Pilgrimage and the Economy of Salvation

Professor George Greenia
Professor George Greenia

Blog-post author, Professor George Greenia, College of Wiliam & Mary, Virginia, USA.

One of Spain’s most intriguing world heritage sites is a first-to-second century Roman gold mine called Las Médulas. Compared to modern mines the concen­tra­tion of gold was scant, but over nearly two centuries Roman engineers successfully moved 93 million cubic meters of soil to extract more than 4½ thousand kilos of gold for their principal coin­age, the aureus.  The mine was eventually abandoned not because the gold ran out but because inflation debased Roman cur­ren­cy, pure gold coins now adulterated with silver or copper fill.  Essentially, the ‘government’ minted money without something of true value to back it up, so gold lost much of its buying power in the late Empire and returned to where it started, as a metal for jewelry.

The caves and mining remains of Las Médulas, province of León. Photo Ryan Goodman
The caves and mining remains of Las Médulas, province of León. Photo Ryan Goodman

Something similar happened to the spiritual indulgences granted for pilgrimage.

An increasingly systematized, bureaucratized medieval Church found itself needing yardsticks for spiritual short­comings: what sorts of pe­nance would balance out a specific evil deed and encourage better conduct? Peni­tentials – manuals for con­fes­sors that listed categories and instances of sin and the ap­pro­priate correctives required for absolution – multiplied.  Pil­grim­age was an ideal punishment, easily calibrated to fit the crime by imposing longer or shorter distances, or punitive con­ditions like during mid-winter or barefoot journeys.  Assurances of redemption could not be meted out in material form, of course, so the penitent settled for a pro­mise of benefits payable after death, usually “time off” from one’s sentence of punishment for the residue of sin left on the soul, tallied up and rewarded by days or years off in Purgatory.

The positive side of these calculations was also codified: courageous journeys were counted as spiritual attain­ments. In the Middle Ages, local bishops readily granted various amounts of credit redeemable in the afterlife for “acts of piety and reverence” such as visiting shine sites and the relics they contained.  Medieval pilgrims willing adopted this form of pious book­keep­ing, reckoning the time they would get off when they passed through Purgatory.  They trusted God to keep score for when the time came.  Meanwhile they anxiously sought out shrines that offered generous indul­gen­ces and planned their trips accordingly.  This quantification of grace and reward – all derived from Christ’s redemptive intervention in history – became known as the “economy of salva­tion”, and with the Church functioning as sole banker for the “treasury of merits” the faithful invested energy and resources, even risked their lives, to make deposits toward their invisible balance sheet of merits.

1497, University of Edinburgh, Creative Commons
1497, University of Edinburgh, Creative Commons

This single sheet is a telling example of imagined, even “borrowed” pilgrimage. Printed with papal approval and in large press runs by Wynken de Worde of Westminster, it asked for donations to expand (“pro reedificatione”) the Great Hospital in Santiago de Compos­tela. The stated purpose was to gather funds for new chapels, one for men and another for women, in the new royal Hospital of the Reyes Católicos where Masses would be said for the deceased relatives of the subscriber.  Alexander VI (1492-1503; the text mistakenly says “octavus” instead of “sixtus”), followed the lead of his predecessor In­nocent VI (1352-1362) in authorizing the collection of funds.

Alfonso de Losa, an apostolic notary apparently based in London, has his name both printed in the last line and calligraphed in the bold signature to the right. The two blanks in the body of the printed field were intended for writing in the names of the benefi­ciary and then the donor.  Copies were issued in duplicate, one for the donor, the other with its cash donation to take to Santiago where the Masses were to be offered.  This speci­men is undoubtedly the purchaser’s copy, already countered-signed by the appro­priate author­i­ties.  The donor perhaps meant to have his and his relative’s names formally inscribed by a skilled calligrapher later on.  The writing in the scroll surrounding the figure of St. James, dressed as a pilgrim with his emblematic walking stick, is from Psalm 23: “Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt” or “Thy rod and thy staff, these comfort me.” In a sense, the donation would make the trip to Santiago in place of the donor and generate prayers whose graces could be reassigned to benefit the deceased.

The quantification of merit through indulgences, converting time itself into a spiritual trade good, eventually debased confidence in the market for merit. New “finan­cial instruments” were offered whereby grace became a fungible com­mo­dity.  A murderer in northern Europe might be sentenced to two pilgrim­ages to Santiago, one in penance for the sin committed and another whose graces could be transferred to the aggrieved family as a form of compensation.  Some would-be travelers paid others to perform pilgrimage in their stead in order to receive the graces gained by their envoy.  A village in need of rain might collect funds to commission and outfit a pilgrim to ask St. James or another saint for this material benefit.

In late medieval Spain when the heirs gathered around to hear the will and testa­men­tary bequests of a deceased relative, they often found they could not collect their inheritance until they completed a pilgrimage to benefit the soul of their benefactor. This practice became so common in territories where pil­grim­­age to Santiago de Com­postela was the premiere destination that an adage emerged that “En vida o en muerte has de ir a Santiago” (In life or in death, you’re bound to go to Santiago).

It’s easy to see how modern economies based on symbolic currency, rather than material barter or a precious metal, ended up imposing their quantitative models on spiritual perform­ance both bad and good. Pilgrimage’s “currency” was debased, just like Roman coin­age backed up with polluted gold.  The late medieval practice of selling indulgen­ces for monetary contributions converged with fungible pilgrimage to crash the economy of salvation.

Until the late nineteenth century.

Popes Pius X and Leo XIII were affronted by the growing inroads of modern­ism. The papacy itself was barricaded within its recently shrunken papal estates, with the pope com­monly labeled by his defenders a “prisoner of the Vatican.”  The Popes turned to the saints for help.

Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903)
Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903)

One means of extending the Church’s reach was to enhance the traction of its shrine sites by resurrecting a now demonetized practice of offering indul­gen­ces for visiting them. This increased traffic and the spiritual value of those centers enhanced the power of central Church author­i­ties as the arbiters for grant­ing spiritual emoluments.  The tombs of saints were reopened as a gesture of re­leasing their energies, as happened at the sepulchers of St. Francis and St. Clare in Assisi.  When the remains of St. James were rediscovered in 1879 after centuries of concealment,[1] pilgrimage to Com­pos­tela gained fresh endorsement and even urgency.  But for the many who could not make the trek to northwest Spain, nor to Rome or the Holy Land, there emerged an option for spiritual pilgrimage.  For a small, mostly symbolic dona­tion, faithful subscribers could gather at a local church to receive all the graces and indulgences granted for a physical trip to an otherwise inaccessible shrine.

Galicia is the region of northwest Spain best known for sheltering the remains of the only apostolic tomb other than those of Peter and Paul in Rome. It has always been remote and poor, and few of its residents could journey to other major sites either old (Jerusalem, Loretto, Turin) or new (Lourdes, Fatima).  Starting in the late nineteenth century, diocesan decrees and Galician newspapers began announcing virtual, rather than physical, pilgrimages to the Holy Land or other, newly popular shrines.  In return for a modest, sometimes optional enrollment fee, virtual pilgrims were invited to travel to a specific local chapel or church and engage in a short retreat or series of guided prayers.  They would receive all the blessings and indulgences of a physical trip to Rome or elsewhere, and in some cases their names would be read aloud during a special Mass at the target shrine to honor the collective virtual trek conducted at their remote home base.

Announcement of a spiritual pilgrimages to Lourdes, France and the Holy Land from the Boletín Eclesiástico del Obispado de Mondoñedo Num. 13 (01/07/1899)
Announcement of a spiritual pilgrimages to Lourdes, France and the Holy Land from the Boletín Eclesiástico del Obispado de Mondoñedo Num. 13 (01/07/1899)


'Boletín oficial del Arzobispado de Santiago', Año XXIV Núm. 1003 (23/05/1885)
‘Boletín oficial del Arzobispado de Santiago’, Año XXIV Núm. 1003 (23/05/1885)

The period of greatest fervor for these “stay-at-home” pilgrimages spanned about fifty years from the 1870s until the opening decades of the twentieth century. Pilgrims other­wise unable to make the journal were invited to join virtual traveling companions in a sacred place and perform rites that demonstrated their inscription in the journey.  Some­times that meant special prayers that invoked the destin­a­tion, such as invocations of saints Peter and Paul if they were bending toward Rome, or Marian hymns if their spiritual goal was Lourdes.  For the Holy Land, they made the most symbolic travel replica of all, a Way of the Cross to recall Christ’s own journey toward his crucifixion.  They were lectoral assemblies, spreading the Good News by the social media of the period, the official publications and proclamations of the Church and steady repetitions in the popular press.

In 1937 during Spain’s devastating Civil War, a newspaper in Galicia used the phrase “peregrinación espiritual” in a new and clearly political way. Coronel Mos­­cardó and his young recruits defending the Alcázar in Toledo held out against attack­ing Republican forces.  Even when Moscardó received a phone call from his besiegers threat­ening to kill his captive son, the commander held firm.  He and his troops resisted despite massive bombardment and eventually delivered their near­ly crushed stronghold to Generalísimo Francisco Franco.  The caudillo recog­nized its value as propaganda for his cause.  The Correo Gallego reported that “The humble nest of heroes that was the home of Coronel Moscardó in Toledo … will be in the future a place of spiritual pilgrimage for those who gird the sword and the goal of those who wish to write the history or narrate the epic deeds of our age.”[2]  The Alcázar of Toledo became a national – and openly Fascist – shrine well past the death of the dictator Franco in 1975.

The old economy of merits had shifted from virtual religious journeys of pilgrimage to include the creation of sites of patriotic commemoration.


“La peregrinación forzada.” Las Peregri­na­ciones a Santiago. Eds. Luis Vázquez de Parga; José María Lacarra; Juan Uría Ríu.  3 vols.  Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1948-1949. Rpt. Pamplona, 1997. 155-67.

Swanson, Robert. Indulgences in Late Medieval England: Passports to Paradise?  Cambridge UP, 2007.

–, Editor. Promissory Notes on the Treasury of Merits: Indulgences in Late Medieval Europe.  Brill, 2006.

Many Galician publications including newspapers and ecclesiastical documents may be accessed at the autonomous region’s website Galiciana. Biblioteca Digital de Galicia.

I would like to thank Carlos Andrés González Paz of the Instituto de Estudios Galle­gos “Padre Sarmiento” in Santiago de Compostela for his help documenting nineteenth- and twentieth-century Spanish spiritual pilgrimage. Also Fr. Francisco Buide and Arturo Iglesias of the Cathedral Archives for their insights on the imprint of 1497.

[1] The bodily remains of St. James and his companions had been hidden in 1569 out of fear of Francis Drake and his bold raids on Spanish coastal cities.  The secret of precisely where the relics were hidden was kept so well that eventually no one knew where they were.

[2]  “El humilde nido de héroes que fue el hogar del coronel Moscardó en Toledo, prototipo del infante español sobrio, sencillo, sereno, valeroso y callado, con temple para el sacrificio hasta lo sublime, será en el porvenir lugar de peregrinación espiritual para los que ciñan espada, y allí de ir cuantos quieran hacer historia o narrar los hechos épicos contemporáneos.” Correo Gallego (March 10, 1937): 1. This newspaper was published in Ferrol, Francisco Franco’s home town in coastal Galicia.

Travelers’ Texts: pilgrims and their textual accessories

Professor George Greenia
Professor George Greenia

Blog-post author, George Greenia, Professor Emeritus, College of William & Mary, US

Medieval pilgrim badges were among the most common souvenirs brought home from visits to European shrine sites. They were worn at eye level on hats and shoulder capes, sewn into prayer books, and adorned pilgrim bodies laid in their graves.  Today’s trekkers to Santiago mark their backpacks with the traditional scallop shell and purchase endless variations of that icon emblazoned on kitchen tiles, refrigerator magnets, jewelry and even their hiking socks.  Insignia are public announcements, billboards for piety or bragging read at a glance.

Other historic pilgrim accessories appeal to literacy at least as a cultic gesture. Many short texts were never read at all.  They simply served as visual scripts for their bearers’ good intentions.  Pilgrims – or any travelers wishing to make their journey sacred – could take along some­thing written even if only as an amulet.  Here are a small selection of such objects from various historical moments and contexts.

The Orthodox Crescent arcs from northern Egypt to Finland with numerous shrine sites along that vast geographical span. They are normally work­ing monasteries with Mount Athos island in Greece the best known clus­ter of religious communi­ties in one of the most spectacular settings.  Monastics them­selves often become pilgrims who jour­ney to venerate the icons and sacred images that compete for honor with bodily relics and tombs.  Professed religious often carry por­ta­ble devo­tional objects with them, some­times just for the imagery and some­times with textual reminders of the prayers they may recite along the way.  Some artifacts that include writing with their imagery help prompt live storytelling of miraculous events or episodes from scripture.

This small metal box has a short chain, so the case could hang on a vendor’s rack, the traveler’s kit, or be left as a votive offering at a shrine site. A sliding metal tab along the top seals an inner compartment which could contain a personal relic, blessed oils preserved in wax, or a small packet of written material.  The writing on the outside of this case simply names the saints on either side.

The palm-size metal triptych is also scaled for private devotions on a home altar or espe­cially for travelers because of its minimal weight and because it folds up so readily to protect the devotional surface. The wri­ting is limited to the names of the figures or the scenes depicting the life and miracles of St. Nicholas.

This small vessel is a pilgrim’s flask destined to contain water, oil or sand from a sacred site. St. Menas flanked by camels was the icon for the saint’s shrine west of Alexandria where pilgrims took oil from the sanctuary lamps to carry home with them.  Flasks were formed from clay disks pressed into molds to capture images and script.  These disks were sealed together and loop handles pasted on.  The interior volume is irrelevant.  Just possessing some of the material substance gathered at the shrine site was enough for travelers and proof of the completion of their mis­sion.  Those on a quest are the first beneficiaries of the power of their souvenirs but they function as a boon for their home communities as well.  The first image shows a well preserved, museum-quality St. Menas flask but thousands more survive as travel-fatigued items in private collections, as in the second image.

The Christian West and Orthodox East in general have rates of lay literacy higher than in the Middle East, especially in liturgical languages. They also boast a vast range of iconography in the plas­tic arts. Medi­eval scrip­toria flourished in admini­strative centers, both lay and ecclesias­tical, in­creasingly around universities and for a growing late-medieval lay market as well.  Their pilgrim sojourners came from every social class lay and professed, and they collected souvenirs such as ampules of water and oil, pilgrim badges, carvings and icons.

Ethiopian prayer scroll, late 19th cent., goat skin, 8 cm wide by up to a meter in length, prepared for named woman Wälättä Maryam: http://dynamicafrica.tumblr.com
Ethiopian prayer scroll, late 19th cent., goat skin, 8 cm wide by up to a meter in length, prepared for named woman Wälättä Maryam: http://dynamicafrica.tumblr.com

Ethiopian travelers represent a distinct class of pilgrim. Like their Orthodox coun­terparts, they retain a unique liturgical language, in this case written in Ge’ez, the ritual idiom of Christian Ethiopia much like Old Church Slavonic or antique forms of Greek for portions of the East, or Latin for the Christian West.  Mastery of Ge’ez remains confined to a literate priestly elite.  Ethiopian reli­gious books don’t just contain sacred texts, they are sacred objects in themselves, and their images are strikingly apotro­paic: they produce and induce the spiritual realities they illustrate.  The portraits of Christ, Mary and the saints and especially the endlessly repeated angels’ eyes make those forces effective in the real world.

Within the Ethiopian catchment regions, religious books are routinely hand crafted by individual monks, not the output of organ­ized shops. Individual monks pro­duced written texts as a sacred craft, rarely as an industry increasingly dominated by laymen as in the West.  Their books commonly stay in the possession of monks who use them for daily prayer and carry them on their errands and journeys.  With literacy more confined to a monastic caste in Ethiopia and work­ing with a smaller repertoire of iconography, devotional objects on goatskins and as worked brass are scaled down in size.

Lay people tend to collect “prayer scrolls” carried as amulets. Many of these scrolls are talismans whose prayers address specific needs and protect against disease.  The person who commissioned the manuscript is as often as not a named woman and the prayers she requested include petitions concerning feminine ailments or to ward off dangers like the evil eye, or a prayer for catching demons in Solomon’s Net.  These women wanted written prayers even though they could not read them and wore them under their clothing and in contact with their flesh.

Unfairly called “magic scrolls,” they are simply invo­ca­tions to God and the saints for shelter from harm. The illustration shows a scroll containing the following prayers: “(1) Prayer of Susenyos, (2) Prayer for the “expulsion” of disease and the demon Shotalay”, (3) prayer against the evil eye, (4) prayer against rheumatism and sciatica, (5) prayers against haemorrhage, (5) another prayer against demon Shotalay, (6) prayer against Zar Wellaj.” (Reed, 2011)

Some scrolls were sewn tight in leather pouches, never to be opened again. The fact that no one would ever read these prayers aloud did not trouble their owners who themselves became “mobile shrines” as they carried sacred objects about on their persons.  The texts on these inaccessible strips of animal hide were placed in the sight of God alone and entrusted to His readership.  These believers converted their textual accessories into moveable shrines and made of themselves pilgrims in a self-referential way, carrying the sacred forward to sanctify all the places they visited and worked, accompanied by the transcendent inscribed on parchment scrolls nestled next to their skin.

Yemeni devotional case for prayers or sura of the Qur’an. Mid-20th cent., copper and silver alloy with paste glass “rubies,” 7.5 cm wide x 11 cm tall with bells, metal chain approx. 30 cm in length, photo © George Greenia.
Yemeni devotional case for prayers or sura of the Qur’an. Mid-20th cent., copper and silver alloy with paste glass “rubies,” 7.5 cm wide x 11 cm tall with bells, metal chain approx. 30 cm in length, photo © George Greenia.

Finally, an example from Yemen. This rectangular case is similar to the first object but comes from the Islamic tradition.  It bears passing resemblance to the Jewish mezuzah which is affixed to the doorpost of a home and never travels at all.  Composed of a handcrafted alloy of silver and copper set with glass “rubies,” this Yemeni case’s bells suggest movement, either processional or on pilgrimage.  It too is outfitted with a chain for personal wear or placement in a devotional setting.  Although now completely sealed, the box has a hollow interior for a short passage from the Qur’an.


What Real Clerical Spell Scrolls Look Like. Ge’ez and Amharic Examples‘ by R. D Reed, in Cyclopeatron. Friday  17 June 2011. Web resource, accessed 17 May 2017.

Pilgrims as readers & writers: some reflections

Professor George Greenia
Professor George Greenia

Blog-post author, Professor George Greenia, College of Wiliam & Mary, Virginia, USA.

Professor Anthony Bale shared a strong vision for our joint project on Medieval Pilgrims Libraries when we met in London December 9-10, 2016. We’re all grateful for his leadership and helpful push in new directions and especially for bringing together researchers from such diverse fields. Here are some reflections based on our initial conversations.

Professor Anthony Bale
Professor Anthony Bale

Many medieval pilgrims belonged to lively lectoral communities. They carried their libra­ries with them on their way to Jeru­sa­lem, Rome or Santiago even when there were no books at hand. Memories of books read before leaving home were fond­ly rehearsed aloud among bands of sacred sojourn­ers, texts that scripted the ex­per­i­ence even while walking and sailing to distant shores. Some deliberately bade farewell to their books for a while as a personal discipline or as part of the acetic rigor of the trip, somewhat like foregoing bathing or haircuts. At op­portune stops along the way they may have read or listened to the recitations of unfamiliar writings, pur­chased souvenir texts, or either made or commissioned copies of admired works to take home. Not a few pilgrims eventually com­posed their own travelogues as itiner­aries, diaries and guidebooks for subse­quent travelers.

English: A Naval Battle; Antwerp, after 1464, from the Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies, fol. 21. Lieven van Lathem (1430–1493), Getty Center
English: A Naval Battle; Antwerp, after 1464, from the Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies, fol. 21. Lieven van Lathem (1430–1493), Getty Center

Complementing those who enjoyed full agency as readers – the ones who were personally literate – almost all pilgrims participated in ever rotating com­mun­ities of secondary literacy. Many who could not read for themselves because of lack of education or failing eyesight listened to texts being read aloud and partici­pat­ed in their interpretation.[1] Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages almost all reading was done aloud and routinely by young adults whose eyes were better suited for the task. Pilgrims probably carried few books with them and in any case one literate reader among any given travelers’ band would be enough.

Most importantly there was the internal library shared equally among the literate and illiterate, the vast oral stream they all grew up with. Medieval sojourners carried a rich imaginary of their journey spun out of their memory hoard[2] stocked by prior reading plus all their accustomed folk genres as they moved through their newly fluid discursive landscape. Some of their more pious texts they accessed “from within”: a common stock of Latin prayers and rituals, hym­no­dy in Latin reliably re-encountered at hosting institutions, and verna­cular devotional songs learned by heart back home and happily belted out along the trail or on arrival.[3] To lift their spirits and antici­pate possible spiritual adven­tures there was the reverent recounting of hagiography and miracle stories associated with the shrine sites they visited.

'The Author Hears the Story of Gillion de Trazegnies' by Lieven van Lathem and David Aubert, after 1464. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
‘The Author Hears the Story of Gillion de Trazegnies’ by Lieven van Lathem and David Aubert, after 1464. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

On the secular side were ballads and ordinary walking songs, and epic stories in prose or verse.[4] Some medieval travelers had their recollections of itineraries or topo­graphical plans, but even without them all had mental maps that constituted a “consensus cartography” that fused sites and anticipated encounters. When their accounts of physical geography seem defective, they are probably reporting a traveler’s topography of significance and holiness.

Much of their remaining common oral culture was plainly utilitarian: medical knowledge and techniques (as distinct from miraculous cures), guessti­mates of diverse monetary ex­change, knowledge of equivalents for local weights and measures, calcula­tion of dis­tan­ces, seasons, climate, and folk tales and games to pass the time.[5] Any of these could end up in written records but the bulk of it churned through the living oral stream, the cultural “soup” everyone swims in without recog­nizing one’s conceptual environment always known from within.

The accounts that most attract our attention now – what pilgrims who made it home again wrote down and left unsystematically among family papers and local archives – are their own compositions in the form of itineraries and daybooks. Most are middle brow, repetitive in their sequence of places and sights, and doggedly anonymous.[6] This is probably not because generally poor writers took up the task. It would have been hard to actually compose anything serious while traveling in the Middle Ages. Toting reliable supplies of ink, quills and parchment or paper – much less wax tablets – is pretty much ruled out by the tiny satchels shown in most con­tem­porary painting and sculpture.

Medieval travel accounts were likely put together after a return to a writerly environment and perhaps before the pilgrim company disbanded. For pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, the logic site would be on disembarking at Venice. A troop which had shared the journey could share the reminiscing and the most able scribe among them could stitch together what each individual agreed was true. That would help explain the depersonalized and often pedestrian accounts that come down to us. The stationers’ shops in Venice could also supply enough raw mater­ials to make multiple copies for as many of the companions who wanted a set of reliable notes to embellish orally for family, friends and fellow parishioners. Pro­ducing a “corporate report” from a whole group of travelers usually makes for dull reading but would lend a certain weight and credence to the nar­ra­tive.

Bands returning from Jerusalem en­joyed the advan­tage of a fairly stable party from start to finish, or at least from depar­ture from Venice until their return there. Venice would have also marked a psychological “homecoming” even if individuals had started out from more distant parts of Christen­dom, and no other pilgrim node along the thousands of sacred routes in medi­eval Europe provided the same urban nexus of launch point, site of return and time to linger. There are points of convergence along the trails to Santiago (Ostabat and St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the eastern slopes of French Pyrenees) and to Rome (certain Alpine passes on the descent into Italy) but none in an urban center that invited poten­tial writers to linger and compose. Of course, Rome was the most heavenly and best provisioned writers’ environment of all, but writers in residence on the Tiber did not routinely overlap with visiting pilgrims and they produce different sorts of works.

All these factors would have favored greater numbers of travelogues about the Holy Land, somewhat less so for Rome and relatively few for Santiago and other pilgrim shrines, and extant archival witnesses seem to corroborate this scenario.

Recommended Bibliography

  • Herbers, Klaus. “Peregrinaciones a Roma, Santiago y Jerusalén.” El mundo de las peregrinaciones. Roma, Santiago, Jerusalén. Ed. Paolo Caucci von Sauken. Barcelona/Madrid, 1999. 103-34. Subsec­tion on “Relatos de los peregrinos en el medievo tardío,” 128-34]
  • Herbers, Klaus, y Robert Plötz. Caminaron a Santiago. Relatos de peregrinaciones al »fin del mundo«. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 1998.
  • Howard, Donald R. Writers and Pilgrims. Medieval Pilgrimage Narratives and Their Posterity. Ber­keley: U of California Press, 1980.
  • Plötz, Robert. “Santiago de Compostela en la literatura odepórica.” Santiago de Compos­tela: ciudad y peregrino. Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Estudios Xacobeos. Eds. María A, Antón Vilasánchez; José Luis Tato Castiñeira. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2000. 33-99. [on mapmaking and the concept of space]
  • Reynolds, Roger E. “A Precious Ancient Souvenir Given to the First Pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela.” Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 4.3 (Spring, 2014): 1-30.
  • Stones, Alison. “Medieval Pilgrimage Writing and its Manuscript Sources.” Encyclopedia of Medieval Pil­grim­age, ed. L.J. Taylor, et al. Leiden: Brill, 395-413. [see bibliography 411-12 for list of travel nar­ra­tives]
  • Stones, Alison, & Jeanne Krochalis. “Qui a lu le Guide du pèlerin ?” Pèlerinages et croisades. Ed. L. Pressouyre. Paris: CTHS, 1995. 11-36.


  1. Linguistic anthropologists working in Chiapas, Mexico have observed how leaders of base Christian communities (comunidades de base) could be illiterate yet function as the most insightful and trusted commentators of scriptural and inspirational texts. (As reported by Vincent Barletta, now at Stanford, from field work in the 1990s during doctoral studies at UCLA. Personal communication.)
  2.  The phrase was coined by Mary Carruthers in her classic The Book of Memory. A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1990).
  3. The “Pilgrims Guide” in the Codex Calixtinus describes how various nationalities, clustered together in their respective corners of the tribune level of the cathedral in Santiago, would loudly compete as they sang hymns in their native tongues.
  4. The earliest and one of the most intriguing prose epics about the adventures of Charlemagne and Roland in Spain is consecrated in the “Historia Turpini” of the Codex Calixtinus, the twelfth-century master com­pi­la­tion on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The connection to Charlemagne’s supposed devotion to St. James and the saint’s instructions to have the French secure the pilgrimage route against the Muslim foe is tenuous in the narrative, entirely fictional in terms of history.
  5. Folk tales contain many stories about the intervention of saints on behalf of their devotees. A version of hopscotch became the pilgrim game of Juego de la Oca or Goose’s Game, a modern version of which has been laid in the paving outside the church of Santiago the Elder in Logroño along the main route to Compostela.
  6. Anxiously sincere personal narratives of travel along the Camino de Santiago have repopulated this genre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, most of them just as artless as their medieval forerunners if more heartfelt.