Pilgrim legends: the parchment in white

As we mentioned a short time ago, one of the many attractions of our tour – Camino de Santiago, is to know firsthand the places that inspired hundreds of legends and stories from the Middle Ages to the present day. Some of these stories collected in different literary sources tell us about amazing miracles that have left their mark in the traditions and in the popular imaginary linked to the Camino.

Today we will talk about one of the best known, “The Miracle of the Blank Parchment”. This story appears for the first time in Book II of the Codex Calixtinus. It had several adaptations and one of them, which we include at the end of the article, is that of the writer Torrente Ballester in his novel Compostela y su ángel (which, by the way, we encourage you to read).

It takes us back to the time of the first pilgrims, in the early ninth century when the bishop of Iria Flavia was the same Teodomiro, discoverer of the tomb of the Apostle. He was about to say Mass when he found a small parchment on the sacred altar. Surprised, he asked who had left the missive there. At that moment, among those present, a very repentant man stood up. He was a pilgrim from Apulia, Italy. In his youth he had committed every sin imaginable, boasting impudently about them, until one day a misfortune befell his family. He then thought that it might be a divine punishment and very saddened he asked the priest of his parish for absolution. But given the magnitude of his sins and after going to confession, the priest told him that he could only obtain forgiveness by writing all his faults on a sealed parchment and making a pilgrimage to Compostela; there, Bishop Teodomiro was to publicly read all his sins and give him a penance. The repentant sinner agreed and did so. However, when the bishop prepared to open the seal that closed the parchment, a miracle happened: it was completely blank! He then understood that the Apostle James had understood his sincere repentance and forgiven each and every one of the faults included in that missive.

We leave you with a fragment of Torrente Ballester’s story in the novel Compostela y su ángel:

“He was a sinner like few there will have been. So great, that neither the priest of his parish, nor even his own bishop, dared to absolve him, but they ordered him to go to Santiago on pilgrimage as an extraordinary penance and there seek forgiveness for so much crime. They could have sent him to the Roman Pontiff, who has authority to spare, but it is seen that they preferred that the absolution was not so close at hand. (…)

And he left for Compostela, carrying a letter in the handwriting of his prelate specifying the many and tremendous sins of the penitent. He arrived, pained by his misdeeds and mortified by the long walks and the discomfort of the long journey. As soon as he arrived, the sinner, grief-stricken by sobs, deposited the document under the tablecloth of the main altar of the Compostelan temple, and remained praying in silence.

The hour arrived when Blessed Teodomiro was celebrating Holy Mass, and his hand discovered the parchment hidden under the tablecloth. He took it, saw the seals and, before tearing them, asked those present about the letter. No one answered, on the contrary, they looked at each other, surprised, until the Italian came forward with tears and, kneeling down, humiliated, confessed that he was the one who had deposited the letter and that the matter concerned him. He only asked that the holy Bishop look at the contents, read it publicly to mock such a great sinner, and then grant him absolution.

The attendants were moved. When the Bishop broke seals and untied bonds, he saw with surprise that the letter contained absolutely nothing. Then he understood that the Apostle had just worked a miracle: the penitent was freed from his shame, and at the same time it was evident that God had already forgiven him. Therefore, the episcopal absolution on his head would only corroborate that forgiveness. And Teodomiro, before the general emotion, raised his hand and pronounced the words of the sacramental rite: Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis….”

Leave a Comment

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top