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Famous city of Spain, situated on an eminence between the Sar (the Sars of Pomponius Mela) and the Sarela

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Compostela, a famous city of Spain, situated on an eminence between the Sar (the Sars of Pomponius Mela) and the Sarela. At a very remote period this hill was crowned by a Celtic castle, known as Liberum Donum, according to the twelfth-century “Historia Compostelana” (cf. Welsh llwybr, “way”, and don, “tower”, “castle”. Compostela overlooks two Roman roads; the Celto-Roman name was probably Liberodunum). It has been an archiepiscopal see since 1120, but as the successor to the ancient See of Iria its episcopal rank dates certainly from the fourth, probably from the first, century of our era.

ETYMOLOGY—The name Corpostela does not appear before the tenth century. In a document of 912 it is said of the monastery of St. Martin, near the cathedral: quod situm est in urbe Compostellel. King Ferdinand I in a privilege of March 10, 1063, apropos of St. James the Great, says: cujus corpus requiescit Gallecia in urbe Compostelid. Three years previous a council held in the cathedral is called Compostellanum. From this the name is in frequent use and gradually usurps the names familiar to previous centuries; locus sanctus, arcis marmoreis, ecclesia, or civitas sancti Jacobi. The name seems to be a diminutive of composta, “established”, in reference to the stronghold (civitatella) of the city. Similar diminutives abound in the Middle Ages. The cite of Paris, the city of London, the Toletula of Toledo, the Almudena, diminutive of Almedina, in Madrid and in Palma (Majorca), recall the former distinction between the territory without the walls and the city (civitas) properly so called. The episcopal city of the Island of Minorca (in Romano-Punic, lamo) yet retains its medieval name Ciutadilla.

THE See of COMPOSTELA.—Its history may be divided into two periods, before and after its elevation (1120) to the metropolitan dignity.—The Bishopric.—The Sar swollen by the Sarela flows onward from Compostela some fifteen or sixteen miles until it joins the Ulla, and empties into the sea at Padron (Patronus), a hamlet which has borne that name since the ninth century in memory of the fact that it was the landing-place of the galley which bore to Gallicia the body of the Apostle St. James the Great. Here stood in those days the city of Iria, capital of the Gallician Caporos, as may be seen from its Roman ruins, especially the inscriptions, some of which are contemporary with the beginning of the Christian Era. Pomponius Mela, who lived in the reign of Emperor Claudius, i.e. at the time of St. James’s martyrdom, says that the Sar enters the ocean near the Tower of Augustus (Turris Augusti); the foundations of the latter are still recognizable in the outer harbor of Iria. In the reign of Vespasian the cognomen Flavia was added; as Iria Flavia it appears in the Geography of Ptolemy. According to a very probable tradition, it was here that the Apostle St. James the Great preached the Christian religion and founded an episcopal see. This tradition was already widespread in the year 700, when St. Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury, later Bishop of Sherborne, wrote as follows (P.L., LXXXIX, 293):

Hie quoque Jacobus, cretus genitore vetusto Delubrum sancto defendit tegmine celsum; Qui, clamante pio ponti de margine Christo, Linquebat proprium panda cum puppe parenteln. Primitus Hispanas convertit dogmate gentes, Barbara divinis convertens agmina dictis, Quae priscos dudum ritus et lurida fana, Daemonis horrendi decept fraude, colebant; Plurima hie prcesul patravit signa stupendus Quae nunc in chartis scribuntur rite quadratis.

(Here also James, born of an ancient sire, protects the lofty shrine with a holy roof—he who, when dear Christ called him from the seashore left his own father with the curved ship. He, at the first did convert the Spanish peoples by his teaching, turning towards God‘s word the barbarous hordes that had long practiced primitive rites and worshipped at the shrines of darkness, being deceived by the craft of the evil one. Here did the wonderful bishop perform many portents, which are now set down in order upon our fourfold chart.)

The list of the bishops of Iria known to us from their presence at councils and from other authentic sources begins with the year 400. They are: Ortigius, …, Andreas (572), Dominicus, Samuel, Gotumarus (646), Vincibilis, Ildulfus Felix (683), Selva, Leosindus, Theudernirus (808?), Adaulfus I (843), and Adaulf us II (851-79). Under the last-named the city was destroyed by Norman pirates, on which occasion both bishop and chapter took refuge behind the strong walls of Compostela. Soon they petitioned King Ordono II and Pope Nicholas I to permit them to transfer the see from Iria to Compostela, near the sepulchre and church of St. James. Both pope and king consented, on condition, however, that the honor of the see should be divided between the two places. From the second half of the ninth century therefore, the bishops of this see are known indiscriminately as Irienses or Sancti Jacobi, even as ecclesicr apostolicae sancti Jacobi, finally as Compostellani. At the end of the eleventh century, through reverence for the body and the sepulchre of St. James, Ur-ban II withdrew from Iria its episcopal rank and transferred the see in its entirety to Compostela. At the same time he exempted it from the authority of the metropolitan and made it immediately subject to the Holy See. This is evident from the Bull of December 5, 1095, in favor of the Cluniac bishop, Dalmatius, present at the famous Council of Clermont.

The Metropolitan See.—Thenceforth the see grew in importance, likewise its magnificent Romanesque church, modeled on that of Puy in France, and frequented by pilgrims from all parts of Christendom. Like the cathedral of Toledo after the reconquest (1085), it became the principal center of the political renaissance of Catholic Spain and its self-assertion against the Moslem power. Pope Callistus II recognized the great merits of Diego Gelmfrez, Bishop of Compostela, and in view of the reconquest of much Portuguese territory, and the near recovery of its freedom by Merida, the ancient metropolis of Lusitania (Portugal), confided to him the perpetual administration of that archdiocese, whereby Compostela became a metropolitan see. Since then it has been occupied by many illustrious men, not a few of whom were raised to the cardinalitial dignity (Gams, “Series episcoporum ecclesiae Catholic“, Ratisbon, 1873; Eubel, “Hierarchic catholica medii nevi”, Munster, 1898). The Bull of Callistus II (February 26, 1120) clothed the metropolitan of Compostela with authority over the following dioceses of the ancient Provincia Lusitana: Salamanca, Avila, Coria, Ciudad Rodrigo, Plasencia, Badajoz—(in Spain); Idanha (Guarda), Lamego, Lis-bon, Evora, Osonova (Silves)—in Portugal beyond the Duero. Though Compostela lost the Portuguese dioceses, November 10, 1399, when Lisbon was made an archbishopric, it acquired in return Astorga, Lugo, Mondonedo, Orense, Tuy, and Zamora. The Concordat of 1851 left it with onlyfive: Lugo, Mondonedo, Orense, Oviedo, and Tuy. The list of the councils of Cornpostela may be seen in the aforementioned work of Gams, and their text in Mansi or Aguirre. One of the most important is the provincial council which asserted the innocence of the Templars within its jurisdiction; another, held October 29, 1310, anticipated in its fourth canon the action of the Council of London (October 29, 1329) under Simon of Mepham, Archbishop of Canterbury in decreeing the yearly celebration of the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin throughout the province of Compostela on the eighth of December. Among those who have occupied the See of Compostela may be mentioned: St. Rosendus (970-77); St. Peter de Mosoncio (986-1000), probably the author of the Salve Regina; Diego Pel Lez (1070-88), who began the reconstruction of the cathedral; Diego Gelmfrez (1100-42?), the first Archbishop of Cornpostela, and who continued the work of Bishop Pelaez; Pedro Munoz (1207-11), who finished the cathedral; Cardinal Miguel Paya y Rico (1874-85), who had the honor of discovering in a crypt behind the high altar of the cathedral the sepulchre and the relics of the Apostle St. James.

The sepulchre of St. James and questions relating thereto are treated in the article James the Greater, Saint. It will suffice to mention here the document which confirms better than any other the history and the authenticity of this sacred relic of the primitive Christian life of Spain, i.e. the solemn Bull of Leo XIII (November 1, 1884) in which he confirms the declaration of Cardinal Paya, Archbishop of Compostela, concerning the identity of the bodies of the Apostle St. James the Greater and his disciples Athanasius and Theodorus.


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