TWO INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL LOVES THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
Part 1: SAINT JAMES AND THE PILGRIMAGE TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
I was an art historian long and lovingly before I underwent conversion to artistic studio practice. In my first semester at Oberlin College. I was introduced, through a dazzling presentation by Professor Charles Parkhurst on the church of Sainte-Foy at Conques, to the Pilgrimage Roads of France and Spain. the routes followed, from the 9th century on, and still followed, by pilgrims to the tomb of Saint James the Greater at Santiago de Compostela at the northwestern tip of Spain.
Later, the subjects of both my MA thesis (The Porte Miegeville at Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1966) and doctoral dissertation (The North Portal of the Cathedral of Cahors, Columbia University, 1974) were of the 12th-century Romanesque sculptural ensembles. Both Toulouse and Cahors are pilgrim stops, though on different routes.
One day in 1974, when I was teaching medieval art history at The City College of New York, I went to Butler Library at Columbia in search of what I thought was an English translation of the 12th-century pilgrim's guide that we had all read as graduate students when we studied the architecture of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, described in great detail in that text. The guide also describes the routes followed, and still followed, by pilgrims to the tomb of Saint James the Greater at Santiago de Compostela, as well as where to watch out for the behavior of the natives and where the water might make one sick.
There was no English translation. I finally realized that what we had all read as graduate students was Kenneth John Conant's English translation of the description of the cathedral, but that the rest of the guide we knew only in French, in Jeanne Vielliard's translation of the whole Guide. This I borrowed, translated some of the naughty bits into English, and read them to my own students the next day.
Then I discovered that, unbeknownst to me, friends had begun their own English translation. After a tense 24 hours, we joined forces, collaboration being the only sensible thing to do. Thus began a 20-year project, completed ultimately with Paula Gerson, M. Alison Stones, and Jeanne Krochalis, published eventually by Elly and Harvey Miller of London. The first element of this multi-volume publication, the one with which I was most involved, is The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela: A Gazetteer (London: Harvey Miller, 1995; 421 pp; illustrations; maps; plans elevations, notes; glossary).
In the course of getting this book done, we traveled extensively, photographed medieval monuments, huffed dust in archives and libraries, drank wine, ate new foods, made new friends, wrote at length (fortunately, home computers came to us just in time), read proofs, improved our skills in languages living and dead, and developed a feel for travel at a completely different level from beforehand.
For a long time I despaired of seeing the book complete, and used to visualize it in a bookstore window. When the day came at last, I was very pleased indeed.
Though my professional goals are different now, I keep these photos on the wall of my painting studio as reminders of the possibilities of completing one's undertakings.
Subsequently, in 1995 and 1996, with the late Keith Crandell, I had the opportunity to serve as co-warden of the Refugio Gaucelmo, a pilgrim hostel in the Bierzo region of northern Spain. There we maintained a basic household -- beds, basic breakfasts, hot showers, conversation -- for whoever walked through the door on the way to or from Santiago de Compostela. It was a unique opportunity to observe the pilgrimage from the side of the road, as it were. My very idiosyncratic Spanish vocabulary, which was previously fairly full of art historical terms, was joined by fluency in first aid and housekeeping. And there were days on which I might speak four languages in the course of my duties.
One of our first pilgrims, Father Klaus, a German priest supervising a group of conscientious objectors on pilgrimage, set the tone for us that was useful throughout our time in Rabanal. "Some people," he said, "go on pilgrimage for religious reasons. Others go for the exercise, for sport. Others because their friends are going. It doesn't matter what the motivation is, because everyone is changed by the pilgrimage."
It is now more than half a century since I first heard about this international movement, and two decades since the book came out and we served as hostel keepers, yet my head still swivels whenever I come across a mention of the Compostela pilgrimage, which I consider mine.
|The Pilgrim's Guide, Book Cover|
PART TWO: THE ARGENTINE TANGO will appear in the next newsletter