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Alfonso X, the History of Spain, and Medieval Manuscripts


Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Past OR future Camino
A few in the past; more in the future!
A diversion on a very cold day on the Iberian peninsula at a time when none of us can be on camino anyway.

Pilgrims will be familiar with medieval manuscripts that you can sometimes see in museums, monasteries etc on the camino. Indeed, one of the most famous objects related to the camino is a medieval manuscript: the Codex Calixtinus (Wikipedia), a 12th-century guidebook of sorts for the camino.

The following century, King Alfonso X ('The Wise' / 'El Sabio', Wikipedia) of Castile commissioned several books, including the Libro de los Juegos (Book of Games; Wikipedia) with its famous illustrations. You can see the earliest manuscript of this book at El Escorial near Madrid, as I did once.

Another of Alfonso's books is the Estoria de Espanna (Historia de España / History of Spain, Wikipedia). He was very involved personally in this project and it was the first book of its kind to tell the history of Spain in Spanish and not Latin.

In the last few years, the University of Birmingham in the UK has produced a digital version of the Estoria; that is, bringing together the various extant manuscripts into a consolidated digital form. I was fortunate to be involved in transcribing the manuscripts as a volunteer crowdsourcer, including being granted access to the physical 'Q' manuscript of the Estoria at the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

I wrote about my experience with this project and have just republished my article here: Estoria de Espanna. I hope you enjoy reading it!


Meanwhile, if you're interested in exploring medieval manuscripts a bit further, here are some of my recommended courses and twitter follows:

Courses: Digging Deeper (Stanford) | 'The Book' (Harvard, nine separate courses) | Deciphering Secrets (University of Colorado, a series of practical courses generating 'citizen-paleographers', the first of which was my entry into the field)

Twitter: Ainoa Castro (who specialises in 'Visigothic' script in Iberia, and who I did some editing for a few years ago), Erik Kwakkel, Damien Kempf and Sexy Codicology. There are plenty more if you want to go down a medieval rabbit hole!

If anyone else has any experiences or resources related to manuscripts that they would like to share, please do so!
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Veteran Member
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The Estoria of Espanna is the history of the kingdom Astur- Leones and Castile. So, there is nothing about the other kingdoms: Aragon, Navarra and Al- Andalus.
In reality before the Borbons (year 1700) the current concept of Spain didn't exist.
Talking about the cold Spain. The weather forecast today is 30 cms of snow in Madrid for Saturday and -12°C for next week. This could be a hell of ice and we are not prepared for this.


Staff member
Juegos (Book of Games; Wikipedia) with its famous illustrations. You can see the earliest manuscript of this book at El Escorial

One of the few reasons I can think of to go to the Escorial. :rolleyes: Seriously, what a depressing place. And I’ve just recently given my opinion of Felipe II’s decision to ignore his father’s fervent wish to remain at Yuste.

Thanks to you and this post, I realize that I have been confusing Alfonso X with Alfonso II for years now.

One of my happiest Camino memories is related to an ancient manuscript — the Beatus of San Miguel de la Escalada. Years ago (12 to be precise), as I was trying to get forum help on how to get from León to visit San Miguel de la Escalada, @Rebekah responded and said — meet me in front of the León post office and I’ll take you! She brought a beautiful book dedicated to the Beatus, and I was wowed. Not only did she introduce me to the Beatus, she also introduced me to La Competencia, a small Spanish pizza chain, with many locations in Camino cities in Castilla y León. But most precious of all, of course, was getting to be her friend. awwww......
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