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Ultreia et suseia: what does this medieval expression mean?

Ultreia et suseia: what does this medieval expression mean?

Get to know all the details of the most used expressions on the Camino de Santiago and soak up the Jacobean spirit.

If you have started doing the Camino or preparing for it, you have surely come across these words: "Ultreia" and "Suseia". Or maybe written as "Ultreya" and "Suseya". You may even have booked accommodation with this name. But what does this pilgrim expression mean?

This Latin expression, used since the Middle Ages by pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, has been perhaps the most popular of all the "pilgrim vocabulary". Today, however, it has been largely replaced by another formula that you will hear more often: ¡Buen Camino!

Ultreia

This expression of encouragement has its origins in the Codex Calixtinus and was spoken by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. This illuminated manuscript from the mid-12th century contains sermons, hymns, miracles, accounts of the translation of the Apostle, liturgical texts, musical pieces and a guide for pilgrims (Book V) who wished to follow the French Way. It is the first travel book that we have preserved, describing the people, places to stay, fountains, etc. 

This word of Latin origin is composed of ultra - beyond - and eia - interaction used to indicate movement -. It is therefore a term of encouragement used to stimulate one who was walking towards the tomb of the apostle James, and had hundreds of kilometres behind him. An incitement to continue to the end. Therefore, the translation would be: "Go further, hurry up, move further!", or "Come on, keep going to the end, you can do it!"

Ultreia et suseia: what does this medieval expression mean?

The original form of this expression is Ultreia, although we are sure that you will also have seen it written Ultreya and less commonly Ultrella, according to the standardised systems of the Spanish language. This term appears in the musical section of appendix II in the Song of the Flemish Pilgrims ("Dum pater families"). It reads as follows:

O Lord James!
Good Lord Santiago!
E ultreia! E suseia!
Protect us, God!

In addition to this song, it is also found in the Book of Liturgies in which the mass of Pope Callixtus on the day of the celebration of the Apostle St. James, 25 July, is recorded, and reads as follows:

His tomb
visiting the sick with health are found.
All peoples, tongues, tribes come to him crying out: suseia, ultreia.

Finally we have again a reference in the hymn to the Supreme King:

Therefore to the King of kings
We must say
to deserve to be happy
forever to live with Him.
Let it be done, amen, alleluia,
-So let's say on a par,
E ultreia e suseia,
we will sing without ceasing.

Guide to the Way of Saint James for beginners
More than 80 pages of information designed for walkers and pilgrims starting out on the Way of St. James.

Suseia

This was the reply used by the pilgrims. In such a way that an automatic conversation was established between them when they crossed each other on one of the different routes that lead to Santiago.

etymological origin? This Latin term literally means "higher, above". Some experts indicate that this answer contained connotations of seeing oneself again in the cathedral of Santiago or, if that was not possible, finding oneself higher, in heaven. There are even hypotheses that say it was a pilgrim synonym for Hallelujah.

Buen Camino

Nowadays, however, we have replaced this traditional greeting, which has fallen into disuse, with "¡Buen Camino! Although the expression is now used in both directions, i.e. both the one saying it and the one replying, it still retains that spirit of encouragement typical of the expression of yesteryear. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that it has lost part of the religious character that the medieval expression contained, since today many pilgrims make the Camino for reasons other than spirituality. 

In any case, in honour of tradition, if you travel with us inside your credential you will find a blotting paper to prevent the ink of the stamps from smearing the opposite pages with this expression you now know. 

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