In the early 1100s, a book appeared that was called the Codex Calixtinus, because supposedly it was written by Pope Callixtus II, whose name appears as the author of a letter prefacing the work. The problem is, the book was compiled in the 1130s and the pope had died some 10 to 15 years earlier.
Book compilers and writers had different ideas about plagiarism and faulty attributions in those days. In the case of historical accuracy, flexibility of facts is apparently all right if it serves a greater good. It kind of reminds me of stories I was told in elementary school about Columbus trying to prove the world was round or Washington going about chopping down cherry trees.
But the stubborn facts are—at least as they’ve been determined thus far—that a French monk named Aymeric Picaud compiled the work, and the pope’s preface is a well-intentioned forgery. And who knows? Maybe Callixtus II would’ve written a preface if he’d lived long enough.
The copy of the Codex that resides at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is divided into five books:
Book One, the longest book in the Codex, is about St. James, whose remains are supposedly buried at Santiago de Compostela. There are sermons and stories about him, including of his martyrdom (he was beheaded in Jerusalem on the orders of Herod Antipas).
Book Two contains accounts of miracles performed by St. James, both before and after his death.
Book Three is an account of how St. James’s body was miraculously brought from Jerusalem to its current location in Spain.
Book Four tells the story of St. James appearing to Charlemagne and inspiring him to clear the route of the Camino of Moorish influence and to free the city where his body lay. Charlemagne’s efforts (such as they were, but here we are in danger of wandering away from legend and into facts, so let’s not get too far from the source), as recounted in Book Four, also include the fate of his nephew Roland, who was betrayed by an associate and defeated by Moors who ambushed his company.
Book Five is an actual travel guide, describing various towns along the way and recommending (or not) the hospitality of the inhabitants, the quality of the drinking water, and where to stop for extra worship opportunities. It also provides warnings about dangerous areas where thieves and con artists should be avoided.
Even though it was written some 900 years ago, Book Five contains some topographical descriptions that are recognizable today.
But I wouldn’t take it as my principal guide to the Camino.
For that reason, I did a little homework before choosing a modern guide. Based on reading reviews and on the cost of the book, I decided to take two guidebooks with me. I know this goes against all the advice about traveling light, but it helps that I’m going with Ian (one of the two males in the Brass Compass family) so I can have him carry one of the books.
John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago seemed to be the first choice with many pilgrims. It has a spiritual aspect that some appreciate. I found it less helpful, but that’s just me. I also found his use of English/Spanish and his run-on sentences kind of distracting, but he does have precise instructions for getting through cities, as well as plenty of details on what to see along the Camino.
Hiking the Camino de Santiago, by Anna Dintaman and David Landis, is a guidebook with a more readable and unencumbered style, which I appreciate. It’s also a bit smaller, so it’s the one I’ll be carrying. Although it does mention some of the sites to look out for along the way, it lacks some thoroughness in this respect when compared to Brierley’s book.
As I mentioned before, part of my reason for making this journey was to try and experience the medieval-ness of it, so I appreciate Brierley’s guidebook for its mention of buildings, bridges, and so forth from the Late Antiquity and Medieval eras. I also appreciate Dintaman and Landis’s clear, straightforward instructions. So the answer for me was to take both books.
I know there are many other books available which may serve others better, depending on what one is looking for and what one wishes to focus on. But these are my choices. Now we’ll see how well they hold up on the job.