The “Codex Calixtinus”

Codex Calixtinus

Besides the remains of Santiago the apostle, one of the most precious treasures that are kept in the Compostela cathedral is the so-called “Codex Calixtinus”, also known as the “first guidebook for the Camino”, written in the XII Century.

The “Codex Calixtinus” is a medieval manuscript dating from year 1140 (approx.), which contains the oldest known copy of the so-called “Liber Sancti Iacobi”, a compilation of sermons, liturgical chants and miracles related to Saint James. There are about twelve copies of this book in Europe, but the oldest one is, as mentioned, the one kept in the cathedral.

The codex, or the “Liber Sancti Iacobi” (if we want to be accurate), begins with a letter supposedly written by Pope Calixtus II (hence the name of the manuscript), and continues with five sections, which contain:

  1. Liturgical texts (sermons, Masses) related to Saint James.
  2. Accounts of miracles attributed to Saint James.
  3. A description of how the saint’s body was carried to Compostela. This book contains the first appearance of sea shells as symbols of the pilgrimage, since it describes how pilgrims collected them at the beach as proof of their arrival to Santiago.
  4. The story of Charlemagne‘s arrival to the Iberian Peninsula and how Saint James appeared to him in a dream (Charlemagne’s iberian military campaign includes his famous defeat in the battle of Roncesvalles,which inspired the “Chanson de Roland”. These events are also described in the book).
  5. A “guide” for the medieval pilgrim, with a list of rivers, towns, hostels, churches… found along the Camino.

This last book is the best known one, and it’s the one that earned the Codex the nickname of “first pilgrim’s guidebook”. For decades, historians have relied on it for insights about the towns in the Camino during the Middle Ages, as well as details about the pilgrimage during those times.

The book’s authorship has traditionally been attributed to french monk Aymeric Picaud, who joined pope Calixtus II during his pilgrimage to Santiago in 1109, and might have taken the chance to compile the information that appears in Book V. However, many modern historians have doubts about this attribution.

Lastly, we can’t help but mention the occasion where this codex, with hundreds of years of history, jumped to the front pages in 2011, when it disappeared from the Santiago cathedral. After several months of investigation, the police managed to recover it and arrest its thief, a electrician who used to work at the cathedral.


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