Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

Today I’m following in the footsteps of one of Waterford’s most famous mayor’s, James Rice. For like him I’m starting on a journey to do pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Of course my journey will be remarkable different from the travels of a 15thC wine merchant and politician. Rather than a ship across the Bay of Biscay taking many days or perhaps weeks in unfavorable weather, my own journey should be a matter of hours by air.  
I can’t say for sure why I’m drawn to walk the Camino. I have walked Irish pilgrim paths of course. I’m always drawn in by the older routes, anything not encroached by tarmac and bloody bungalows. But the draw to the Camino is different. Maybe its the influence of my good friend Damien who is a serial walker of the pilgrim roads of Europe. Damien wrote a guest blog at Christmas about his theory that Ballyhack was a significant departure route from the harbour for pilgrims. Another influence is my pal “Lloyd of the Blackstairs” who has blogged about his own epic journey i, ii, iii, iv & v. One journey I would have dearly loved to make was a re-enactment several years back of Rice’s journey when a group paraded down to Waterford quays and sailed out the harbour on the tall ship Jeanie Johnson. 
depiction of medieval sailing via

Enough of me however, who was James Rice?  James was a wealthy Anglo-Irish wine merchant and was Mayor of Waterford eleven times during the 15th Century. Wine was imported from the French and Spanish ports, the outgoing vessels carried large quantities of foodstuff, including fish from our river weirs. During this time the city prospered. (His fathers, Peter, wine vault is part of the museum of treasures exhibits) Rice is regarded as one of the most important mayors in medieval Waterford – holding the office on eleven occasions between 1467 and 1486.

Pilgrims were facilitated on these ships of trade, and the majority of them will never be known of. However as mayor, and a man of influence, some of Rice’s journey is known and this may give a sense of it:
“…As Waterford was a port town with trade links with France and Spain its likely James travelled by boat to the port of Corunna and then headed on foot to Santiago. Having arrived at his destination he  would have found somewhere to stay. Most pilgrims spent the night in a vigil within the cathedral in front of the high altar. The next day pilgrims attended mass and during the ceremony they presented their offerings. Pilgrims would also have made confession and obtained certificates of pilgrimage in the Capilla del Rey de Francia. There are no records detailing James experiences but he must have visited the relics of the saint and perhaps even purchased some souvenirs. From the 12th century scallop shells were sold to pilgrims in the cathedral square and a small number have been found in Irish medieval burials…”
Excerpt from  https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/

In 1481 he built a chapel to house his tomb in the original Norman cathedral in the city. It can now be found in Christ church cathedral. 
It’s what is known as a cadaver monument.  It depicts the reality of death and the glory of saints. Rice wished that his tomb be a reminder of the briefness of our earthly lives and the transient nature of wealth and power. It displays a decaying corpse, crawling with worms and with a frog feasting on the flesh. The tomb has images of saints carved on all sides. The apostles are found on the north side; James the minor, Thomas, John, James the Major, Andrew and Peter and on the south side: Matthias Jude, Simeon, Matthew, Bartholomew and Philip. The west end of the tomb bears the images of St Margaret of Antioch, the Virgin and Child and St Catherine of Alexandria. The east end depicts St Edmund the Confessor, the Holy Trinity and St Patrick. 

I love the writing which is a chastening reminder to us all: “Here lies ‘James Rice,one time citizen of this city,founder of this chapel,and Catherine Broun, his wife. Whoever you may be, passer by, Stop, weep as you read. I am what you are going to be, and I was what you are. I beg of you, pray for me! It is our lot to pass through the jaws of death. Lord Christ, we beg of thee, we implore thee, be merciful to us! Thou who has come to redeem the lost condemn not the redeemed.”

Rice completed the pilgrimage twice during his lifetime (1473 & 1483) and his tomb became a starting point for Waterford pilgrims as they embarked upon their journey. It was fitting to visit it again today prior to departure. 

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