant, The early architectural history of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Cambridge, Mass., 1926) is disappointingly thin on this early period.

23. R. 6 May 899: ex petra et luto opere parvo.

24. It is noteworthy that one of Alfonso II's architects at Oviedo had a Frankish name, Tioda.

25. R. 866 X 910.

26. The episode has been discussed with spirit and ingenuity by W. E. D. Allen, The poet and the spae-wife (Dublin, 1960): not all will be convinced.

27. Clavijo and the events allegedly associated with it have provoked a considerable controversial literature. C. Sánchez Albornoz disentangled history from Legend in 'La auténtica batalla de Clavijo', Cuadernos de Historia de España 9 (1948), 94-139, reprinted in his Orígenes de la nación española, III (Oviedo, 1975), pp. 281-311. For the history of the controversy see T. D. Kendrick, Saint James in Spain (London, 1960). See also below, ch. XI.

28. R. 858.

29. Cronica Albeldense, in M. Gómez Moreno, 'Las primeras crónicas de la Reconquista:el ciclo de Alfonso III', BRAH 100 (1932), 562-628, at p. 602.

30. LFH II, pp. 169-73. See also H. Schiunk, 'The crosses of Oviedo', Art Bulletin 33 (1950), 93-114; P. E. Schramm, Herrschaftszeichen und Staatsymbolik, II (Stuttgart, 1955), pp. 480-4.

31. Sampiro, Chronica, in J. Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro: su crónica y la monarquía leonesa en el siglo X (Madrid, 1952), pp. 275-346, c. 1; R. 20 January 867.

32. I am with Floriano and Sánchez Albornoz in believing, against Barrau-Dihigo, that R. 6 May 899 is fundamentally authentic.

33. e.g. R. 885, 24 June 886, 11 July 895, 25 November 895.

34. e.g. R. 17 August 883, 30 December 899.

35. e.g. R. 30 June 880, 17 August 883, 25 July 893.

36. R. 30 November 904.

37. See the plan in P. de Palol and M. Hirmer, Early medieval art in Spain (London, 1967), p. 40.

38. Some of this re-used material is now displayed in the cathedral museum at Compostela.

39. It is just within the bounds of possibility that Alfonso III sought and received from pope John IX, in 898, recognition of the presence of St. James's body at Compostela: the matter is discussed by C. Sánchez Albornoz, Orígenes de la nación española,III (Oviedo, 1975), pp. 803-15.

40. See below, Appendix C.

41. The phrase is that of Dr Collins in the paper already referred to, 'Mérida and Toledo', at p. 214.

42. By Dr P. Wormald, in The Anglo-Saxons, ed. J. Campbell (Oxford, 1982), p.155. Athelstan's gifts to St. Cuthbert are listed in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, in Symeonis monachi opera omnia, ed. T. Arnold (Rolls Series, London, 1882), I. 196-214, at pp. 211-12.

43. On Adaulfo and Sisnando see the full if uncritical account in LFH II, chs. 6-13.