Landscape and Perception: The Medieval Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from an Archaeological Perspective
By Julie Candy
Esharp, Issue 4 (2005)
Abstract: The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain was one of the great devotional journeys of the medieval world. From the origins of the cult in the ninth century to its peak in popularity during the eleventh and twelfth centuries and beyond, millions of people completed the arduous pilgrimage to the cathedral of St James. Drawn by a collective belief in the divine power of relics and the spiritual profit of the journey, pilgrims travelled established overland routes which led them over rocky mountain passes, across arid plains, through small hamlets and the busy streets of burgeoning cities.
The goal of my Ph.D. research is to consider the world of the medieval pilgrim from an archaeological perspective, and to explore the complex relationship between the religious pilgrimage to Santiago and the landscape of the principal route-way across northern Spain. Three small study areas situated along the Camino de Santiago in the topographically distinct regions of Navarre, the Meseta plain and the León-Galicia borderlands provide the testing ground for this research and the setting for more in-depth questions about the local interaction of people and place.
In this paper I would like to focus on just one aspect of this research, namely how did the places through which the pilgrims travelled shape and inform their experience and perception of the journey? What, for example, was it like to arrive in a town, to leave, to traverse difficult terrain, or to arrive at a pilgrim hospital? Preliminary fieldwork in the study areas demonstrates how an analytical approach to the material culture of the route-way imparts a dynamic view of the medieval experience of pilgrimage.