Monday, October 08, 2007

Codex Calixtinus

Which is something I found tonight in my search for a song I heard on an online video about Gregorian Chant.  [EDIT:  Alas, that video is no longer available on the web.  You can listen to a clip of this song, though, at this page; the singers are Discantus.]

The song is labeled "11th Century Gregorian Chant for Pilgrimage to St. James de Compostela."   It's a simply glorious chant (the French words below come from another site that's no longer up on the web):

Alleluia, Iacobe sanctissime,
Alleluia, pro nobis intercede,
Alleluia, Alleluia.

Cum invocarem exaudivit me
Deus iustitie meae:
In tribulatione dilastati mini.

Miserere mei,
Et exaudi orationem meam.
Alléluia, ô très saint Jacques,
Alléluia, intercède pour nous,
Alléluia, Alléluia.

J'ai invoqué le Seigneur
Et il m'a exaucé pour ma justice.
Quand j'étais dans la tribulation, tu m'as libéré.

Prends pitié de moi,
Et entends ma prière.

(St. James in Spanish is "Santiago"; in French, "Saint Jacques."  Here, "Iacobe" is the form used for "James"; the Latin above is the glorious Iacobe sanctissimemost holy St. James.)

While searching on that song, I came across the Codex Calixtinus, which sounds truly fascinating:
The Codex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James–, a jewel in medieval bibliography, is one of the richest medieval sources for historians, geographers, musicologists, sociologists, ethnologists, art historians and linguists. Due to its heterogeneous and composite character, this codex is believed to be the work of several authors and compilers. It is known as Codex Calixtinus not because this Pope had been one of its authors but on account of the extraordinary influence that he, his secretary and the people of Cluny had in the gestation of the work.


Codex Calixtinus is composed of 5 "libros" or sections:

Libro I (fols.4-139) contains sermons, liturgical texts and homilies for the liturgy of Saint James (Santiago), including numerous musical chants and two polyphonic settings written specifically for the new liturgy (fols. 101v-139). Book I is preceded by a bizarre and clearly spurious letter from Pope Calixtus (fols.1-3).

Libro II (fols.140-155), known as the "Book of Miracles," is a collection of 22 miracles credited to Saint James which had occurred in different areas of Europe.

Libro III (fols.156-162) narrates the moving of Saint James' body from Palestina to Compostela.

Libro IV (fols.163-191), or Historia Turpini, is a history of Charlemagne and Roland (Historia Karol Magni et Rotholandi). It has been falsely attributed to Turpin, Archbishop of Reims. Although this book was originally a part of the Codex Calixtinus, it was removed in 1620 and circulated widely as an independent unit. Luckily, as just mentioned, the book has now its original place in the codex.

Libro V (fols.192-225) is the very famous "Liber Peregrinationis" ("Guide of the Medieval Pilgrim") attributed to Aymeric Picaud. It is considered the oldest touristic guide of Europe. Musical settings (including plainsong and polyphonic conducti, tropes, and organa) follow on fols. 214-222. The codex ends with an appendix which has several poems and hymns related to Santiago.

Codex Calixtinus is a marvellous witness to the political, social, cultural, religious, musical and intellectual fabric of the medieval world. "The Guide of the Medieval Pilgrim", offering vivid descriptions of the different towns and people, their customs, habitat, character, organization, lingustic manners, and its unique fusion of franco-hispanic elements, is a beautiful ethnographic lesson. The music in the codex is a topic in itself and offers a wonderful snapshot of the state of music composition in the 12th century: the texts for St. James along with their accompanying monophonic tropes and sequences clearly illustrate how the liturgy was expanded and embellished for a new great feast day. The musical highpoint is its repertoire of polyphony; it includes the first known composition for three voices and serves as a vital bridge for the Notre Dame School. Without this repertoire our understanding of the birth and evolution of polyphony in the western world would be completely distorted.

Imagine all that! I'm very interested in this, especially in the singing; will write again on this, I imagine.

There are dozens of sites these days (I'm editing this 2007 post in 2013) describing the pilgrimage to St. James Campostela - including this Wikipedia page.   Indeed, there is now even a film about the pilgrimage, starring Martin Sheen.   This is an article at "" about Santiago de Compostela. 

This UK website of the Confraternity of St. James might be of interest as well; the Confraternity has been in existence since 1983, and has much to offer to those interested in the pilgrimage and its history. And here's a very interesting series of first-hand Mystery Worship Reports on the pilgrimage, via Ship of Fools.

You can get a CD of a selection of the pilgrimage music at the Discantus CD page.

Here's an image (photo by Wikipedia user E-roxo) of the facade of the Cathedral:

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