There are dozens of guidebooks for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, but the Codex Calixtinus (also Compostellus) was the first one. Many of the things that we know about the history of the Camino and the pilgrimage to Santiago come from this set of 5 books, so they are very important.
What is the Codex Calixtinus?
The Codex Calixtinus is an illuminated manuscript of 5 books. It is also known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Book of Saint James. The texts relate to the apostle St James, and the pilgrimage to his shrine in Santiago de Compostela.
The books are an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James. They include sermons, reports of miracles, and liturgical texts associated with Saint James. There are descriptions of works of art along the Way, and of the customs of the local people. There is even a set of musical pieces!
The Codex Calixtinus also outlines descriptions of the route, making it the first “guidebook” of the Camino de Santiago.
Codex Calixtinus was held in the archives of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and was rediscovered there by the scholar Padre Fidel Fita in 1886.
When Was the Codex Calixtinus Written?
Scholars believe that the manuscript kept in Compostela was compiled between 1138 and 1173. It is considered to be the eldest and most complete version of this work.
Some clues as to the date that the books were written include an appendix letter by Pope Innocent II (d. 1143), presenting the finished work to Santiago, and the miracles in book II are dated between 1080 and 1135.
As far as we know, the oldest copy of the Codex, known as “The Ripoll”, was made in 1173 by the monk Arnaldo de Monte. Many later copies of the work exist.
Who Wrote the Codex Calixtinus?
The original author of the Codex Calixtinus is not known for certain. It was formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II – hence the name. Each of the five books is prefaced with a pseudepigraphic letter attributed to Pope Callixtus II (d. 1124).
However, the Codex is now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud.
The 5 Books
Book I: Book of the Liturgies
The first book is the longest one in the Codex – almost half of the total collection! It contains sermons and homilies concerning Saint James, descriptions of his martyrdom and official liturgies for his veneration.
The Veneranda Dies sermon is the longest work in Book I and seems to have been part of the feast day celebrations for St. James, on the 25th of July. It commemorates the life, death and moving the remains of St. James to the church in Compostela.
This book also discusses the route to Compostela in both physical and spiritual terms.
Book II: Book of the Miracles
Book II is an account of twenty-two miracles attributed to Saint James. The recipients and witnesses to these miracles are often pilgrims, and some of them occurred after his death.
Book III: Transfer of the body to Santiago
The shortest book is Book III. It covers the moving Saint James’ body after his martyrdom from Jerusalem to his tomb in Galicia. It also explains the custom of gathering souvenir seashells from the Galician coast – a tradition connected to the scallop shell being a symbol for Saint James.
Book IV: The History of Charlemagne and Roland
Book IV describes the appearance of Santiago to Charlemagne. It details the entry of the King to the peninsula, the defeat of Roncesvalles and the death of Roland. According to legend, Saint James appeared to Charlemagne in a dream to persuade him to “free” his tomb from the Muslims.
This multi-copied book is considered by scholars to be an early example of propaganda by the Catholic Church to drum up recruits for the military Order of Santiago. The Order was formed in order to help protect church interests in northern Spain from Moorish invaders.
Nowadays, this legend has cultural and historical significance in northern Spain that is completely separate from any of the original intentions by the Catholic Church.
Book V: A Guide for the Traveller
Book V is the guidebook section of the Codex Calixtinus. It is full of practical advice for pilgrims, with suggestions on where to stop, relics to visit, sanctuaries along the Way of Saint James, and other churches that claimed to hold relics of St. James.
More amusingly, it also has notes on bad food to avoid and scams that Camino Pilgrims should be wary of!
The Codex provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of the 12th-century pilgrim and the city of Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral. The popular appeal of Book V led to it achieving the greatest fame, and it has been described as the first tourist’s guide book.
Nowadays, you will probably find our walking notes, or John Brierley’s guidebooks more helpful!
Theft of the Codex
The book was stolen from its security case in the cathedral’s archives on 3 July 2011. On 4 July 2012, the codex was found in the garage of a former employee of the Cathedral. He was convicted of the theft of the codex, several other valuable items from the cathedral, and €2.4 million from collection boxes. He was sentenced to ten years in prison in February 2015.
See the Codex Calixtinus on Your Camino Journey
The Codex Calixtinus is kept in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela’s Archive-Library. To view this incredible artefact you will need to join one of the Cathedral’s guided tours. You can find out more about these on their website.
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Originally published on 21st October 2021