Queens, maids, women crusaders, fraudsters, beggars, saints…There are plenty of stories related to female pilgrims that break the stereotype of women on the Camino de Santiago from Middle Ages. A recent book “Women and Pilgrimage in Medieval Galicia” narrates and describes the role of these relevant women. A book written by a professional team and coordinated by Carlos Andrés González-Paz, a researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Gallegos “Padre Sarmiento” and a R&D centre of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), located in Santiago de Compostela.
For many in the Middle Ages, pilgrimages were seen to represent a clear risk of moral and religious perdition for women, and they were strongly discouraged from making them; this exhortation would have been universally disseminated and generally followed, except, of course, in the case of the virtuous ‘extraordinary women’, such as saints and queens. Women and Pilgrimage in Medieval Galicia represents an analysis of the social history of women based on documentary sources and physical evidence, breaking away from literary and historiographical stereotypes, while at the same time contributing to a critical assessment of the myth that medieval women were kept hidden away from the world.
As the chapters here show, women – and not only those ‘extraordinary women’, but also women from other social strata – became pilgrims and travelled the paths that led from their homes to the most important Christian shrines, especially – although not exclusively – Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. It can be seen that medieval women were actively involved in this ritualistic expression of devotion, piety, sacrifice or penitence. This situation is thoroughly documented in this multidisciplinary book, with emphasis both on the pilgrimages abroad from Galicia and on the pilgrimages to the shrine of St James at Compostela.
The women pilgrims documented are extremely heterogeneous, from saints like Bridget of Sweden to fools such as the “demoniaca de Suevia”; from queens such as Elizabeth of Portugal (Isabel, princess of Aragon) to fraudsters like Catherine of Firbes; from a women dressed in a man´s clothing like sister Maria de San Antonio to the anonymous wife of a French carpenter; from Countess Egidia of Ceccano to the widow of an infantry soldier of Leon. Even though the sources show that the women belonging to the most prominent social echelons are the most represented (mainly because they appear more frequently in documents as a result of their more regular access to written culture, women from many territories, representing a cross-section of the society of their time, converged on the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Together with these historical women, there are also fictional feminine representations that were related to the pilgrimage world. Some belong to literature, such as the cripple woman of Lugo, from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and the false pilgrim women of the Cantigas de romaría of the very rich Galician-Portuguese lyric, or to the artistic representations, such as the iconography of the Virgin of the Road and the eternal dialectic between “Ave” and “Eva”.
So, if you are interested in Medieval history of the Camino de Santiago and who these brave woman were, you can learn more about them. In this way, I am also interested in these fabulous stories so I am going to find out about their lives and adventures and tell them to you in the following posts.
Buen Camino, especially for our brave female pilgrims nowadays !
Wonderful addition to the history of women on el Camino and a good one to compare with “Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England” by Susan Signe Morrison.