Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago

By Hourihane, Colum | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago


Hourihane, Colum, The Catholic Historical Review


Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago. By Kathleen Ashley and Marilyn Deegan. (Burlington, VT: Lund Humphries, an imprint of Ashgate Publishing. 2009. Pp. 264. $60.00. ISBN 978-0-85331989-4.)

Over the last few years there has been a huge resurgence of interest and publications on the history and art of the medieval pilgrimage. By far, the greatest number of books and articles have been written on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain- the site associated with the Apostle James around which a cult developed as early as the tenth century. Many of these publications are of a scholarly nature and focus entirely on art and architecture, while others are of a more personal nature and document the private journey. None have attempted to do what this beautifully produced book does, and that is to combine a popular and scholarly approach with the experience. In nine chapters the coauthors move the modern pilgrim through the medieval experience of the journey with the full realization that they are writing for a twenty-first century audience. It is, as they say, an attempt to relive the whole culture of the journey and not just the actual religious experience that it was.

The first chapter, which introduces the reader to St. James, his history, and his cult, is concise in its approach and nicely balances the modern perspective with extracts from medieval travelers' accounts- a particularly attractive approach that can be found throughout the rest of the volume and that will appeal to the specialist audience.The second chapter, which focuses on the geography of the pilgrimage, looks at the land routes and the many paths that could start in Paris or the southeast. The third chapter, which details the preparations for the journey, looks at rituals and superstitions, both medieval and modern. The fourth chapter is a novel perspective on the social and architectural experiences of the traveler, ranging over subjects from the hospice and town gate to the confraternities and thieves that the traveler would have encountered. …

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