Codex Calixtinus

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Detail from the Codex Calixtinus Folio 4r, showing Saint James the Great

The Codex Calixtinus is a 12th-century illuminated manuscript formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II, though now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. The principal author is actually given as 'Scriptor I'.

It was intended as an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Spain). The codex is alternatively known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Book of Saint James. The collection includes sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and a set of polyphonic musical pieces. In it are also found descriptions of the route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people.

The book was stolen from its security case in the cathedral's archives on 3 July 2011[1] and retrieved almost exactly a year later on 4 July 2012.[2][3] A former cathedral employee was convicted of the theft of the codex and of €2.4 million from collection boxes, and was sentenced to ten years in prison in February 2015.[4]


The origins and authorship of the Codex Calixtinus have been the subject of much debate amongst scholars. It is generally believed to have been written by a number of different authors and then compiled as a single volume, possibly between 1135 and 1139 by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud.[5] It is thought that in order to lend authority to their work, the authors prefaced the book with a forged letter purportedly signed by Pope Callixtus II,[6] who had already died in 1124.

The earliest known edition of the codex was held in the archives of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela,[6] and dates from about 1150. It was lost and forgotten for many years until rediscovered in 1886 by the Jesuit scholar Padre Fidel Fita. A copy of the Santiago edition was made in 1173 by the monk Arnaldo de Monte,[7] and is known as The Ripoll (after the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia). It is now kept in Barcelona. The book was well received by the Church of Rome, and copies of it were to be found from Rome to Jerusalem, but it was particularly popular at the Abbey of Cluny.

The first full transcription of the codex was done in 1932 by Walter Muir Whitehill, and published in 1944 by the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, together with a musicological study by Silos's Dom Germán Prado O.S.B., and another on the miniature illustrations by Jesús Carro García.

In a 1972 article, "A note on Jacobus," Christopher Hohler argues that the book is written in deliberately bad Latin and is actually a kind of grammar book. "It is the general purpose teaching manual of a nomadic French grammar master, and appears to embody the contributions of a succession of such masters...He has retold, in ingeniously abominable Latin which is meant to be corrected, but in a manner which is enjoyable to read to this day, a number of epic tales.”

2011 theft and recovery[edit]

The codex was stolen from its security case in the cathedral's archives on 3 July 2011.[8][9] Spanish police sources did not eliminate the possibility that the theft had been an "inside job" or that the manuscript had been hidden somewhere else in the cathedral. Spanish press reports speculated that the theft may have been an attempt to embarrass the cathedral administration over lax security measures[10] or an attempt to settle a personal or professional grievance.

On 4 July 2012, the codex was found in the garage of a former employee of the Cathedral.[2][3] The employee, considered the intellectual author of the theft and three other members of his family were detained and questioned until one of them disclosed the location of the codex. There were also several other objects of worth stolen from the Cathedral found in the home of the employee. The codex appeared to be in perfect condition but an in depth analysis will have to be performed in order to verify it.


The opening letter purporting to be from Pope Calixtus II

The Santiago de Compostela copy comprises five volumes and two appendices, totalling 225 double-sided folios each 295 × 214 mm. Its oversized pages were trimmed down during a restoration in 1966. With some exceptions, each folio displays a single column of thirty-four lines of text. Book IV had been torn off in 1609, either by accident, theft or at the decree of King Philip III, and it was reinstated during the restoration.

The letter of Pope Callixtus II which opens the book, occupies both recto and verso of the first two folios.[11] The author, who claims to be Callixtus II, tells how he collected many testimonies on the good deeds of Saint James, "traversing the cruel grounds and provinces for fourteen years". He also describes how the manuscript survived many hazards from fire to drowning.[12] The letter is addressed "to the very holy assembly of the basilica of Cluny" and to "Diego, archbishop of Compostela".

Book I: Book of the Liturgies[edit]

Anthologia liturgica.
Book I accounts for almost half of all the codex and contains sermons and homilies concerning Saint James, two descriptions of his martyrdom and official liturgies for his veneration. Its relative size and the information it contains on the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage make it the heart of the codex. The Veneranda Dies sermon is the longest work in Book One and seems to have been part of the feast day celebrations for St. James (December 30). It commemorates the life, death and translation of the remains of St. James; discusses to route to Compostela in both physical and spiritual terms; and celebrates the blessings of the saint bestowed on the pilgrims of the route, on Spain and on Galicia.[13]

Book II: Book of the Miracles[edit]

De miraculis sancti Jacobi.
The hagiographic Book II is an account of twenty-two miracles[14] across Europe attributed to Saint James, both during his life and after his death.[15] The recipients and witnesses to these miracles are often pilgrims.

Book III: Transfer of the body to Santiago[edit]

Liber de translatione corporis sancti Jacobi ad Compostellam.
Book III is the briefest of the five books and describes the translation of Saint James' body from Jerusalem to his tomb in Galicia. It also tells of the custom started by the first pilgrims of gathering souvenir sea shells from the Galician coast. The scallop shell is a symbol for Saint James.

Book IV: The History of Charlemagne and Roland[edit]

Historia Caroli Magni et Rotholandi.

Main article: Historia Caroli Magni

Book IV is attributed to Archbishop Turpin of Reims and commonly referred to as Pseudo-Turpin, although it is the work of an anonymous writer of the 12th century. It describes the coming of Charlemagne to Spain, his defeat at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and the death of the knight Roland.[16] It relates how Saint James then appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the route of the Milky Way. This association has given the Milky Way an alternate name in Spain of Camino de Santiago. The chapter also includes an account of Roland's defeat of the giant Saracen Ferragut.

This widely publicized and multi-copied book describing the legend of Santiago Matamoros or 'St. James the Moorslayer' is considered by scholars to be an early example of propaganda by the Catholic Church to drum up recruits for the military Order of Santiago. The Order was formed in order to help protect church interests in northern Spain from Moorish invaders. The Military Orders of the Middle Ages were closely associated with the Crusades. In later years the legend became somewhat of an embarrassment in its depiction of Saint James as a bloodthirsty avenger 800 years after his death.[citation needed] King Philip III ordered that Book IV be removed from the codex and for a while it circulated as a separate volume.

Throughout northern Spain along the Way of St. James known as the Camino Francés, most churches and cathedrals still have statuary and chapels applauding 'Saint James the Moorslayer'. Today this legend in northern Spain has cultural and historical significance that is completely separate from any of the original intentions by the Catholic Church.

Book V: A Guide for the Traveller[edit]

Iter pro peregrinis ad Compostellam.
Book V is a wealth of practical advice for pilgrims,[17] informing them where they should stop, relics they should venerate, sanctuaries they should visit, bad food they should be wary of[18] and commercial scams, including in the author's opinion, other churches who claimed to hold relics of St. James.[19] The book provides a valuable insight into the life of the 12th-century pilgrim. It also describes the city of Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral. The popular appeal of Book V led to it achieving the greatest fame, and it has been described as the first tourist's guide book.[20] Among Basque scholars, this account is considered as highly important because it contains some of the earliest Basque words and phrases of the post-Roman period.[21]

In 1993, UNESCO placed the Spanish section of the pilgrimage on the World Heritage List, describing it as "a testimony to the power of the Christian faith among people of all social classes".[22] The French section joined the list in 1998 when UNESCO declared the cultural and historical importance of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.[23]


Three parts of the Codex Calixtinus include music: Book I, Appendix I, and Appendix II. These passages are of great interest to musicologists as they include early examples of polyphony.[24] The codex contains the first known composition for three voices, the conductus Congaudeant catholici (Let all Catholics rejoice together); however, the extreme dissonance encountered when all three voices perform together has led some scholars to suggest that this was not the original intention.[25] The popularity of the music has continued to the present day with modern recordings commercially available.

See also[edit]


  • Grell, Ole Peter (2012). "1". In Ole Peter Grell. Contexts - Making sense of things:an introduction to material culture. Piers Baker-Bates. The Open University. ISBN 978-1-8487-3951-2. 
  • Melczer, William (1993). The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago De Compostela] (English translation). Italica Pr. ISBN 0-934977-25-9. 
  • Murphy, Denis (2011). The Pilgrim's Guide: Online English Translation. 
  • Stones, Alison (1998). Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela: A Critical Edition. Harvey Miller. ISBN 978-0-905203-52-2. 
  • Webb, Diana (2002). Medieval European Pilgrimage, c.700-c.1500. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-76260-6. 
  • van Herwaarden, J.; Shaffer, Wendie (2003). "Chapter 10". Between Saint James and Erasmus. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 90-04-12984-7. 
  • Williams, John; Stones, Alison (1992). The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 3-8233-4004-2. 
  • Coffey, Thomas F.; Davidson, Linda Kay; Dunn, Maryjane (2008). The Miracles of Saint James (English translation). Italica Press. ISBN 978-0934977388. 
  • Poole, Kevin R. (2014). The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin (English translation). Italica Press. ISBN 978-1-59910-289-4. 


  1. ^ Tremlett, Giles (7 July 2011). "Codex Calixtinus manuscript stolen from Santiago de Compostela". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  2. ^ a b José Precedo (4 July 2012). "Hallado el Códice Calixtino en un garaje". El País. Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  3. ^ a b ""Four arrested in Spain over Codex Calixtinus thef"". The Guardian. 4 July 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Badcock, James (22 February 2015). "Cathedral handyman kept diary of multi-million collection box robbery". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-02-22. 
  5. ^ van Herwaarden & Shaffer, p358
  6. ^ a b van Herwaarden & Shaffer, p356
  7. ^ van Herwaarden & Shaffer, p359
  8. ^ "Codex Calixtinus stolen from Santiago de Compostela Cathedral". Olive Press Newspaper - Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  9. ^ Tremlett, Giles (2011-07-07). "Codex Calixtinus manuscript stolen from Santiago de Compostela". London: Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  10. ^ "El robo del Códice Calixtino se podría resolver el 25 de julio, día de Santiago Apóstol". Retrieved 2011-07-22. 
  11. ^ An English translation of this letter is included in Coffey, Thomas F.; Davidson, Linda Kay; Dunn, Maryjane (2008). The Miracles of Saint James (English translation). Italica Press. pp. 3–7. ISBN 978-0934977388. 
  12. ^ van Herwaarden & Shaffer, p365
  13. ^ An English translation of this sermon is included in Coffey, Thomas F.; Davidson, Linda Kay; Dunn, Maryjane (2008). The Miracles of Saint James (English translation). Italica Press. pp. 8–56. ISBN 978-0934977388. 
  14. ^ A complete English translation of the miracles is published in Coffey, Thomas F.; Davidson, Linda Kay; Dunn, Maryjane (2008). The Miracles of Saint James (English translation). Italica Press. pp. 57–96. ISBN 978-0934977388. 
  15. ^ van Herwaarden & Shaffer, p368
  16. ^ A complete English translation is published in Poole, Kevin R. (2014). The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin (English translation). Italica Press. ISBN 978-1-59910-289-4. 
  17. ^ A complete English translation is published in Melczer, William (1993). The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago De Compostela (English translation). Italica Pr. ISBN 0-934977-25-9. 
  18. ^ Gitlitz, David Martin; Davidson, Linda Kay (2000). The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago. Macmillan. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0-312-25416-4. 
  19. ^ Grell, Ole Peter (2012). "1". In Ole Peter Grell. Contexts - Making sense of things:an introduction to material culture. Piers Baker-Bates. The Open University. ISBN 9781848739512. 
  20. ^ Frey, Nancy Louise (1998). Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago. California: University of California Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-520-21751-9. 
  21. ^ Trask, L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  22. ^ "Route of Santiago de Compostela". World Heritage. UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-10-24. 
  23. ^ "Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France". World Heritage. UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-10-24. 
  24. ^ The Library of the Medieval Institute. "Codex Calixtinus". University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  25. ^ Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, vol. 1, Oxford University Press: 2005, p. 165.

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