The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Medieval Europe

  • Michael Costen


In 1121 the Almoravid, Ali ben Yusef, passed along the road to Santiago de Compostela while on an embassy to Leon and remarked that ‘so great is the multitude of those who come and go (to Compostela) as scarcely to leave room on the road towards the west’ (Sampedro, 1971: 3). These thousands of people were going to the shrine of the Apostle, St James the Great. According to the legend St James had been the evangelist of Hispania and returning to his native land he was martyred by Herod. It is certainly true that St James was accounted the first of the Apostles to die in this way, for he was beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD (Acts of the Apostles, ch. 12, v. 2), but his work in Spain seems to be a legend of the seventh century. Legend also recounts that his body was then taken to Galicia where it was buried secretly, near Iria Flavia and in time all knowledge of its whereabouts were lost. In the early ninth century this tomb was rediscovered by a hermit called Pelayo, who alerted the bishop of Iria Flavia. He caused a chapel to be built over the tomb of the saint and the present Cathedral of Santiago stands over that site (Lopez Ferreiro 1898–1909, vol. 3 appendix 3).


Fourteenth Century Twelfth Century Eleventh Century Seventh Century Roman World 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Costen

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