8 Feb 2010

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered: (5) Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Many of the former pagan sites of Europe can easily be found because they are now weighed down with an over-ornate church or cathedral. A case in point is Santiago de Compostela, often described as the third holiest Christian site (after Jerusalem and Rome) and the supposed resting place of St. James, one of Jesus's twelve disciples.

The meaning of the name "Compostela" (field of stars) and it's extreme Westerly position, however, hints at the site's pagan past. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead travelled to the West, following the sun. The site, in the extreme West of Iberia, was therefore seen as a gathering place for the souls of the dead before their final journey West. Those unworthy of going to the Land of the Dead were also said to haunt the area as the Santa Compaña, or the 'Holy Company.' 

Christian ideas of death have no sense of direction so the Westerly location of Santiago de Compostela would have been irrelevant. But, once again, Christianity, in its fanatical obsession to uproot and supplant paganism at all costs, was driven to assert its control by giving this potent site a Christian significance.

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