Today is the feast of St James the apostle. The saint’s shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Spain attracted large numbers of pilgrims from all over the Christian world during the medieval period. Medieval souvenirs purchased by pilgrims to Santiago have been recovered across Europe including Ireland. St James enjoyed great devotion in medieval Ireland and his image turns up on a number of Irish medieval tombs.
Given the long distance of the journey from Ireland to Santiago and the requirement to travel part of the journey by boat, a pilgrimage to Santiago from Ireland was very expensive. Historical sources suggest that the majority of Irish pilgrims travelling to Santiago were from the upper echelons of Irish society. Pilgrims would have embarked from a variety of Irish ports such as Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, New Ross, Waterford, Youghal, Cork, Kinsale, Dingle, Limerick and Galway (Stalley 1988, 398).
Roger Stalley gives an excellent discussion of the literary and archaeological evidence for Irish Pilgrimage to Santiago in his article ‘Sailing to Santiago: Medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and its artistic influences in Ireland’.
Travel by sea was shorter than by land but it was not without its own hazards. Pilgrims traveling by sea were at risk from storms, disease and pirates. Bad weather was the biggest threat as storms had the potential of causing ship wrecks (Davies 1988, 47-48). There are many accounts of pirates attacking ships from Continental sources. Pirates were known to kill, kidnap and ransom or enslave pilgrims. A Lübeck chronicle dating to 1453 recorded the capture of some three hundred pilgrims returning from the Holy Land by hostile Saracens who killed all the men and enslaved the women (Ohler 1989, 48-49; Harpur 2002, 79). One of the most interesting reference to Irish Jacobean pilgrims dates to the year 1473.
The 1473 account concerns Irish pilgrims traveling on ship called the La Mary London. The pilgrims appear to have been on their return journey from pilgrimage to Santiago when their boat was captured by pirates. It is not known exactly how the events unfolded but the pilgrims were later released in the port of Youghal, Co. Cork, although the ship had originally been destined to dock at Waterford. It is likely that the pilgrims were ransomed by the pirates. They had a lucky escape as they could have easily been, murdered or sold as slaves like the villagers of Baltimore in 1603 (Stalley 1988, 397 after Cal. Pat rolls. 1476-85, 78).
Harpur, J. 2002. Sacred Tracks. 2000 Years of Christian Pilgrimage. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd.
Ohler, N. 1989. The medieval traveller; translated by Caroline Hillier. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.
Stalley, R. 1988. ‘Sailing to Santiago: Medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and its artistic influences in Ireland’, In Bradley, J. (ed.) Settlement and Society in Medieval Ireland. Studies presented to F.X. Martin, o.s.a. Kilkenny: Boethius Press, 397-420.
Do you have any video of that? I’d love to find out more details.
Yes I do but its not great quality. I plan to attend this summer again so will try and get some good footage.