A rare piece of exceptional value
The Book of the Knights of the Brotherhood of Santiago is a rare piece of exceptional value and beauty, which unites in an unusual volume a "Regla de Cofradía" and an Armorial. Moreover, it constitutes an essential historic and sociologic document for understanding specific aspects of the last period of the Middle Age and the first of the Modern Age. It rides between these two periods throughout almost four centuries, a significant heritage about the common daily routines, clothes, weapons, skills and traditions of the Castilian knights of that time.
Its origin dates back to the foundation in 1338. Like in any other association of that kind, the brotherhood was provided with statutes, rules which should be strictly observed by all the members. These rules were written in a simple scroll. Among their scarce pages there used to be at most, the miniature of a holy image for solemnizing more the content. However, in the case of our codex someone had the bright idea of representing the knights riding their covered horses, armed with those short lances – the famous "bohordos" which later on would gave way to swords –, and their shields. Those shields as well as the horse coatings also represented the weapons and the heraldry of each one. That clever idea, apparently insignificant, will transform our initial scroll into an exceptional book, in a really unique piece.
The Brotherhood of Santiago
Despite the remarkable armorials which appear in England, France and Bourgogne since the end of 14th century, these features make it the oldest and richest codex of any preserved armorial. In 1924, the brotherhood will receive a new impulse, closely linked to the existence of the codex, as well as the direct and personal intervention of the monarch Alfonso XIII of Spain, who received in 1923 in Madrid a brothers’ committee, which took advantage of the trip to show the codex to the king. The monarch even expressed his wish to gladly accept the offer of joining as old brother of the brotherhood.
In 1928 was written, according to agreement, a new record of the book and brothers, appearing at the top Alfonso XIII. From the artistic point of view, it is eloquent to know that already in 1931, the English historian Cook, requested to the brotherhood photographic copies of the codex in order to carry out a research about it, since he considered it essential in order to know the Spanish art.
The professor Joaquin Yarza explain that the excellent work of the illustrator, – who himself nickname as the “miniaturist of 1338” –, is out of comparison to the miniatures of Castile and León of that time. He also points out that the other remarkable artist of the codex – “the miniaturist of 1501” – is one of the most important of Castile and Spain in the years of the Kings Ferdinand and Isabella.
An exceptional witness of Medieval society
The work of that excellent artist represents the best of the late Gothic movement from Burgos. In fact, always according to professor Yarza, the environment in Burgos in 1501 means the brightest period of miniature. Probably, twenty years before, Burgos was already the most prominent artistic centre of the peninsula, and it became the most active of all kingdoms and had the highest quality. That situation is undeniable, for example in regard to sculpture, but when it is about the book illustration, it is not so well-known, that is why is so important the codex of La Cofradía de Santiago as the greatest exponent of the excellent illuminators of that moment. It is “one of the most singular Spanish codices of any time”.
As an armorial, its importance is even greater. One of the most noticeable peculiarities of our codex is that, unlike nearly all the known illuminated codex, it was made under singular circumstances. It was made throughout four centuries, likewise the cathedrals: from 1338 to the end of 17th century; from the reign of Alfonso XI of Castile to Philip IV of Spain. That makes it an exceptional witness of the cavalry and society of those centuries.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Book of the Knights of the Brotherhood of Santiago": Libro de los Caballeros de Santiago facsimile edition, published by Siloé, arte y bibliofilia, 2000