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Terrific new book about Saint James

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Terry Callery

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There is a very excellent book just released titled "Saint James the Greater in History, Art and Culture."
I just read it and gave it a five star rating on Amazon. The author is William Farina.

My review of the book:
"The myth of Saint James may have changed history by launching the "Reconquista" of Spain, unifying the small Christian Kingdoms of Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Kingdom of Pamplona in the early ninth century. But Farina agrees with most historians that the story of Saint James being buried in Santiago de Compostela is just that, a myth. While pealing away the fiction from fact, Mr. Farina is at the same time respectful of the role the myth has had in the lives of the faithful. I read this book while doing research for a book that I am writing about the origins of Christianity's most important pilgrimage and this book is by far the best, most accessible, most readable (of 20 books I have referenced) about the small underdog Kingdom of Asturias which against all odds surges forth into history despite the Moorish controlled Caliphate of Cordova to the south, while at the same time being overshadowed by Charlemagne's Empire to the North and East.
So a beheaded body is found in Galicia in the year 814, and the Bishop and the King conclude (with a certain amount of logic) that it is the body of not just any Christian martyr, but the first and perhaps most important Christian martyr, Saint James the Apostle. A shrine is constructed (from which the holy city of Santiago de Compostela evolves) and the ensuing pilgrims to the site gradually help to unite and enrich the unconquered Christian stronghold in the mountains of northern Spain. Mr Farina writes in a clear and clean style so that the general reader will find his work more than accessible. The author buries (excuse the pun) much of the secondary and tangential information in nicely done footnotes in the appendix, so that the books really flows and reads fast.
But the story does't end in the middle ages. Saint James who has become the patron Saint of Spain, not only changes the history, but also his image and persona ripple into art and culture of the Western World. Mr Farina truly understands that our myths are an integral part of our dreams, our aspirations and who were are as people."
 
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...read this book while doing research for a book that I am writing about the origins of Christianity's most important pilgrimage...
Wishing you well with your research!!!

IMHO (NOT that you asked ;) )!"...most important Pilgrimage" is the one that changes lives. 🥰
 

KinkyOne

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I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
...underdog Kingdom of Asturias which against all odds surges forth into history despite the Moorish controlled Caliphate of Cordova to the south, while at the same time being overshadowed by Charlemagne's Empire to the North and East.
...
Thank you very much for bringing this up. I doubt I would find this book without your post.

But... Charlemagne's Empire to the North of Asturias??? North of Asturias is Atlantic Ocean... Am I missing something?
 

Terry Callery

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Charlemagne's Empire at the time extended to Denmark which as I said is to the North and East -It included all of what is now France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy down to Rome. It extended at time East to Hungary.

How about this, Charlemagne died in 814, the same year the Shephard, Monk, Hermit, Relic Monger Pelayo "discovered" the tomb of Saint James. Charlemagne was big into relics as he wore amulets containing a splinter from the True Cross of Christ and the "hair of the Virgin Mary". Of course at this time relics were stolen, faked and invented all the time. The most prized relics were those of Christian martyrs.
 
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t2andreo

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Personally, and IMHO, I regard the book as a heresy as I am among the majority of all pilgrims - ever and for more than 1,200 years - to Santiago who simply believe. In our view, all mythical aspects aside, there are enough documented facts available in the Cathedral and the Vatican Archives to establish a very clear documented fact pattern regarding the life and death of James the Greater, Apostle and Saint. Over the centuries, further study and archaeological research has only added to the veracity of the earlier accounts.

Along the way, certain mythological and legendary stories have been identified, isolated, but have been allowed to remain, as they do no harm, and help bolster faith among the masses.

Knowing much of what is contained in the archives, I concluded some years ago that the story of Santiago is more likely true that myth. Some of the evidence is circumstantial, as modern forensics and DNA evidencing was not available 150 years ago, when the contents of the silver casket were examined by physicians from the Medical University of Compostela.

These facts, while not 100% conclusive are very categorical regarding certain key elements of Santiago's life, ministry and death.

The cult of Santiago and many obvious myths and legend are permitted to continue to exist out of popular interest and devotion. I suspect the rationale is similar to the finding that Jesus was married, fathered children, or whatever... but I digress...

There are several myths that might be disproved, like the stone boat, as opposed to a boat designed to transport stone, and the transit and docking of said stone boat at Padron, or the mysterious star leading the hermit monk Pelayo / Pelagius to the field of stars, to rediscover the first-century Roman villa ruins and family tombs, where the remains were found.

Better still, would be the mysterious appearance of Santiago on his huge white horse, with sword in hand slaying the Moors at the pivotal Battle of Clavijo / Battle of Monte Laturce in 859 AD. Legends or not, it is still a very good story. It provides solace and strength to the population. No harm is done.

Most cultures around the world have similar, legendary stories that seem to grow in stature over the years. Did George Washington really throw a coin across the Potomac? I know the Potomac near his home, it is a VERY wide river. Did he really, ever chop down that cherry tree? Who knows, and frankly who cares?

Incidentally, the Vatican Archives contain a contemporaneous account from Asturias of the finding of the specific tomb within the first-century ruins, with a carved ichthys, or the early Christian fish symbol carved on its face, along with the Latin phrase "Ecce Iago" (Iago is Latin for James). So, the carving stated 'here is James."

These same stones, sans the carving with was destroyed during the first excavations, remain as the side walls in the passage under the main altar leading to the casket in the crypt. In other words, the silver casket is adjacent to where it was first discovered in 814.

Entire economies might be jeopardized by too public presentation of alternative "facts." When confronted by a new book such as this, one must ask WHY?

Sometimes it is better to just leave a sleeping dog lay.

I respect the OP and the book, in general. I just do not choose to be impressed by a secular, contrary, argument.

Hope this helps the dialog.
 
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Kathar1na

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I read the book "Saint James the Greater in History, Art and Culture" by William Farina some time ago. I had great hopes because of the title. It didn't make a big impression on me but I would have to read it again to be more specific about my reasons for disappointment. The author is not a scholar, he is an American essayist and writer of popular non-fiction (says Wikipedia). He has produced books about all sorts of topics. As far as I can remember, the History part of the book is just a rehash of what you can read just about anywhere. Again as far as I can remember, the Art and Culture part was rather disappointing. There's nothing controversial or new in this book.

What is usually overlooked in this kind of narratives is the fact that the myths were often developed centuries after the actual time when they supposedly happened. These narratives put the myths in a timeline that is totally wrong and paint a distorted picture of reality. Not sure that my poor attempt at trying to explain this makes sense to anyone :). You really have to dive into it.

For example, the most exciting thing I've ever read about Charlemagne's trip to Spain and the last attack on some of his army were the one or two lines that a contemporary chronicler wrote about it at the time. I thought: So this is what happened! That's all we know!

I would have to look it up again to make sure but as far as I remember Charlemagne never told anyone that Saint James appeared in his dream and showed him a road of stars in the sky. Charlemagne never had such a dream. That story was developed hundreds of years after Charlemagne's death. Again, as far as I remember, one of the reasons was the desire of later rulers to be seen as successors of the great man, as having a direct connection to him. The real stories and motives are more fascinating than these fictive narratives.

Same about Clavijo etc etc.
 
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TerryB

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What is usually overlooked in this kind of narratives is the fact that the myths often were developed centuries after the actual time when they supposedly happened. These kind of narratives put the myths in a temporal sequence that is totally wrong and thereby paint a completely distorted picture. Not sure if my poor attempt at explaining this makes sense to anyone :) - you really have to dive into it.
If you ask any of the good folk in the villages in Galicia (not in S. de Compostela!) "who is buried in S. de C.?" you will most likely receive the answer "Priscilliano". This is especially true on the Ruta do Mar or villages away from the well used Caminos.
For sure it was an ancient place of Christian pilgrimage, however, it always seemed a little dodgy to me that the inscription on the stone disappeared! Surely that would have been the one thing worth preserving?

Blessings on all Pilgrims,
Tio Tel
 

JillGat

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Who was Prisciliano?
 

JillGat

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Better still, would be the mysterious appearance of Santiago on his huge white horse, with sword in hand slaying the Moors at the pivotal Battle of Clavijo / Battle of Monte Laturce in 859 AD. Legends or not, it is still a very good story. It provides solace and strength to the population. No harm is done
I imagine a few Muslims might disagree.
 

Kathar1na

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Holly Mitchem

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I read the book "Saint James the Greater in History, Art and Culture" by William Farina some time ago. I had great hope because of the title. It didn't make a big impression on me but I would have to read it again to be more specific about my reasons for disappointment. The author is not a scholar, he is an American essayist and writer of popular non-fiction (says Wikipedia). He has produced books about all sorts of topics. As far as I can remember, the History part of the book is just a rehash of what you can read just about anywhere. Again as far as I can remember, the Art and Culture part was rather disappointing. There's nothing controversial or new in this
I agree with your assessment of the book. The author is a generalist and the book is a compilation of older secondary sources in English. How could you possibly write such a book without citing primary sources in Spanish? I give it a thumbs down.
 

TerryB

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t2andreo

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If you ask any of the good folk in the villages in Galicia (not in S. de Compostela!) "who is buried in S. de C.?" you will most likely receive the answer "Priscilliano". This is especially true on the Ruta do Mar or villages away from the well used Caminos.
For sure it was an ancient place of Christian pilgrimage, however, it always seemed a little dodgy to me that the inscription on the stone disappeared! Surely that would have been the one thing worth preserving?

Blessings on all Pilgrims,
Tio Tel
I agree with you on the stone. But 1,200 years ago it likely was not considered important to preserve.

In any event, I plan to ask about this specifically when I am at Santiago over the next five weeks. If I learn anything new, I will report back.
 

Terry Callery

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It was not my intention to offend anyone with this post - if I have I am sorry.
For those of you that are interested some other "secular historians" to consider are:

1)Furta Sacra - Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages - Patrick Geary
2)Holy Bones - Holy Dust - How Relics shaped the History of Medieval Europe - Charles Freeman
3)Ornament of the World - How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created
a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain - Maria Rosa Menocal)
4)Caliphs and Kings - Spain 796-1031 by Roger Collins (this guy is the heavy-weight historian for the period)
5)Saint James Catapult - Richard Fletcher
6)Moorish Spain - Richard Fletcher
7)Saint James in Spain - Sir Thomas Downing Kendrick

I read a lot of these books before I found out in "Saint James the Greater in History, Art and Culture" that the Armenian Cathedral of SS James in Jerusalem claims to have Saint James the Greater' decapitated head as one of the Church's holy relics.
Of course there were also multiple heads of John the Baptist simultaneously claimed as relics in Medieval Europe. Also multiple "shrouds"
I got a laugh when I read that "if every splinter of the True Cross of Christ was collected in Medieval Western Europe there would be a lumber yard!"
 

Kathar1na

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I got a laugh when I read that "if every splinter of the True Cross of Christ was collected in Medieval Western Europe there would be a lumber yard!"
The usual quote is a comment by the reformator John Calvin (16th century): There is no abbey so poor as not to have a specimen [of the cross]. In some places there are large fragments, as at the Holy Chapel in Paris, at Poitiers, and at Rome, where a good-sized crucifix is said to have been made of it. In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.

Sometimes this is also quoted as being enough wood to build a ship.

Then, in the 18th century, a French architect and scholar (Rohault de Fleury) made a list of all the pieces of wood known and venerated as relics of the True Cross and it turned out that it added up to quite a small quantity that wasn't enough for one whole cross.

Criticism of relics, indulgences and pilgrimages - as practised in those days - were a big issue for the reformators. Often good for a laugh today (this is not meant as a personal remark; it's a general remark). For me, it shows a lack of understanding, or a lack of willingness to understand, the world views and the mind set of the people who lived before the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment. They weren't actually dumb, those people.
 
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Kathar1na

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Sometimes this is also quoted as being enough wood to build a ship.
It depends from which other author the writer has copied. They usually just copy from each other. And the funny thing is that these days it is surprisingly easy to read the primary source. Calvin's treaty on relics was apparently published in several languages at the time and I have easily found the French version just now. Il y en aurait la charge d'un bon grand bateau - it would be enough for the load of a quite big ship, it says.

Surprisingly - or not - Calvin mentions Saint James a few times in his critical treatise of relics published in 1543 but he lumps him more or less just together with a number of "other saints". He lists the multitude of corpses or body parts - of the same saint in several different places - for many of them. We sometimes tend to think that the pilgrimage to Saint James in Galicia was the biggest thing in the Middle Ages. It wasn't. And it is often overlooked that the cult of Saint James was alive in many parts of medieval Europe. Saint James was a very popular saint at the time, for various reasons, and he was venerated by many who never thought - or even dreamt - of travelling to Santiago de Compostela.
 
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Kathar1na

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Better still, would be the mysterious appearance of Santiago on his huge white horse, with sword in hand slaying the Moors at the pivotal Battle of Clavijo / Battle of Monte Laturce in 859 AD. Legends or not, it is still a very good story. It provides solace and strength to the population. No harm is done
I imagine a few Muslims might disagree.
This is what I was trying to explain earlier with my reference to the distorted timelines of so many narratives. Santiago Matamoros - the apostle dressed up as a knight and the enemy soldiers killed by him personally - is an image that did not appear in iconography until around 1330. Five hundred years after the mystical battle of Clavijo in the year 800 and something!!! And this image became popular only much later, in the 17th and 18th century, long after the end of Arab and Berber rule in Spain.

The timeline is usually presented as follows to us: there was an important battle at Clavijo, Saint James appeared and killed enemy soldiers. As we can see in this picture or sculpture right in front of us in real life or on our screen.

In reality, there never was a battle at Clavijo in 834 or 844 or any other year. Elements of other battles were incorporated into the Clavijo legend at later times. According to the legend, Santiago appeared in the sky to show his support for his side. Whether someone had a dream or a vision of this kind or it just came to someone retelling a legend - we will never know. A hero or a good guy on a white horse is a popular image in many stories. And that's all. And it is, of course, a rather boring story ...
 
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peregrina2000

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This is what I was trying to explain earlier with my reference to the distorted timelines of so many narratives. Santiago Matamoros - the apostle dressed up as a knight and the enemy soldiers killed by him personally - is an image that did not appear in iconography until around 1330. Five hundred years after the mystical battle of Clavijo in the year 800 and something!!! And this image became popular only much later, in the 17th and 18th century, long after the end of Arab and Berber rule in Spain.

The timeline is usually presented as follows to us: there was an important battle at Clavijo, Saint James appeared and killed enemy soldiers. As we can see in this picture or sculpture right in front of us in real life or on our screen.

In reality, there never was a battle at Clavijo in 834 or 844 or any other year. Elements of other battles were incorporated into the Clavijo legend at later times. According to the legend, Santiago appeared in the sky to show his support for his side. Whether someone had a dream or a vision of this kind or it just came to someone retelling a legend - we will never know. A hero or a good guy on a white horse is a popular image in many stories. And that's all. And it is, of course, a rather boring story ...
Not to derail this, but I have a question about the Santiago Matamoros legend. I have just walked the Olvidado and there is a beautiful 12 km stretch between Fasgar and Colinas del Campo de Martín Moro Toledano (town with the longest name in Spain) and we pass through the Campo De Santiago. All I remember is that this is a place where Santiago also appeared to help defeat the moors. Did this supposedly happen in many places?
 

JillGat

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I wonder if he showed up to help kick out the Jews during the Inquisition, too.
 

JillGat

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o_O Unlikely as he himself was a Jew by birth....
Hm, interesting point. And he would have been about 1000 years old by then anyway, right? The Christians did kick the Jews out of Spain and variously killed, expelled or forced Muslims to convert to Christianity. But I have not seen any unbiased accounts of the various wars, invasions, conquerings, colonialism, etc. that - at this point in the history of the world - I can take sides. I'm guessing the wars and invasions were probably more about turf, power and resources than just religious conversion, anyway. In fact I bet in many cases (as in the colonization of the New World), religious conversion was just the cover story.
 

Kathar1na

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we pass through the Campo De Santiago. All I remember is that this is a place where Santiago also appeared to help defeat the moors. Did this supposedly happen in many places?
I don't know if anyone ever drew up a list. If they did, it's probably in Spanish or French ☺. The usual sources that I know of mention about a dozen appearances of the apostle as a fighter in battles in Latin America, for example in 1532: matamoros became mataindios.

The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 is also mentioned: there's a print of the battle with Saint James on his horse in the midst of it by Francisco de Zurbarán (17th c.) and a monastery near Cañas (La Rioja) has the horseshoes of Saint James' horse on display as relics (click on the link and scroll down to Reliquias).

There's also mention of an appearance of the fighter apostle in Antwerp in 1585 during the fall of Antwerp - in this case, Spain's enemy were the Protestant Netherlands. Spain became a global power during those times and the religious-political (more political than religious I guess) iconography changed accordingly. As I said before, an interesting aspect of all this is the fact that this imagery developed at a time when the so called reconquista was way in the past. Apparently, if I understand correctly, even the concept of reconquista is a modern concept but I know little about this particular controversy.

BTW, there are a number of legends that place the chicken miracle of Santo Domingo de la Calzada elsewhere in Europe.
 
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JillGat

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BTW, there are a number of legends that place the chicken miracle of Santo Domingo de la Calzada elsewhere in Europe.
Barcelos, Portugal is way big on the chicken story, too.
 

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I am happy that the Saint James myth helped Spain to stay in the Christian world.
Can't imagine a Galicia whithout pulpo and albariño.
 

JillGat

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I am happy that the Saint James myth helped Spain to stay in the Christian world.
Can't imagine a Galicia whithout pulpo and albariño.
I wonder what the Celts ate and drank?
 

Tincatinker

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Lots ;0)
Acorns, berzas, meat (chiken, pork), milk.
Lots of seafood in the coast and drank beer.
Dunno about the acorns; mildly toxic & not even hallucinogenic - but nuts, fruits & berries along with farmed grain and vegetables, farmed beasts, wild beasts, fish, fowl & the occasional human (according to Tacitus who is about as reliable as other authors of modern histories ;) ). No Beans, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or chillies. A distinct shortage of bananas, plantains, sweet potato and Okra and the presentation of Maize or Tobacco would have provoked as much laughter as astonishment - "You do what with it?".

Which brings me back to a thread that has provoked almost as much laughter as astonishment. I wish everyone would just stick to the facts. The shrine of Santiago has been a place of Pilgrimage for quite a long time and is likely to remain the same for quite a long time more. Why is completely irrelevant to the actuality. The veracity, or otherwise of the legends and tales is completely irrelevant to the actuality. I've seen the stuff about Jerusalem and Rome being inaccessible and Santiago neatly filling the gap but really? So medieval Christendom was really that organized? Constructivists and Conspiracy Theorists may dispute my thesis but I'll stick with my "but". Meanwhile, there is a fish in my pond that is the living incarnation of the ichthys of Santiago - if you want to make pilgrimage bring your a sleeping bag it gets cold round here in the winter time.

I used to think that I made pilgrimage to the end-of-the-world and the sundering sea because that was what my ancestors did and then I realised that that was what they thought too.

Great book by the way. I've shelved it 4 spaces to the right of my Dan Brown collection ;)
 

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In Galicia I was told that very important source of food were chestnuts also.
Yes, but after the Romans who introduced the chestnut trees to feed their troops.
In relation to acorns. Estrabon said that people in North Spain made bread from them.
In Cantabria, Basque country and South Galicia there are holm oaks whose acorns are for sure eatable.
 

Tincatinker

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In relation to acorns. Estrabon said that people in North Spain made bread from them.
In Cantabria, Basque country and South Galicia there are holm oaks whose acorns are for sure eatable.
Wow, thanks for that @Pelegrin. You've sent me rummaging The Foragers' Handbook and other sources for usages. Thanks to the enthusiastic plantings of David Lyon of Goring Hall we have Holm Oak aplenty around here. Now all I need is a couple of Celts to try some recipes on ;)
 

Pelegrin

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Wow, thanks for that @Pelegrin. You've sent me rummaging The Foragers' Handbook and other sources for usages. Thanks to the enthusiastic plantings of David Lyon of Goring Hall we have Holm Oak aplenty around here. Now all I need is a couple of Celts to try some recipes on ;)
Good!!
In some parts of Spain ate acorns in famine periods (civil war, etc.) So they.could be a good food resource after Brexit (who knows).
 

JillGat

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Good!!
In some parts of Spain ate acorns in famine periods (civil war, etc.) So they.could be a good food resource after Brexit (who knows).
Thanks for this info. I like the factoid that the Romans brought the chestnuts, too.

I was born and raised near Monterey Bay, California. The Ohlone tribes were the indigenous people in that area who preceded the Europeans (they were practically annihilated by the newcomers). Once as a child scrambling down a creek behind my elementary school, I found a large rock with grinding holes on it and the pestals (hand stones) still in place. I looked into it further and found out that acorns from the native coastal oak trees were a staple in the diet of the Ohlone people. I learned that the acorns contain bitter tannins and can't be eaten raw. So the Indians dried them, ground them into powder, then leached them with fresh water until the tannins washed away. I loved this idea, so experimented with making acorn mush myself (which I figured would be useful knowledge for my plan, as a 10 year old, to escape into the forest and live off the land). The acorns were terrible. I didn't leach them right, I guess.
 
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;) ). No Beans, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or chillies. A distinct shortage of bananas, plantains, sweet potato and Okra and the presentation of Maize or Tobacco would have provoked as much laughter as astonishment - "You do what with it?".

Why did you not post the link to that wonderful audio snippet? Ok, you did not want to derail the thread. I just did that. Half sorry.
 

Calisteve

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I imagine a few Muslims might disagree.
Have to say that this has always concerned me as well. Imagine the reverse - stories of young Muslims being 'taught' how a true believer appeared from nowhere and hundreds of years after his death, to chop the heads off Christians. Western press would be up in arms at the anti-christisn indoctrination.
 

t2andreo

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I agree,Tom. That’s precisely why I purchased the book. Reading it will only strengthen my long-held, unwavering belief that Saint James’ remains lie in the crypt within the cathedral. “For those who do not believe no explanation will do.. for those who believe.. no explanation is necessary!” I’m reading it for the historical perspective.
As long as you respect the author’s context. Others have discussed this above, so i will not, except to agree with you.

A book which is a representation of previous books, and not original scholarship, personal research, and new scientific or other objective findings is not definitive. This, my (and our shared beliefs) trumps (no pun intended) this author’s attempts to secularize our system of beliefs.

Thanks for weighing in with your support.
 

JillGat

la tierra encantada
Camino(s) past & future
C. Frances
SJPP - Finisterre - Muxia, May 2016
C. Frances, Sept 2017
Camino Portugues, June 2019
Have to say that this has always concerned me as well. Imagine the reverse - stories of young Muslims being 'taught' how a true believer appeared from nowhere and hundreds of years after his death, to chop the heads off Christians. Western press would be up in arms at the anti-christisn indoctrination.
And imagine if, still today, statues of the Muslim, leaning off a horse, using his sword to behead Christians, were still standing in mosques (as the reverse is true in some cathedrals in Spain).
 

JillGat

la tierra encantada
Camino(s) past & future
C. Frances
SJPP - Finisterre - Muxia, May 2016
C. Frances, Sept 2017
Camino Portugues, June 2019
I agree,Tom. That’s precisely why I purchased the book. Reading it will only strengthen my long-held, unwavering belief that Saint James’ remains lie in the crypt within the cathedral. “For those who do not believe no explanation will do.. for those who believe.. no explanation is necessary!” I’m reading it for the historical perspective.
Some "beliefs" are based on data and some beliefs are based on faith. These two methods of reaching conclusions are often mutually exclusive.
 

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