Day 30 of the ‘virtual pilgrimage’ in which we consider Aymeri Picaud’s Liber Sancti Jacobi, the very first European guide for travellers, the equivalent of the Baedekker or Michelin Guides of the 19th and 20th centuries. We are not told to “leave the big stick outside,” while getting a tampon at the Mairie de Draché, because we meet the Belgian again. And “the rain it raineth every day.”
(Previous post: Day 29c Rue de la Folie to Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine.)
After leaving the campsite, where there is excellent entertainment from the resident goats, I found the church open but no Mass today. Thursdays 18.30 and Sundays 11.00 and so – not having any Breviary with me due to the weight (unlike Saint Labre who we discussed yesterday, and who always carried one) I unwound my green woollen prayer rope from the bourdon and spent more than half an hour saying the Jesus Prayer in front of the Holy Sacrament. The building had little distraction to offer in the way of art, which sometimes makes prayer in a church a more attractive option.
Since their goat cheese has put Saint-Mauré on the map but its church makes little impression upon the visitor, I left the town with two varieties of cheese and some bread to eat with them, but no great spiritual nourishment to speak of. I wondered how Aymeri Picaud might have described this kind of church in his Liber Sancti Jacobi, had he passed through here when compiling the very first European travellers’ guide. Would he have written: “Nothing to see here, folks, but at least there’s Mass if you arrive on a Thursday evening?”
Once again on the road and heading to Draché nine kilometres away, the rain was already falling steadily. People I spoke to said it was the wettest month since records began. When did records begin? In the time of King Lear’s Fool?
He that has and a little tiny wit-The Fool in King Lear (Act III, Sc. 2)
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain-
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.
Or perchance, in the time of Aymeri Picaud? The Liber Sancti Jacobi was written circa 1140 as chapter V of the Codex Calixtinus, a great reference book in the Middle Ages and where the author (Aymeri/Aymery/Aymeric) Picaud himself is named in the text. The author was a Benedictine monk of Parthenay, a monastery to the west of our present route. Just now as we walk towards Poitiers, we will pass about a day’s walk from the Parthenay of Aymeri Picaud, but it was exactly on the route of Robert Sutton, the Worcester pilgrim, who you will remember has been travelling south in parallel to us, a little to the west.
It was three hundred years later, so Sutton may have had sight of Aymeri Picaud’s guide – in a manuscript copy, as printing did not yet exist – when he stayed at that monastery, before leaving through the Porte de Saint-Jacques to continue south. It could have been his opportunity to study and memorize the route ahead, and what a fascinating thought for this pilgrim who cannot read his own printed copy of the detailed guide and modern map to the Via Turonensis without leaving Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois on the wrong road!
Well much of the historical detail that we have for the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela comes from Picaud’s early guidebook, which contains details about routes, towns and pilgrim accommodation, as well as stories – sometimes grisly – of what pilgrims faced on the journey. Like being eaten by wolves or robbed by the thieves who preyed on pilgrims, or falling victim to plague or sheer exhaustion.
And are we going to complain about the rain today? No! “La pluie de le matin, n’arretez pas le pèlerin. La pluie, la pluie..!” That’s better. A good singsong lifts our spirits! The rain is wheelbarrowing down again. (Too late, I guess we are stuck with that image now.) I feel the water trickling into my boots again. Those good Scarpa boots: not a blister so far, all the way from Worcester! Is there still one dry pair of socks left in my rucsack, in the plastic bags that separate dry things from wet things…?
I trudge on towards Draché in the teeming rain, thinking of Aymeri Picaud. His writings are probably one of the most important things you should know about, if you are to be a pilgrim to Compostela, for he is credited with this guide written in the first person between the years 1135 and 1140. It is the oldest direct account of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a guide meant mainly for French pilgrims who were the mainstay of the early centuries of the pilgrimage, starting with the international pilgrimage event, led by the bishop of Le Puy in the 10th century. Picaud’s book is Part V of a manuscript known as the Codex Callixtinus, of which much has been written and it can be discovered quite easily on the internet. We are mere pilgrims on the route, not scholars of the Way of Saint James nor people who spend their days staring at computer screens, so look it up.
Various scholars suggest it is possible that Aymeric, despite the usefulness of his work, could be identified as one more of the gyrovague monks and clergymen who walked the Camino in France and Spain, showing off his artistic gifts and ingenuity to overcome each new adversity. This is affirmed among others by Vázquez de Parga, who considers him “a vagabond clergyman, familiar with the roads that led to the most famous and popular sanctuaries, from Jerusalem to Compostela.” The fact that he arrives in Santiago accompanied by a woman further confirms this hypothesis! (The woman, identified as Gerberga de Flandes, is somehow connected with Hildegard de Bingen in some accounts, and has been the subject of great speculation, but let’s just call her an early female pilgrim and steer clear of all the speculation! You follow it up if you feel moved.) So after our days of considering the nature and spiritual curiosity of the gyrovague, we have a clear indication that the very earliest pilgrim guide to Compostela was itself written by a gyrovague, a Benedictine monk out of his monastery, gone wandering. And here – as a sample of his guide – is what Aymeri Picaud tells us about Poitiers, the city on the route where we shall arrive soon:
Next, in the city of Poitiers, one must visit the holy relics of Hilary, bishop and confessor. Here amongst other miracles, filled with the strength of God, he defeated the Arian heresy and taught the faithful to worship as one; Arrius the Heretic did not have the support of the sacred document issued by the Council, and himself died loathsomely when his paunch burst open in the toilet.
When Hilary wished to sit during the Council, the ground under him rose to present a seat; his voice broke open the barred doors of the Council; exiled for his Catholic faith to Phrygia for four years, he put to flight many snakes with his power; he gave back to a weeping mother her child that had died unbaptised. The tomb in which his sacred bones rest is decorated with great gold and silver and precious stones. His church, great and beautiful, is revered for its numerous miracles. His feast day is 13th January.St John the Baptist. You must also visit the revered head of St John the Baptist, which was brought by devout men all the way from Jerusalem to the place called Angely in the land of Poitou. There a huge cathedral was built to him, a wonderful work, in which the most sacred head is venerated night and day by a choir of one hundred monks, and made famous by numberless miracles.
While the head was being transported it gave off many signs both on sea and on land. On the sea it put to flight many maritime dangers, and on land, according to the record of its journey, dead men were brought back to life. Because of this, it is believed to be the true head of the venerated Forerunner.It was found on 24th February in the time of Emperor Marcian, when the Forerunner himself first revealed to two monks the place where his concealed head was thrown.Aymeri Picaud, Codex Callixtinus, circa 1135-1140 (the English translation)
People dying loathsomely with paunches bursting open in the toilet do not figure highly in the glossy tourist brochures of our times, but the fascinating detail of places to see – associated with the saints – was certainly an appealing prospect for mediaeval travellers. Pilgrimage was the only opportunity in a lifetime for people to travel. It was not something to be undertaken lightly and there was a very real chance that the pilgrim would never return home, thanks to the dangers from plague, robbery, warfare or simply succumbing to hunger and fatigue having exhausted the funds for the journey.
Arriving in Draché after nine kilometres I admired the church of Saint-Sulpice where there was a large coquille, the shell of Saint James above the porch. After admiring the window of the saints, which the guidebook mentioned but was nothing to write home about, I made my way to the town hall to try and get a tampon for my credencial.
The Belgian in khaki army shorts and shirt was coming out of the door to the mairie as I arrived, with his credencial in hand. “I wouldn’t go in with that big stick,” he said. “They don’t like that sort of thing.”
“No,” I replied. “The town halls haven’t liked that sort of thing since Winchcombe.”
“Where was that?” he asked. “Before Tours?”
“Yes, a couple of hundred miles before the English Channel,” I said, leaning my bourdon against the wall and taking out my credencial before going into the mairie. “Same old mairie stamp in here is it?”
“Yes, but they have a date stamp as well,” he said. “Well organised here. I’m surprised you haven’t given up yet, with that heavy pole and carrying a tent. It is too much. You’ll never get to Compostela. You look tired.”
“See this?” I showed him my embossed cardinal’s stamp from the Archbishop of Westminster’s secretary. “You should read Aymeri Picaud: Without the sacred documents you are in danger of dying loathsomely when your paunch bursts open in the toilet!”
The Belgian fled off down the road in the teeming rain, his telescopic Norwegian walking poles springing him forward and quickly out of town. I did not see him again for some days. He seemed a nice enough sort of chap. I made a mental note to warn him about the demons next time I saw him.