It's called "furta sacra," holy theft, and when a warrior knight steals two thorns, relics of Jesus' Crown of Thorns, from a monastery in the Pyrenees, a young man undertakes the task of recovery. He is eighteen-year-old Xavier Elgorriaga of Pamplona, "tall, slender, and handsome with the tawny skin of a Basque," a reverent and good-hearted soul eager to test his manhood on the Way as he journeys to the fateful meeting with the knight, fighter of Moors.
The "Way" is the Way of Saint James or Camino de Santiago, "the 500-mile medieval pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees across northern Spain to the Compostela Cathedral" where pilgrims venerated the bones of Sanctus Jacobus, hoping to find "remission of sin and induce the saint to intercede with Christ or Mary on their behalf." The trek was fraught with danger from bandits, disease and inhospitable weather.
Chico writer Neal Wiegman, an expert on Spanish literature, traveled the Way with his wife, Nancy (the host of Nancy's Bookshelf on Northstate Public Radio, KCHO, who recently interviewed your humble columnist for an upcoming program). "Walking the Way: A Medieval Quest" ($17.95 in paperback from WingSpan Press) by Neal A. Wiegman uses the fictional Xavier to paint a detailed picture of life along the Way in 1160. It is travelogue filled with exalted churches and spiritual epiphanies, stork lore, true love, jousting, a disquisition on dung and, later, a pirate attack.
Wiegman will be presenting a slide show and book signing tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.
The author imagines Xavier as a jongleur, "a teller of tales," gifted with a facility for languages and a prodigious memory, allowing him to recite sections of Beowulf, the Chanson de Roland, and tales of El Cid, the Spanish hero, and portions are included in the narrative.
Xavier also carries with him the Liber Sancti Jacobi, The Book of St. James, which includes a guidebook for the Way, enabling Wiegman to blend period sources with his own observations. The resulting account, each chapter of the novel devoted to one of the dozens of stops along the Way, offers a nuanced and captivating tour filled with sights, sounds and smells.
It's a tasty stew, good with wine.