Although there is no reference in apostolic times to the evangelisation of Spain by James, there is evidence in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries of a tradition that James did preach the Gospel there.
Confirmation of the tradition was seen in the miraculous discovery of his tomb early in the 9th century. A hermit named Pelayo claimed to have received an angelic revelation that St James was buried on the hill where the city of Compostella now stands and to have seen a bright star shining over it.
He informed the local bishop, Theodomir of Iria Flavia (now Padron), who went to the spot indicated by the star and discovered an ancient tomb and declared that it was that of the Apostle.
The discovery was reported to the Pope (Leo III), who proclaimed it to the whole Christian world. A church was built over the tomb by King Alfonso II of Asturias (which then included Leon and Galicia), and pilgrims began to flock to the shrine. Later a grander one, which became a cathedral, replaced the original modest church when the episcopal see was moved from Fria Flavia to Compostella.
To explain the presence of the saint's tomb in Galicia a legend grew up that after his return to Palestine from his evangelising mission in Spain and his execution by Herod (Acts 12,2).
His disciples recovered his body, took it down to the coast, from which, with the saint's body, they were miraculously transported in an unmanned boat to the Galician coast at what is now Padron.
Thereafter the numbers of pilgrims making their way from all over Christendom to St James's shrine at Compostella continued to increase. In course of time numbers of religious houses providing accommodation for pilgrims were built along the route, roads were improved and bridges were built to ease the pilgrims' journey.
As a result there came into being a recognised pilgrim road along northern Spain from the Pyrenees to Compostella, known as the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James), or Camino Francs (French Road) since it was travelled by pilgrims coming from or through France. Within France too there were particularly favoured routes along which pilgrims travelled from different parts of France and other countries in Europe to join the French Road in Spain.
The 'Pilgrim's Guide' was written in the 12th century, probably around 1140-50. It is the earliest of the many descriptions that have come down to us of the pilgrimage to the shrine of St James. Unlike other accounts, however, it is not primarily a description of one particular pilgrim's journey-though it is clearly based on personal experience and is strongly imbued with the author's feelings and prejudices-but is designed to help prospective pilgrims with advice and guidance for their journey.
The 'Guide' is contained in a 12th century Latin manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus, after an apocryphal letter attributed to Pope Calixtus or Callistus II (d.1124) which serves as a kind of preface, or more familiarly as the 'Book of St James' (Liber Sancti Jacobi).
This was a compilation evidently designed to promote the pilgrimage to Compostella, no doubt under the influence of Diego Glimmers bishop of Compostella from 1100, Archbishop from 1120), an energetic and ambitious prelate who actively promoted the development of the pilgrimage, the building of the new cathedral which had been begun by his predecessor Diego Peels, and the enhancement of Compostella's (and his own) status.
There are four versions of the Codex Calixtinus, the finest of which is preserved in the archives of Santiago Cathedral. It consists of five books, of different origins and dates.
The first and longest of the books is an anthology of hymns, sermons and liturgical writings in honour of St James.
The second is a collection of miracles attributed to the saint, most of them fairly recent (i.e. dating from the early years of the 12th century).
The third is an account of the evangelisation of Spain by St James, his martyrdom and the transfer of his remains from Jerusalem to Compostella.
The fourth is devoted to the History of Charlemagne and Roland, the story (attributed to Charlemagne's warlike Archbishop Turpin) of Charlemagne's legendary expeditions into Spain, linking the epic of the Emperor and his paladins with the story of St James and the pilgrimage to Compostella; and the fifth consists of the 'Pilgrim's Guide'.
In the manuscript preserved in Santiago the history of Charlemagne and Roland was detached and bound separately in the 18th century, so that in this text the 'Guide' is described as the fourth book.
Although generally dated to around 1140-50, the 'Pilgrim's Guide' appears to be a compilation including work by more than one hand, written at different dates. Its author or compiler is not positively known, but the work is commonly attributed to one Aimery (Aymericus) Picaud, a cleric from Parthenay-Ae-Vieux in Poitou, who may have travelled to Compostella in the retinue of a noble lady named Gerberga or Gebirga.
Certainly the author seems to have been a Frenchman, writing his guide in Latin-primarily for the benefit of French pilgrims; and the text of the Guide reflects the strong local patriotism of a native of Poitou and his distaste for the manners and customs of practically all the other peoples encountered on the road to Compostella. He may or may not have been the same person as one Aymericus who was a papal chancellor in the mid 12th century. To give greater authority to the 'Guide' certain chapters are specifically attributed to Pope Callistus, Aimery or Aimery the Chancellor.
The Guide is divided into eleven chapters, the longest of which are the seventh, eighth and ninth, devoted respectively to the characteristics of the countries and the peoples on the road to Compostella, the shrines to be visited on the way (particularly in France, with a long excursus on the life and passion of St Eutrope of Saintes) and a description of the town and cathedral of Compostella. The exact route is outlined in two shorter chapters, the second and the third.
The second chapter of the Guide divides the journey to Santiago from the French frontier into thirteen stages. The rationale of this subdivision is not clear. It appears to imply that each stage represents a day's journey.
But it seems unlikely that even a well mounted group of pilgrims-with which the author of the Guide must be presumed to have travelled, though only two of the stages are specifically described as being done on horseback-could complete a journey of between 440 and 490 miles, with stages of up to 60 miles, in only thirteen days.
A modern pilgrim took twenty-three riding days for the journey, with a maximum day's journey of 30 miles and an average speed over the whole distance of just under 3/2 miles an hour. Is it possible that the author of the Guide mentions only staging-points which he is anxious to recommend because at these places there were religious houses or hospices run by a religious order with which he had affiliations (perhaps the Clunic order which played a major part in organising the pilgrim route and is particularly mentioned in the Guide.