Home > Digital Humanities, Digital Maps, Geohumanities, My Projects > The Way of Saint James – Principal French Routes

The Way of Saint James – Principal French Routes

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I wanted to show and write about the above map visualization, which derives from one of  my early Google Earth-based  GIS projects (mostly created during Christmas week 2011).  I put off posting about it until now because it was inspired by a class trip to France organized and led by one of our Rice Art History professors, medieval scholar Linda Neagley.  Along with the GIS classes I took for THATCamp Texas 2011, digitizing Gothic architecture images for Professor Neagley was a big inspiration for my GIS experiments.  Medieval pilgrimage also provided a natural target for GIS visualization in Google Earth.  I’d put off mentioning my project as I was uncomfortable about focusing on Professor Neagley’s project, but she’s seen it recently and thought it was an interesting angle of perspective.

A major source of  data and knowledge for this project was  Peter Robins, a European pilgrimage enthusiast/expert and creator of The Walking Pilgrim website, “[his] contribution to the current interest in walking old pilgrim routes in W Europe. It is primarily about routes, both current and historical, which is my main interest. It’s not about spiritual guidance or any of the religious aspects of pilgrimage. It includes my routes database, information on medieval itineraries, plus my suggestions for routes to the ports of S England, and to the shrines of N Wales.”

The KML linestring data (the Ways depicted are “Real” geocoded linestrings, not drawn) my geovisualization uses do not all derive from Robins work per se, as there’s plenty of pilgrimage stuff on the web and it took some time before I realized that most of the best stuff I found was from Robins.  Given the day back again the linestrings  probably would all have come from The Walking Pilgrim,  since a few months after I began Robins generously responded to an email and explained how to download his linestrings from his website. The route distances were also adapted from Robins routes database.

I had already managed to create kml linestrings for many of the routes from based on data from various other web sources, I believe the pre-Robins routes were: le Puy, Arles, Vézeley, Aragonés and Francés.  Many derived from gr-info.com’s grande randonnée “Long distance Footpaths” website, for some reason they didn’t have an ideal Paris-Tours route.  for the visualization shown here I included many of  Robins other Compostela-directed pilgrimage routes as unlabeled dark-red  linestrings, partially to show other routes but also because they evoke veins of Christ’s blood going toward Compostella, and mirror the Milky Way above.

Peter Robins pointed out to me that the modern hiking paths are unlikely to have been the medieval paths – modern highways are more likely to run over the routes taken in the “moyen age.”

Pilgrimage maps from books in the Rice Library collection
While digitizing images of medieval reliquaries (the elaborate containers, as opposed to the relics, i.e. bones, True Cross piece, etc.) from the Treasures of Heaven exhibit catalog in-house for Professor Neagley’s class, I noticed that the acompanying modern map of medieval pligrimage routes from the book wasn’t very detailed and I decided to go hunting for and scanning Camino Santiago (AKA Way of Saint James) pilgrimage maps in a systematic way.

This project is pretty much over now, partially because I don’t remember the organization of all the files. The KML (Google Earth) file became so complicated that it frequently became corrupted and required lots of maintenance.

I think people have to do projects to learn how to do something – working on this one taught me a lot about Google Earth’s strengths and weaknesses as a Geohumanities platform, and about what I might want to do going forward.
– Andrew Taylor | October 24, 2014

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