Northwest Spain is a place of hills and glens, forests and ores. It is remote and lightly inhabited, a countryside of herders, hermits, and hikers. I am in the last category. My stick taps lightly against stone. It is a instrument that creates rhythm for my feet alone; the taps are swallowed up by the brownish-green of spreading oaks, and of late, towering eucalyptus.
I find solace in walking these mossy tunnels by day. By night, however, it is a different experience.
The gossamer light of the moon and stars fades under leaning wood. The sensation is like that of a miner--or deep sea diver--an awareness of space is there, but it is always out of reach, inky and mysterious. Nothing of it is known except for what is illuminated in the moment by the shaft of my headlamp. I wag my head from side to side revealing even more unpredictable scenes; odd clumps of moss rise and fall. Strips of eucalyptus bark twist in the air. Shadows dance. I grip my walking stick tightly. It has become an antenna. I hope it will not become a weapon.
In this earthy air I can imagine the experience of the hermit Palayo.
His story is recorded in a document dated to AD 1077 and known as the Concordia of Antealtares.* It goes like this.
Palayo (or Pelagius as he would have been known in the Latin tongue**) was drawn to a mound in the forest. It sparked and popped with mysterious light.
He returned on successive nights for repeat performances. In the end, he felt compelled to report the display to the bishop of Iria Flavia.*** Intrigued, the bishop and his men followed this man of the wood to witness the stellar phenomenon with their own eyes. They did. Afterward, they cleared away the dense vegetation from the mound and discovered something amazing, something that no eye had seen for centuries: a tomb of stone containing three bodies. They were identified as James the Great and two of his closest disciples, Theodore and Athanasius.****
King Alfonso II of Asturias was notified. He came immediately, the first "pilgrim" to the site. It was a fortuitous moment. At the start of the 9th century Alfonso was engaged in a desperate struggle with the Moors. His men were in need of encouragement; his kingdom was in need of identity. Gaining possession of the remains of one of Christ's closest Apostles was a godsend. Alfonso declared James to be the patron of the kingdom. He erected a chapel over the tomb, the first in a series of reconstructions.
The place was called campo de la estrella or "field of the star." It became Compostela, or more fully Santiago (Saint James) de Compostela.
*The Concordia of Antealtares is a medieval document that describes the discovery of the body of the Apostle James by Palayo. Oddly, details given by the Concordia are not offered in the Codex Calixtinus, the primary source for understanding the story of James in Spain. For more on these sources, see chapters 9 and 10 in Jan Van Herwaarden, Between Saint James and Erasmus (Brill, 2003).
**Palayo is the Spanish form of the Greek/Latin Pelagius (meaning, the "sea").
***The name of the bishop is remembered as Teodomiro or Theodemir of Iria.
****As we have already discussed (see here), the legend suggests that after his martyrdom in Jerusalem the body of James was transported by a rudderless boat to Hispānia, at the edge of the Roman world. It was buried in a tomb near the community of Iria Flavia. The spot was venerated for a time, but eventually lost. It was Palayo who found it (according to the Concordia) in the year 813.
Consider this your invitation to join us this winter in Galilee, Israel. We will be hiking the Jesus Trail between Jan 8-16, 2019. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is a bargain at only $2,588 from New York. For more details click here or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.