The Inventio of Compostela: His most holy remains were translated from Jerusalem to Spain

His most holy remains were translated from Jerusalem to Spain and deposited in its uttermost region, they are revered with the most devout veneration by the people of those parts

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At some time in the first half of the ninth century an ancient mausoleum was discovered in a field in the isolated northern Spanish Christian kingdom of Asturias. A large number of stone tombs were found aligned in an east west position. The mausoleum was divided in two and the western end appeared to be designed as an atrium or entrance hall to the more substantial eastern half. This latter was decorated with mosaic tiles and marble and contained an impressive sarcophagus. Here was the burial place and shrine of a Christian holy man whose disciples were also buried alongside.

afonso-rex-1Theodemir, the local bishop was called to investigate the new discovery and very quickly pronounced it to be the tomb and the relics of the Apostle Saint James. The king of Asturias, Alfonso II, had a small church built over the site and on his death in 842, Theodemir was buried there.

The site was called Compostela, meaning little burial and very quickly a cult of veneration was established there which was soon known beyond the Pyrenees. In 865 when the monk Usuard of Saint-Germain-des-Près composed his Martyrology, listing the lives of the martyrs he was already aware of the cult at Compostela. Of Saint James he wrote: “his most holy remains were translated from Jerusalem to Spain and deposited in its uttermost region, they are revered with the most devout veneration by the people of those parts”.

17 comments:

  1. The etymology of Compostela remains a matter of uncertainty. Many follow the idea that it is derived from Campus Stellae or the Field of Stars. With its reference to the legend of the Milky Way and the story of the shepherd who discovered the tomb when a falling meteor led him to the spot, this is an attractive idea. Compostela, derived from Componere, to bury, seems to reflect the word more accurately and suggests a name which preexisted the invention of the relics of Saint James.

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