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The Codex Calixtinus – Hell on Earth?

Codex Calixtinus

Table of Contents

What is the Codex Calixtinus?

Without feeling the need to recycle information on the oldest Guide for Pilgrims on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, I want to share a link with you that has a very nice summary about this old manuscript ‘The Codex Calixtinus’ on vivecamino.com.

So, now that you know what that Codex is all about and why it is probably the most important document in Pilgrim history, let  me share a link with you I found on Google that gives you an English transcript of the manuscript: https://sites.google.com/site/caminodesantiagoproject/home.

Before I make my case on why I consider the stages in the Codex a hell on earth for me, as a slow stroller on the Camino, I would like to recommend you, if you are a slow stroller too, to consider becoming a member of this Facebook page: Slow Strollers on the Camino ; all very respectful people who help each other and don’t judge others (jay, the second group I found with an awesome Camino community!!).

First some fun

Reading through the manuscript, being Galician, this part made me laugh out loud. For all folks that either are Galician, or know how Galicia and its inhabitants are through personal experience, I think you will understand why. The text in Italic is a direct quote from the English translation mentioned above.

Next is Galicia, which you enter after crossing Leon and the mountains at Irago and Cebrero. Galicia is well-wooded, with rivers, meadows, and orchards, and the deepest clearest springs, but with few towns, farmsteads or wheat fields.
It is difficult to get wheat-bread and wine. However with plenty of rye bread and cider, livestock and work-horses, milk and honey and enormous sea fish, there is little lacking. And there is gold and silver, fabrics and furs from the forests and other riches, as well as Saracen treasure.
The Galicians are more like us French people than other Spanish savages, but nevertheless they can be hot-tempered and litigious.

It’s mainly the last sentence that cracked me up. I don’t feel particularly savage, but I must admit here and now that I can indeed be hot-tempered :-).

It’s really interesting to read the English translation as it gives you insights in how The Way was back then.

The hellish stages of the Codex Calixtinus

The length of the stages of the camino as described in the Codex Calixtinus is, even for today’s die-hard pilgrims I imagine, simply horrifying (the distance in km was entered by me as approximates only).

The first Camino, called Camino Aragones, takes you from the Somport Pass to Puente la Reina:

  • Stage 1 – Borce to Jaca (about 50 km)
  • Stage 2 – Jaca to Monreal (about 100 km)
  • Stage 3 – Monreal to Puente la Reina (about 35 km)

Pilgrims can also choose to take the Camino Navarres, from the Pass of Cize to Puente la Reina (and on to Santiago):

  • Stage 1 – St Michel – Viscarret (which via the Valcarlos pass would be about +40 km) (commented on as being a short stage). St Michel (Pied-de-Port) is just to the south of today’s popular starting point St Jean Pied de Port.
  • Stage 2 – Viscarret – Pamplona (30 km)
  • Stage 3 – Pamplona – Estella (46 km)
  • Stage 4 – Estella – Najera (The codex adds the comment ‘of course by horse’) (80 km)
  • Stage 5 – Najera – Burgos (also on horseback) (95km)
  • Stage 6 – Burgos – Frómista (65 km)
  • Stage 7 – Frómista – Sahagún (58 km)
  • Stage 8 – Sahagún – León (55 km)
  • Stage 9 – León – Rabanal (70 km)
  • Stage 10 – Rabanal – over the pass at Foncebadón to – Villafranca del Bierzo ( 56 km)
  • Stage 11 – Villafranca – Triacastela (over the pass of Monte Cebrero) (49.5 km)
  • Stage 12 – Triacastela – Palas de Rey (65.7 km)
  • Stage 13 – Palas de Rey – Santiago (commented on as being a short stage) (67.9 km)

The New Age

With the rise of infrastructure, public transport and tourism it is not strange to see that more stops have been included through the years and from 13 stages in the oldest pilgrim guide of all times we are now currently using guides that include a range between 31 and 34 stages, and still we are at an average of 25 km per day. Which, if you are not really, really well trained, is too much if you have to do it for 10 days or longer. Maybe it’s just me (slow stroller) that sees it this way. I’m sure there are lots of folks nowadays that have done it  and will do it again. I simply don’t want blisters ánd I do want the joy of walking slow and seeing as much as I can. I’m not implying the fast strollers don’t enjoy by the way: I think it is amazing if you are able to!

Did the ancient pilgrims really walk 60km a day?
Maybe some. Certainly not all, because it is out of pure logic that not all of them were able to walk that distance. Some were ordered to walk the Camino as a punishment for whatever bad things they did in the eyes of powerful and rich people. Others were poor assistants to a King or Lord and were ordered to carry out the punishment laid upon their master (perfectly legal in those days).
Still, the 80+ stages they would do on horseback (the Codex even describes how the pilgrim would buy/loan a horse at those points and would get scammed doing it (the ancient equivalent of the Pilgrim’s Menu for 10 Euros…?).

Anyhow, I’m sure they pretty much would walk until their feet couldn’t hold them any longer and they would sleep under the stars (ring a bell?).

It rings a bell with me. In my previous career I went on until my body (or mind) would give up (and it was not a physical job). I changed to another life style focused on the Camino. So, would I now be supposed to go on again until my body gave up again? Nope. There must be another way.

Do nowadays pilgrims really walk 25 km a day?

Maybe some, maybe the majority. Why? Are we used to look up references in Google and follow whatever pops up? We want to do the whole thing and nothing less than 100% so we do the whole Camino in 30 days because it is our only holiday time. What is the whole Camino anyway? Or we postpone the whole thing until we have time (“after retirement, even if I have to do it in a wheel chair”?). I have seen so many examples of people who postponed plans and were confronted with life events that took their planned future out of their hands. When my time comes I hope I can look back and say: “all that I wanted, I carried out or at least tried”. In the end, I hope to avoid having the feeling “I wish I had xyz”.

A little bit off topic, but talking about not wanting to postpone anything anymore in my life: this is a place I want to visit sooner rather than later: The Little Fox House. Giver her a ‘Like’ to support her in her quest! Now, that’s what I call Camino Spirit!

Make sure to visit her website and remember there’s a place for people that arrive in Santiago, Finisterre, Muxía (or wherever) and are simply NOT yet ready to go home. The Litte Fox House awaits you at Carantoña and I hear Tracy has a very special ‘Compostela’ for those who pilgrim to her Pilgrim Oasis.

‘It is the perfect place to rest, relax, read, write, talk or not talk, walk some more, seek out the local beaches and river walks all the while processing all that your pilgrimage has meant to you’.

Let’s write history together – A call for Slow Strollers on the Camino

Whatever daily distance you want to cover on the Camino, make sure you listen to your body. You have 1 body and it needs to last for your post-camino life.
Go with your own flow and not with the flow of people who shout things like ‘no pain no gain’. Life can be hard enough without us adding pain to it.

On Camino Comfort we have more or less the standard stages, but what we did is include all in between villages with the #km at that point (a big thanks to Eroski Consumer). So it’s easy to split all stages in two and check-out Google to find accommodation in those perfect ‘in-between-stages-stops’.

That’s how we do our Camino’s!

What’s your strategy/planning (or absence thereof!)? Are you a Slow Stroller?
Let me know in a comment, would love to hear other’s thoughts!!

Buen Camino!

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