Homer's Travels: Book: William Melczer's "The Pilgrim's Guide To Santiago De Compostela"

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book: William Melczer's "The Pilgrim's Guide To Santiago De Compostela"

William Melczer's "The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela" is a very interesting read that I can recommend to absolutely no one I know.  How do you recommend an English translation of a 12th century pilgrim's guide?  I can't even recommend it for someone who is walking the camino as the material is some 800 years out of date and I expect very little of it applies to the modern pilgrimage.

The book is essentially divided into three sections.  The first section is a discussion of Saint James and the birth of the Camino and the cult of Saint James.  This section starts out very slow and the author has a thing for long words such as Hagiographical but as you continue to wade through the linguistic muck the way clears and the reading becomes clearer and easier on the grey matter.  Most of this section is very scholarly, digging deep into the historic, religious, and iconographic analysis of Saint James.

The second section is a translation, from the original Latin, of book five of the Codex Calixtinus, a 12th century document.  Book five is a guide for the traveler talking about the towns, rivers (safe and poisonous), people (safe and poisonous), and Saintly relics that must be visited along the way.  I especially found entertaining the section where greedy ferrymen are berated and condemned to damnation.  Not only are the ferrymen damned but so are those who forgive them.  It's interesting to see the Camino from such a different perspective.

The third section are the notes.  The notes are substantial.  To give you an idea how substantial, the first section is 82 pages, the second section is 51 pages, and the notes (notes, Hagiographical register, Gazetteer, Bibliography, and Index) are 212 pages.  I decided not to read the notes.  I'm not a masochist.

I actually liked the book.  I'm not sure exactly why but it kept me reading even if I only read 40% of the book.  I can't recommend it ... but I liked it.


  1. Pshaw. That's like saying you can't recommend a geology book to someone visiting the Grand Canyon. Anyone traveling the road who wants a sense of history might enjoy it. My suggestion: bring it with you along the journey and compare then to now. Or perhaps gift it to a fellow traveler...

  2. GH: I would take it with me ... if weight weren't at such a high premium.