Produced in the twelfth century at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Codex Calixtinus is one of the most important sources on social life in Romanesque France. As the oldest and most complete copy of the Liber sancti Jacobi, this manuscript is a key witness to the well-trod pilgrimage routes connecting France to the shrine of St. James the apostle in the Kingdom of Galicia, in northwestern Spain. Sparsely decorated, with three narrative scenes and as many large historiated initials, the Codex Calixtinus is rich in practical advice for the traveler, covering a range of topics including important sights to see, places to overnight, and the customs and characters of various peoples on the way. Considered Europe’s first guidebook, this codex offers priceless insights into social, religious, artistic, and musical life of early twelfth-century France.
The Codex Calixtinus was written by French scribes in Compostela, in an error-filled Latin with some vernacular phrases. Intended as an anthology of pre-existent sources, the manuscript is made up of five volumes containing liturgical texts, a collection of miracles associated with St. James, the account of the transfer of his body to Galicia, the history of the Battle of Roncesvalles, and the Pilgrim’s Guide. Its two appendices include the earliest known examples of polyphonic songs.
Painting Along the Pilgrimage Routes
The decorative program of the Codex Calixtinus consists of three narrative scenes depicting key moments from the history of Charlemagne and Roland, three portrait initials depicting St. James, Pope Callixtus II, and archbishop Turpin, and eighteen interlace initials of fleshy vines and dragon forms set against solid colored backgrounds.
On stylistic grounds the illuminations are comparable to examples from Normandy and the central Loire region; most likely, the team of French-trained scribes and artists had been assembled at Compostela.
The paintings are executed in line drawings with washes of color for backgrounds, in a restrained palette that that substitutes yellow for gold. With the exception of one large initial, all the decorations date to the early phase of the manuscript’s production.
Script in Transition
The Codex Calixtinus is written in protogothic script with some angularity and pronounced upward flicks at the feet of minims. Most of the text was executed in two campaigns: around 1140, a main and two secondary scribes wrote a well-spaced script with strong Caroline features; and sometime before 1173 an elegant hand deployed a narrower, more compressed style to complete the main text.
The text is enhanced with rubrics and titles in colored Roman Capitals with some Uncial forms, and with minor colored initials decorated with foliate finials and hairline flourishes. Further additions and annotations were made in the later twelfth and until the fourteenth century.
A Treasure of the Cathedral
Shortly after it was completed, the Codex Calixtinus was copied by the pilgrim monk Arnaldo de Monta for his own monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia (Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Ms. Ripoll no. 99). Its early history is otherwise unknown.
It was rediscovered in the archives of the cathedral by the Jesuit scholar Padre Fidel Fita in 1886. Between 1964 and 1966 the codex was restored and its fourth book, which had been removed in 1609, was reinstated.
The manuscript made international headlines when it was stolen in July 2011 and recovered a year later, in the garage of electrician José Manuel Fernández Castiñeiras. As of 2017, the Codex Calixtinus is inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Codex Calixtinus of Santiago de Compostela": Codex Calixtinus de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela facsimile edition, published by Kaydeda Ediciones, 1993Request Info / Price