Two religions on one road to Santiago: Polyethnicity and syncretism on the camino in Saint Jacques. . . La Mecque



  • Any recent pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela-site of the shrine of Saint James the Greater, brother of John the Evangelist-can attest to the rich variety of nationalities present along the route, something additionally evident in the latest statistics of the Santiago Pilgrims’ Office. Relatively few of these travelers, however, hail from Africa or the Middle East, 2 and the skin color of the average pilgrim is decidedly fair. This has been the situation throughout the route’s eleven-century history since the reported discovery of James’s tomb in northwest Spain in the 9th century, 3 after which moment this saint became patron of the Christian knights warring against the Muslims to the south on the Iberian Peninsula. This manifestation of Saint James is known as the Moor-slayer: Santiago Matamoros. Hence the significance-and the irony-in Coline Serreau’s 2005 film Saint Jacques. . . La Mecque that the guide of the pilgrim’s group, Guy, is black and that two of the pilgrims in his group, Ramzi and Saïd, are cinnamon-toned youths of Maghrebian descent who additionally happen to be Muslim. Since the rest of the entourage on this ostensibly Christian journey is white, there is ample opportunity for these Afro-French and French-Muslim co-cultures to interrupt the dominant European-Catholic narrative. Despite such disruptions, the disparate traveling companions eventually forge group unity across racial and sectarian lines. On the surface, Saint Jacques. . . La Mecque is a cheeky French comedy that occasionally falls prey to the very stereotypes it seeks to undermine; yet much of what is meaningful in this movie-character transformations; subconscious revelations; engagement with issues of class, race, and religion-happens at a deeper level. This essay uses literature, history, and art history to tease out the undercurrents of ethnicity and syncretism flowing throughout the film.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    International Standard Book Number (isbn) 13

  • 9781138892484
  • Start Page

  • 123
  • End Page

  • 144