Santiago de Compostela: The myth decoded?

Santiago de Compostela is an important site of pilgrimage in Galicia that is located in the northwest of Spain. It is the endpoint of a pilgrim route that starts in the northern Dutch town of Sint Jacobiparochie. The first part of that route is called the Jabikspaad ('Jacobspath') in Frisian. The Jabikspaad is 130 kilometers long and runs as far as Hasselt, a city in Overijssel, a province in the centre of the country. The northeastern section of that pilgrims route also connects at that point, and then meanders via the cities of Deventer, Nijmegen and Maastricht to other pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela. Sint Jacobiparochie ('parish of Saint James'), the entire network of pilgrims' ways and Santiago de Compostela itself are all dedicated to Saint James.
The first part of the place name, Santiago, is the local version of the Latin Sanctus Iacobus, meaning Saint James or Saint Jacob. That in itself does not cause any problems, but it does teach us that the place name is a well-known evolution of a Latin name. This means that the second part of the place name must follow the same route.

The second part of the place name, de Compostela, is almost universally translated on the internet as 'field of stars'. It is supposed to be a translation of Latin Campus Stellae, which means 'field of the star'. But the problem is that that translation did not follow the same route as the first part of the place name. According to linguists, a better explanation would be that compostela is derived from the Latin compositum – akin to the contemporary English word 'compound', which means 'fenced piece of land'. That word then evolved via Vulgar Latin into Composita Tella, with the meaning of ['compound (with) tiles'. I suppose that could indeed mean 'cemetery'.

Few can have real problems with that explanation, because the area of Santiago de Compostela was a Roman cemetery by the 4th century and (the head of) Saint James was reputedly once buried there, which was the direct reason for the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.

And yet...

In some medieval chronicles it is reported that on June 1 of the year 939 AD a large fireball exploded over the northern regions of the Iberian Peninsula[1]. Could parts of that meteorite have crashed near Santiago? Did the city, as a result of those impacts, then receive its toponym de Compostela? It also explains he fact that there's a city called Compostilla in the nearby province of Léon.

[1] Llorca et al: Evidence for an Atmospheric Airburst of a Huge Bolide over Spain in 939 AD as Recorded in Medieval Chronicles, presented at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2009). See here.

No comments:

Post a comment