Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France
Routes Of Santiago De Compostela In France
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The Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela played a key role in religious and cultural exchange and development during the later Middle Ages, and this is admirably illustrated by the carefully selected monuments on the routes followed by pilgrims in France. The spiritual and physical needs of pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela were met by the development of a number of specialized types of edifice, many of which originated or were further developed on the French sections.

After Jerusalem was captured by the Caliph Omar in 638, Christians were hesitant about going to the Holy City as pilgrims. Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of the apostle St James the Great, who brought Christianity to the Iberian peninsula, had been founded around 800, benefited from the decline of Jerusalem as a pilgrimage centre.

Santiago began as a local religious centre, becoming the See of a bishopric around 900, but its renown grew rapidly after the visit in 951 of Godescalc, Bishop of Le Puy and one of the first foreign pilgrims to be recorded. From the 11th century onwards, pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela reached its apogee. Thousands of pilgrims, among them kings and bishops, travelled long distances to pray at the tomb of one of Christ's closest companions. This flowering coincided with that of the Cluniac Order, which encouraged the worship of relics by publishing Lives of the Saints and Collections of Miracles. From the 11th-13th centuries 'staging post' churches developed along the pilgrimage route, and in particular in France.

The four main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in France began at Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles respectively, and each of these was fed by a number of subsidiary routes. Thus, the start of the Paris route saw the convergence of routes from Boulogne, Tournai, and the Low Countries, while routes from Caen, Mont-Saint-Michel, and Brittany joined it at intermediate points such as Tours, Poitiers, Saint-Jean d'Angély and Bordeaux (the port for pilgrims coming by sea from England and coastal areas of Brittany and Normandy). Le Puy was the link with the Rhône valley, whereas those coming from Italy passed through Arles. The three western routes converged at Ostabat, crossing the Pyrenees by means of the Ibaneta pass, while the eastern route from Arles used the Somport pass;the two routes joined in Spain at Puente-la-Reina.

The places of worship along the pilgrimage routes in France range from great structures such as Saint-Sernin at Toulouse or Amiens Cathedral to parish churches. All are included either because they figure on the guide produced by Aymeric Picaud (Saint-Front Cathedral at Périgueux or the Church of Saint-Léonard de-Noblat) or because they contain important relics and other material that connect them directly with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Certain churches exhibit architectural characteristics that permit them to be given the appellation of 'pilgrimage churches'. Sainte-Foy at Conques, Saint-Sernin at Toulouse, and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela itself in particular have in common large transepts and apsidal chapels ranged round a spacious ambulatory, designed to meet the liturgical needs of pilgrims.

Pilgrimages in the Middle Ages imposed considerable hardships on the pilgrims, such that they were often in need of medical treatment and care. Few of these survive intact on the French sections of the route and are included in the World Heritage site. A number of bridges are known as 'pilgrims' bridges', and that over the Borade at Saint-Chély-d'Aubrac even has the figure of a pilgrim carved on it. Of special importance are the Pont du Diable over the Hérault at Aniane, one of the oldest medieval bridges in France, and the magnificent 14th-century fortified Pont Valentréover the Lot at Cahors.

While the course of the different routes is generally known, very little of them survive in anything approaching their original form. The seven stretches included in the site are all on the Le Puy route, and cover a little over 20% of its total length. These are relatively minor roads whose course has not changed significantly since the Middle Ages;they are also lined with monuments associated with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, such as crosses and modest places of worship.