Elizabeth Tingle is Professor of Early Modern European History at De Montfort University, Leicester, and pleased to be elected to the committee of EHS in the summer of 2017.
I work on the Wars of Religion in France and the Catholic/Counter Reformations more broadly but I have a wide interest in the history of the Church and of religion, from parishes to cathedrals and beyond. I am currently working on a project Sacred Journeys in the Counter-Reformation: Long Distance Pilgrimage in North-Western Europe focusing on the experiences of pilgrims from France, the Low Countries, the British Isles and Ireland, travelling long distance to the old, medieval ‘Atlantic’ shrines such as Mont Saint-Michel and Santiago de Compostela in the 200 years between 1520 and 1720.
To give a brief taste of my current project, here is a reflection upon the landscapes which post-medieval ‘Jacquelot’ pilgrims travelled through, extracted from a lecture given to the RHS meeting at the University of Chester earlier this year. It is based on the accounts of the Italian priest Domenico Laffi from Bologna (travelled 1666, 1670 and 1673), Guillaume Manier a tailor from Picardy (travelled 1726) and Jean Bonnecaze, a peasant from Béarn (travelled 1748).[i]
Pilgrims and Landscape on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Of the natural landscape itself, pilgrims make few observations. The overwhelming sense from pilgrim writers is that of inconvenience, hazard, barrier and danger, that of the sublime in the original sense of the word. The landscape throws up obstacles to overcome, to reach the holy destination. Indeed, the more a place showed itself to be wild, the more grace was bestowed on the pilgrim for the arduous journey. The Compostelan pilgrim had high mountains and rivers to cross and the journey generally lasted several months. Domenico Laffi described the Alpine foothills between Cesara and Montgenièvre in France as ‘extremely dangerous. One goes between great crags and sheer rock faces which by the look of them are about to fall. The ravine is about two leagues long and strikes terror in everyone, because of the many who have been killed by avalanches and broken fragments that are continually falling from the mountains’.[ii] Pilgrims on the Camino were most concerned about personal security – from robbers and thugs – and the weather, especially if they journeyed in early spring or late autumn. Laffi calls the Paradise Bridge near to Burguete in Spain, the bridge of Hell, for ‘it spans a big, deep river that runs between two high hills … the water, though it is clear, in fact looks black. It is so fast-flowing that it fills the traveller with fear and trembling. The bridge is guarded by soldiers better described as thieves and murders’ and in fact Domenico was so frightened by their manner that he ran for a league after leaving the bridge.[iii] Jean Bonnecaze, travelling from Pardies in the early eighteenth century, was forced to lay up at the abbey of Roncevalles for two nights because of snow; when he went on his way, the snow was still knee deep, until he got into the lowlands.[iv] In New Castile, again the weather not the landscape was memorable: constant rain, that soaked Bonnecaze to the skin, every day for almost a month.[v] Good landscapes were agrarian and tamed: Laffi describes approaching Avignon, with ‘a beautiful, flat, countryside where there are trees bearing every kind of fruit’ while that of the Beziers region was ‘truly beautiful, growing every kind of fruit and cereals’.[vi] Fruitful nature, not wild landscape, was approved. The model of the Via crucis – the way of the Cross, in imitation of Christ – was everywhere else.
The landscape recorded by pilgrims was above all a human landscape and its most frequently-noted feature was the landscape of hospitality: where and how they obtained sleep, food and drink. Many of the classic guides of the Compostelan pilgrimage are little more than itineraries of roads and overnight stays. Among the most notable features of the Camino of the later Middle Ages was the network of pilgrims’ hostels provided by religious houses, confraternities and wealthy donors, providing a landscape of support for the modest or pious middling-sort traveller. By the later sixteenth century, in France, this tradition had begun to decay, a result of the depredations of the religious wars and economic problems reducing the financial support of these establishments. There was some restitution in the first half of the seventeenth century: the hospital of Saint-Jacques in Paris was receiving pilgrims until 1672, when it transferred its functions to Saint-Gervais and the hospital of St James in Bordeaux was active into the later seventeenth century, recording an annual average of 4,021 pilgrims for the years 1666-69.[vii] But in the reign of Louis XIV, the Crown and city governments rationalised local hospital provision and poor relief, reducing institutional support for pilgrims as a result. In Spain, the dense provision of hostels and convents providing accommodation was maintained into the eighteenth century, although its quality varied.
We get a sense of the variety and importance of hospitality on the Camino in the account of Guillaume Manier. Manier stayed in a few pilgrims’ hostels in France, mostly in the larger cities: Paris, Pons, Bordeaux and he spent a night sleeping in the old, ruined hostel of Ingrandes.[viii] Just as important in his journey were inns. The Three Queens at Monarville, south of Paris and the Saint-Jacques at Bayonne, for example. [ix] But for modest pilgrims such as Manier, private hospitality, in cottages and farms, for a few sous a night, was vital. For example, between 4 and 7 September, Manier slept in a barn near Notre-Dame de Clairy, on 5 September at a farm near Chambord, on 7 September at a farm, on straw, at Mantlan, outside of Blois.[x] In October, he records having slept in a stable, on bracken and on boards, in different villages in south-west France. In Spain, the formal landscape of hostels was better, at least in the lowlands: Manier spent most nights here in monastery guest houses and pilgrim hospices: Santo Domingo, Burgos, Hontanas, Laon, and on the return journey, Oviedo, Madrid, Pamplona and Roncevalles.
Informal hospitality was still important, however, particularly in the mountains. Jean Bonnecaze relates how he spent a night sleeping in a muddy barrel, paying three sous for a rack to keep him out of the wet.[xi] Also, many of the hostels were poor: for instance, he stayed at Silheiro hostel, which he described as ‘miserable’ and in the Augustinian hostel of Laon – where he had good care for a fever he contracted – he spent a night in a bed between three dead men, who died of an epidemic ravaging the hospital.[xii] Food as charitable alms was also available in many larger communities. Laffi noted in the 1670s that most towns in France gave out the passado to pilgrims, usually in the form of bread and wine, and that this continued in Spain. Sleeping, eating, keeping warm and dry, the basics of human existence, made the institutions of hospitality the core landscape features of pilgrimage.
[i] Domenico Laffi, A Journey to the West. The diary of a seventeenth-century pilgrim from Bologna to Santiago to Compostela, transl. James Hall (Leiden: Primavera Pers, 1997); Guillaume Manier, Pèlerinage d’un paysan picard à Saint-Jacques de Compostelle au commencement du XVIIIe siècle, ed. Baron Bonnault d’Houet (Le Mesnil sur l’Estrées: La Vague Verte, 2002); Valérie Dumeige ed., N. de Caumont, G. Manier & J. Bonnecaze, Chemins de Compostelle, Trois récits de pèlerins 1417-1726-1748 (Paris: Cosmopole, 2009).
[ii] Laffi, p. 45,
[iii] Laffi, p. 113.
[iv] Bonnecaze, p. 175.
[v] Bonnecaze, p. 174.
[vi] Laffi, pp. 49, 67, 69
[vii] D. Julia, ‘Pour une géographie européenne du pèlerinage a l’époque moderne et contemporaine’, in P. Boutry & D. Julia (eds), Pèlerins et pèlerinages dans l’Europe moderne (Rome: École française de Rome, 2000), p.60.
[viii] Manier, pp. 6, 34.
[ix] Manier, pp. 17, 43.
[x] Manier, pp. 16, 19, 27.
[xi] Bonnecaze, p. 175.
[xii] Bonnecaze, p. 177.