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About the Author

David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson, specialists in Hispanic studies at the University of Rhode Island, met on the Road on their first pilgrimage to Santiago in 1974. Davidson has written several scholarly works on the pilgrimage to Compostela with co-author Maryjane Dunn. Gitlitz is the author of various books on Hispanic and Sephardic culture, including the prize-winning Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews. Their first book written together, also from St. Martin's Press, was A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews, for which they won the National Jewish Book Award and the award for Distinguished Scholarship form the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

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The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago
The Road
Route: Somport Candanchú Santa Cristina Canfranc Estación La Torreta CANFRANC
The central Pyrenees is a region of jutting peaks whose summits and upper slopes lie high above the tree lines. On the French side, north of the watershed axis, the valleys are wet, cold, and heavily forested. On the Spanish side, during the Pleistocene epoch massive glaciers scooped out U-shaped valleys perpendicular to the watershed divide, with lateral streams plummeting into the central valleys. The Spanish valleys drop rapidly into a much drier Mediterranean climate with markedly different vegetation: with each 200 m. of descent, 1 degree of mean annual temperature is gained, and several centimeters of annual precipitation are lost. The high valley walls all catch the winds and moisture and block the sunlight differentially, creating numerous microclimates. Overall, as you drop toward Jaca you will note a half dozen different ecosystems.
Several types of oaks are found in the upper valleys. The slopes and edges of the valleys are dense with heath-type plants: gorse (spiny, low, evergreen shrubs with yellow flowers), bracken ferns, Spanish broom, and heather. Along the streambeds are willows and poplars, and in the lower valley are thick tangles of briar. From midvalley almost to Jaca are thickets of boxwood (boj; bojerales). You will also see increasing quantities of wild herbs, particularly lavender (lavanda) and thyme (tomillo).
Along most of the descent, agricultural villages, spaced at 3- or 4-km. intervals, cling to small promontories or terraces that both offer protection and free up valuable bottomland for agriculture. The violent history of this region at the time the villages were established meant that there were almost no dispersed farmsteads. Instead, peasants clustered their homes and barns for protection and walked daily out to their fields. Most of the isolated buildings you will see are modern.
Somport The Somport pass (Summus portus; 1,640 m.) has been the preferred Roman route across the central Pyrenees ever since Cato conquered the Jacetania tribes around Jaca in 195 B.C.E. This relatively easy corridor from Oloron, France, to Jaca has been favored by merchants, pilgrims, and invading armies over the centuries. In the 4th c. the Vandals invaded through this pass. A century later the Visigoths swept through. In the 8th c. ragtag bands of Christians defended these heights against the Muslim invaders from the south, struggling to keep them from spilling into France. The 16th-c. Hapsburg kings fortified the pass against anticipated French invasions, but these did not come until 1809, when Napoleon's Mariscal Suchet swept through here on his way to occupy Jaca. When General Espoz y Mina finally ousted the French in 1814, they retreated along this same road. And modern bunkers from the time of the Civil War (see ch. 24) can still be seen along every pinch point leading up to the pass.
The pass also channeled most pilgrim traffic until the 12th c., when Navarran and Basque bandits were brought under control, making the much easier pass to the west through Roncesvalles safe. For most pilgrims, both medieval and modern, the entry into Spain was an emotional experience, for it meant that they had left their old lives behind and had reached the land of the Apostle. The breathtaking view of snowcapped peaks from the pass didn't hurt either.
The pass is marked by the Ermita del Pilar, built in 1992, and a modern pedestal decorated with the cross of Santiago.
At the border you are roughly 850 km. from Compostela.
Candanchú (Camp d'Anjou). This was the camp established by the French Anjou dynasty that claimed sovereignty of the valley. At 1,560 m., today it thrives as a ski resort. Just below the town, on a spur of rock to the left of the highway, are scattered ruins of a castle erected early in the 13th c. for the protection of pilgrims. It was purchased by the king of Aragón in 1293 and abandoned in 1458. From the ruins you can see the glaciers of Candanchú and Rioseta. Look here, too, for Civil War bunkers.
The reddish conglomerate and sandstone La Raca cliffs on the east wall of the valley are fragments of the mountains that preceded the Pyrenees some 300 million years ago. To the south are the so-called interior mountains, recrystalized calcium deposits of the Devonian period, twisted by tectonic forces and dissolved and eroded by water in a karstic action that has created many caves.
Santa Cristina The 12th-c. Codex Calixtinus (see ch. 16) in 1140 lauded the hospice of Santa Cristina--often referred to generically as simply El Hospital--as one of the world's 3 great pilgrim hospices:
God has, in a most particular fashion, instituted in this world three columns greatly necessary for the support of his poor, that is to say, the hospice of Jerusalem, the hospice of Mount-Joux [a reference to San Bernardo, in the Swiss Alps], and the hospice of Santa Cristina on the Somport pass. [CC: Book V; trans. Melczer, 87]
Tradition holds that the original hospice was built by 2 pilgrims lost in the snow who were led to shelter here by a white dove carrying a golden cross. Documents, on the other hand, show that its founding was due to the collaboration of 2 princes, King Sancho Ramírez of Aragón (who visited here in 1078) and Count Gastón IV of Bearne, who died in 1130 while fighting the Muslims. Donations poured in, so that by mid-13th c. Santa Cristina owned some 14 churches in France and another 30 in Aragón, including property in places as far afield as Tarazona,Calatayud, and Castejón. Numerous kings and popes contributed to its maintenance. In return, Santa Cristina maintained a network of smaller hospices in all of the neighboring mountain passes. They all offered lodging, food, pasturage for the pilgrims' animals, an infirmary, and money-changing facilities.
The hospice and priory of Santa Cristina prospered during the boom years of the pilgrimage. But in 1569 its community of monks was moved to Jaca at the request of the bishop, and in 1592 it was demolished and its stones used in building Jaca's new fortifications. The community maintained a small shelter for pilgrims during the summers until the 1835 general desamortización. Excavations in 1987-9 to the southeast of the Fuente de los Frailes revealed Santa Cristina's general ground plan, including a monastery, church, and a hospice measuring 25 x 13 m.
Some 300 m. below the ruins are remnants of the Escarne Bridge, cited in documents dated 1586.
On the left, 2 km. before Canfranc Estación at the Coll de Ladrones, are extensive late-19th-c. fortifications that incorporate a 1592 castle built as part of the defensive line anchored in Castiello de Jaca. The picturesque drawbridge and moat date from ca. 1900. By the bridge below the castle used to stand the Ermita de San Antón, completely demolished when the highway was built in 1888.
Canfranc Estación A railroad connecting Spain and France through a great Pyrenean tunnel was projected in 1853. But engineering difficulties and politics, particularly the fear of invasion from the north, slowed the project, and actual work did not begin until 1904. The railroad was not inaugurated until 1928. Except for wartime, service continued from then until 1970, when an accident on the bridge of L'Estanguet put an end to scheduled international service. As we write, the tunnels are being reconditioned for modern use.
Canfranc Estación is a town built both by and for the railroad. Its great esplanade was created with earth removed from the railroad tunnel, and the river was rechanneled to permit the esplanade's construction. The town's population swelled in 1944 when a disastrous fire devastated the ancient village of Canfranc, further down the valley. The boom ended when the trains stopped running, and the imposing railroad station was left to crumble to ruin. In the last few years Canfranc Estación has found new life as a ski center.
The reservoir and hydroelectric station below Canfranc Estación were built--largely by manual labor--from 1957 to 1971.
Below Canfranc Estación the valley sides are composed of sedimentary rocks from a 100-million-year-old sea. Pressures from the lifting of the Pyrenees folded the rocks spectacularly. The imposing mountains to the left are Anayet (2,545 m.), La Moleta (2,576 m.), and Collarada (2,886 m.) To the right rises the Pico de Aspe (2,645 m.).
La Torreta This picturesque castle, also called the Torre de Fusileros and the Torreta de Espelunca, is an 1876 fortification built on the site of 16th- and 18th-c. forts. On our last visit for the first time we found it open, splendidly restored to become the Centro de Información del Túnel de Somport.
THE PILGRIMAGE ROAD TO SANTIAGO: THE COMPLETE CULTURAL HANDBOOK. Copyright © 2000 by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312254164
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312254162
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

150 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Richard Willey on July 24, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As is apparent from other reviews in this thread, "The Pilgrim's Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook" by Gitlitz and Davidson elicits strong feelings, both pro and con. I personally found this book to be an invaluable reference while walking the pilgrimage route. However, I recognize how other individuals might differ in their assessment.
First and foremost, it is essential to recognize what this book is NOT designed to do.
The handbook is not a trail guide.
It does not list refuges or explain where to camp.
It does not tell you where to eat or what to pack.
If this is what you are looking for, find another book.
With that said and done, the handbook did provide me with an extremely valuable reference in establishing a cultural context for the sites that I was visiting. I am not an expert in Romanesque architecture, nor do I know the lives of Roman Catholic saints well enough to recognize the major figures in a Retablo. I never had the opportunity to extensively study the history of the pilgrimage. Left to my own devices, I would most certainly never have read much in the way of medieval Spanish poetry. In all honesty, even after walking the pilgrimage route, I am still far from expert in all of these areas. However, the handbook did provide me with enough information that I was able to appreciate much more of the sites that I was visiting.
As other individuals have noted, time for sightseeing is often short. I found the handbook to be extremely useful in prioritizing my time and determining which sites would be most interesting to visit. As an example, none of the other sources that I consulted noted the existence of the Blacksmith forge at Compludo which may very well have been my favorite part of the trip.
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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Conrad Kent on August 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson have written a remarkable cultural handbook on the Road to Santiago. Basing the book on their own information gained from over a quarter of century of walks to Santiago, they have composed a text that is a must read for all manner of pilgrims to Santiago as well as any student of Spanish cultural history. It is also the one book written over the past 500 years that would have been both credible and interesting to pilgrims from the Renaissance. Examining layer after layer of medieval, Renaissance and modern culture from even the most obscure sites along the road, Gitlitz and Davidson make it possible to finally see the Road to Santiago for the rich cultural, social and religious experience that it is.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Craig on April 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
In preparation for my first official pilgrimage to Compostela, I've sought out references from every possible fountain. Davidson and Gitlitz offer the consumate guide to the novice pilgrim, with plenty for the seasoned shell-bearer. This book is thorough in its detail, appealing in its prose and appetizing in its descriptions. Having lived in many of the places along the road, I've been critical of many of the books I've read as too heavy on the "Big C" culture: That which isn't really culture at all...just the obvious stereotype. This book is heavy on the "Little C" culture, as a book which delves into little-known asides which inspire the traveler to seek and find, and create a unique memory for themselves.
It offers a variety of insights on history, lore, architecture, terrain, and other "bonuses". It's a quick read, but allows you enough of the whole to enitce you to explore and gain the rest on your own industry.
Of all the guidebooks I've purchased, this is the ONLY one that will be travelling in my pack on the Road to Santiago.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J. Van Arsdale on March 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
I walked the Camino in the Fall of 2004 and took this book along with a much thinner more practical guide book. I loved, loved, loved having this book! My thin, practical guidebook told me of the trail, and places to stay and eat. This guidebook brought the experience alive for me. Everynight before I went to sleep, I would read the passage about the day I had just walked, and then would read the passage about the next day's walk. I saw and experienced things I would have totally missed if I did not have this book. I would walk along and think of the millions of pilgrams that had walked this path for over 1000 years. In this books there are excerpts from journals of medieval pilgrams, which really made me feel the history of this pilgramage. I too worried about the weight of the book, but found that in the long run it was really worth the added pound in my backpack. I do recommend taking a more practical guidebook as well. I found the guidebook put out by the Confraternity of St. James to be great! If you are not one bit interested in the History and Folklore of the Camino, then skip this book. But if you are, this book is invaluable. I found that I was sharing it with other pilgrams all the time, who wanted more info on what we were experiencing.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Old Gringo on July 15, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I did the Camino in 2003 using this book as a guide. In fact it was the only one I brought with me.

It's strengths are not in the trail directions it gives. There are much better guides for that. I suggest you consult one of the Camino web sites to find out the most current and recommended version of those. the operative word is current. The Camino does change from year to year, new alberges open, others disappear, the trail moves, street names change (Franco related ones are definitely on the outs), etc.

That said, this is a wonderful book for the historical background and descriptions of the countryside it provides. I read this book and I became fixated on doing the Camino. If you are going to do the Camino or are just interested in the Camino, read this book. If you know someone who is going to do the Camino, get them this book. It is the best book I've ever read in terms of Camino cultural information.
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