The shadow of the pilgrim. Secrets of Santiago de Compostela

One of the open secrets of Santiago de Compostela is that of the pilgrim's shadow. Would you like to discover it with us?
Pilgrim's shadow at the Praza da Quintana

There is a Compostela by day and another by night. And in the night one, there is a legend that is worth telling and that, in fact, is closely related to the tradition of the Camino de Santiago: that of the pilgrim's shadow.

We say it is a nocturnal story because to see its evidence you have to look for after sunset, with the support of the electric light on the cathedral walls. These are the ingredients: nocturnality, electric light, a little imagination and will. Shall we go?

The shadow of the pilgrim

The play of light in architecture - especially religious architecture - is very common. Many, such as the so-called "miracle of light" of San Juan de OrtegaThe dates are special, because they depend on the position of the sun. But since the invention of electric light and its spread through the cities, new effects have been born. And, with them, new stories linked to them.

This is the case of the pilgrim's shadow, which is produced thanks to the lamp that illuminates the corner of Santiago Cathedral where the façades of the Royal Gate and the ambulatory converge. The light is projected onto the walls creating the stage and also onto the stone landmark that covers the lightning rod of the immense clock tower. The result is the static figure of a pilgrim on the pedestal of one of the columns flanking the Royal Gate.

The origin of the pilgrim's shadow is therefore clearly visible. There is nothing special about it, beyond its perfectly recognisable shape: the silhouette of a pilgrim with his staff. But it has been linked to a much older legend, which tells of several crimes, a prisoner, a punishment and a curse.

The legend of the parricide

Now: what is this story? The legend linked to this shadow of the pilgrim tells of a young Frenchman called Léonard du Revenant who, in the 15th century, is condemned to walk the Camino de Santiago as a penalty for having killed his father to get his property. Some versions say that Léonard was the bastard son of Charles I the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and that the patricide was against his putative father, Léon de Cornu.

Be that as it may, in the story, Léonard becomes infatuated with a woman as he crosses the Pyrenees. Rejected, he rapes her, kills her and her fiancé, who stands up to him, and flees. Arriving in Compostela, and finding all the inns full, he is forced to sleep in the open, stationing himself next to the Royal Gate.

At night his father appears to him in a dream to tell that he has forgiven him, but that he must pay for the murder of the two young Navarrese men. Angry, Léonard draws his sword and tries to kill his father again, but it is his father who strikes him a mortal blow.

As a result, Léonard du Revenant has stood guard in front of the cathedral ever since, waiting for his victims to make the pilgrimage to Compostela so that he could ask for their forgiveness.

It is interesting to note that this type of condemnation to walk the Camino de Santiago was, in fact, relatively frequent. The French historian Adelline Roucquoi places their beginning in the last decades of the 13th century in Flanders and extends them to the end of the 16th century. In her own book, Mille fois à Compostelletells how the Parisian preachers of the 13th century claimed that "the devil has been to Compostela a thousand times". And, in fact, there are many historical documents that refer to this type of condemnation.

You may also be interested in: 10 books on the Camino de Santiago that you should know

But be careful! There is a second legend linked to this shadow of the pilgrim: a local legend.

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The local legend: the canon in love

If you ask in Santiago, they will tell you that the shadow is not of a pilgrim, but of a cathedral canon in love with a novice from the Antealtares convent, which closes the Plaza de A Quintana in front of the Cathedral.

This canon visited the young woman every night through a passageway that linked the two buildings under the stairs in the square. After some time of a hidden relationship, the day before the novice's ordination, the canon proposed that they elope from the city to freely live their love. They met at midnight, under the clock tower, but for some reason, the woman never appeared. The canon, dressed as a pilgrim to avoid suspicion, has been waiting for her ever since in silence, night after night.

***

So we do not know whether the so-called "shadow of the pilgrim" corresponds to the young canon of the cathedral, abandoned by the novice with whom he was going to flee, or whether it is that of the bastard of the Duke of Burgundy. What we do know is that, whenever there is light in that corner of the square of A Quintana dos Mortos, the shadow will appear, dressed as a pilgrim.

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