Connaître saint Jacques - Comprendre Compostelle
page établie en février 2003
Accueil mise à jour le 15 septembre, 2005 Site overview   Page précédente

Origins of the roads to Compostela

Question from a visitor :
"Like other pilgrims, I plan to undertake part of the via Podiensis between Le Puy and Conques.
I am wondering about the origins of the roads to St James of Compostela",
An overview of the site supplies the first answers.
This symbol indicates links to further pages giving more details and further information on the ideas considered.

The "chemins de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle" are a modern invention . They meet the needs of our age:
• return to nature, development of walking as a sporting activity ...
• search for a deeper personal spirituality, flight from the consumer society, need for escape (see testimony of Madeleine Griselin )
• response to a turning-point in life (start in active life, bereavement, retirement ...)
• they have also become a European symbol
These are the realities of today, imposed on an imaginary medieval world constructed for the most part in the XIXth century and encouraged by the Church (authentification of the relics by Leo XIII ). The name via Podiensis comes from the last Book of the XIIth-century manuscript conserved in Compostela, the Codex Calixtinus, written, obviously, in Latin. This Book was translated into French in 1938. In the framework of modern tourism, it has been wrongly considered as a guide used by medieval pilgrims. The name via podiensis is used today to designate the route traced in 1970 from Le Puy, a denomination intended to reinforce its medieval character.

20 years ago, politicians made use of it (1984 declaration of the Council of Europe ) and a Spanish director of this institution was able to place Compostela at the service of the idea of the reconciliation of the peoples of Europe . In 1982, John Paul II set the tone in Santiago by recalling the "Christian roots of Europe" .

On this basis the routes of today are constructed.
Now, in France, every département wants its own section of "chemin de Saint-Jacques" and towns compete with one another for the honeypot that pilgrims are supposed to represent.
In former centuries, pilgrims took the roads and paths that every other traveller took, they frequented the same inns, were received in the same hospitals. Not all were going to Compostela, as the first modern researchers were led by their enthusiasm to believe. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims went to numerous shrines in order to venerate the relics there . There was a rib of St James at Sallanches and even an entire body at Echirolles , near Grenoble. All these cults have left us with an important heritage often neglected by those who analyse everything as a function of Compostela.
The articles on this site give details on all these points and on many others, in particular on the distant origins of the legend of St James and the political dimension of a saint also known under the name of Matamoros.

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