Esteemed artist and academic Virginia MacKenny discusses Waymarker – A Painter’s Progress with reflections on A Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela (c1139) in GIPCA’s final Great Texts lecture for April.

The Codex Calixtinus is a 12th-century illuminated manuscript formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II. Written in Latin between 1135-39 it is a compilation from a number of sources and includes sermons, liturgical text as well as polyphonic musical scores from the medieval period. It is also the first known text that records the various routes through France and Spain on the Way of St James, more commonly known as the Camino, to Santiago de Compostela. Made up of five volumes it is Volume V, Iter pro peregrinis ad Compostellam (loosely translated as A Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela), which informs this talk. Described as the first tourist guidebook it points pilgrims to monuments, landmarks, local customs and food on their journey to Santiago.

Last year Virginia MacKenny walked over 700km along the French section of the ancient pilgrimage route known as the Chemin de St Jacques. She followed the Via Lemovicensis, a lesser-trod route on the Chemin de St Jacques, one of four routes through France described in the Codex Calixtinus. Starting at the UNESCO heritage site of the Romanesque church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay, MacKenny made her way through Limousin to St Léonard-de-Noblat, Limoges and on beyond Perigeux, following the historical landmarks and reliquaries highlighted in the Codex.

Carrying the prayers and dedications of other environmentally concerned artists and individuals she dedicated her walk “to the Earth and all living beings on her”.  With an emphasis on ‘treading lightly’ on the planet she saw the walk as a literal act of grounding and emulated artistic tradition by recording both the external and internal topography of her journey in watercolour. An exhibition Waymarker on her return included the 36 post-card sized works made along the way. In this lecture she shares some of the historical landmarks on the journey and insights gained on the route. 

Virginia MacKenny is Senior Lecturer in Painting at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. She has received a number of awards including the Volkskas Atelier Award (1991) and the Ampersand Fellowship in New York (2004). An independent critic, curator and writer, she contributed to Sophie Perryer’s 10 Years 100 Artists – Art in a Democratic South Africa (2004) and continues to write critically on South African contemporary art. Recipient of a Donald Gordon Creative Arts Award (2011), she curated Threshold - an exhibition of environmentally engaged South African art. MacKenny continues to practice ‘treading lightly’ and is currently researching eco-conscious artistic practice in a Southern African context.

Great Texts lectures take place on Tuesdays for the month of April. This lecture will take place on Tuesday 23 April 2013 at 17:30 at Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town (UCT) Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town, and is free. Refreshments will be served from 17:00; no booking is necessary. For more information on the Great Texts series, please contact +27 21 480 7156 or

Virginia MacKenny audio recording available for download.

Venue: Hiddingh Hall

Address: Google Map UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31 Orange Street, Cape Town, Western Cape, 8001, South Africa