A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

God Help Us

The Guide for Pilgrims to Santiago catalogues the full range of catastrophes which could overcome the traveller on the roads in the twelfth century... The pilgrim is warned that the eight-mile ascent of the Port de Cize, the principal pass over the Pyrenees, is a steep climb; that in Galicia there are thick forests and few towns; that mosquitoes infest the marshy plain south of Bordeaux where the traveller who strays from the road can sink up to his knees in mud. Some of the rivers are impassable. Several pilgrims had been drowned at Sorde, where travellers and their horses were ferried across the river on hollowed-out tree trunks. Other rivers were undrinkable, like the salt stream at Lorca, where the authors of the Guide found two Basques earning their living by skinning the horses who had died after drinking from it. Pilgrims were in theory exempt from the payment of tolls, but nevertheless the Guide reports that the local lords exacted payment from every traveller in the Béarn. At the foot of the Port de Cize, pilgrims were searched and beaten with sticks if they could not pay the toll...

From Jonathan Sumption's book Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (1975)

My photo was taken in the abbey church of Saint-Pierre, Moissac.

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