Ultreia et Suseia: the origin of “Buen Camino”
Regardless of whether you’ve done the Camino de Santiago or not, we’re sure you’ve heard one of the two typical greetings among pilgrims: “Ultreia et Suseia” or “Buen Camino”.
If you’ve come this far, it’s very likely that, at this point, you’re wondering what “Ultreia” means and why today, its use has been replaced by “Buen Camino”.
You’ve come to the right place! In this article, we want to talk to you about the meaning and use of both the greeting of “Ultreia“, and its relationship with “et Suseia“, and the popular “Buen Camino”, which is heard on all the routes of the Camino de Santiago.
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Ultreia et suseia deus adjuva nos
The first point to clarify before delving into the use of the greeting “Ultreia et Suseia”, on the Camino de Santiago, is that it is also common to see this expression written as “Ultreya et Suseya” or “Ultrella et Susella“. However, the original word used on the Camino de Santiago is “Ultreia et Suseia“, of Latin vocabulary origin.
The little-used Latin, today, has converted the term “-eia” to “-ella” or “-eya”, as they are more common in modern Spanish. Thus, today, all three expressions are used equally: Ultreia et Suseia, Ultreya et Suseya or Ultrella et Susella.
“Ultreia”, meaning and use on the Camino de Santiago
The “Ultreia” greeting used by medieval pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago is composed of “ultra-“, meaning “more”, and “-eia”, which translates as “beyond”. Most theories hold that “Ultreia” means “Let’s go further”, “Let’s go forward”.
According to these theories, with the greeting the pilgrims referred to the idea of moving forward, of reaching their destination: Santiago de Compostela. In this way, the greeting of “Ultreia” (or Ultreya or Ultrella) was used on the Camino de Santiago to encourage themselves, and between pilgrims.
However, there are scholars of the Camino de Santiago who point out that the expression “Ultreia” means “Hallelujah”. According to them, the pilgrims used it when they reached the tomb of St James the Apostle, as a celebration. Therefore, more than a greeting from the pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago, it was an exclamation of joy.
Maybe both theories are correct. It is quite possible that in the origins of pilgrimage, “Ultreia” was used as an expression of joy in reaching the Cathedral of Santiago and that, with the popularization of the Camino de Santiago, the exclamation “Ultreia“, was derived in a greeting among pilgrims.
Et suseia: the reply to the pilgrim greeting
“Et Suseia” was also a greeting used by pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. This expression consists of “sus-“, which means “higher” and “-eia”, which, as with “Ultreia“, refers to “beyond”.
Among the scholars who defend the use of “Ultreia” as a greeting among the pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago, are those who indicate that the complete greeting was “Ultreia, Suseia, Santiago”, whose meaning would be: “beyond and higher, onto Santiago”. On the other hand, there are those who argue that “et Suseia” was used in response to the greeting of “Ultreia“.
In the latter case, the greeting is understood as a display of encouragement between two pilgrims who cross on the Camino de Santiago. One salutes, saying “let’s go further,” and the other answers by exclaiming “let’s go higher.”
Be that as it may, both interpretations of the use of the “Ultreia et Suseia” on the Camino de Santiago refers to the desire of pilgrims to meet again. Whether during the tour, in front of the Cathedral of Santiago or in the sky itself (a place to which the expression “highest” is referred).
The origin of Ultreia et Suseia on the Camino de Santiago
The history of the Camino de Santiago starts earlier than the writing of the Codex Calixtinus, the first book documenting pilgrim tradition. Therefore, there is no reliable evidence to prove it, but it is believed that the use of the greeting “Ultreia et Suseia” was extended after the expression was reflected in the manuscript.
The Codex (or Book of the Camino de Santiago) collects, on several occasions, the expression “Ultreia et Suseia“. Here’s we explain in which parts of the work.
The musical appendix
The highest number references to the expression “Ultreia et Suseia” can be found in the musical appendix of the Book of the Camino de Santiago. The most popular is the song from Appendix II, known as “Song of the Flemish Pilgrims”:
E ultreia, e suseia,
Deus adiuva nos.
Oh Lord Santiago!
Good Lord Santiago!
Ultreia et Suseia
Protect us, God!
Also, in Appendix I, the hymn to the Supreme King (Ad honorem regis summi) includes:
Unde laudes regi regum
Cum quo leti mereamur
Fiat, amen, alleluia,
E ultreia esus eia
That’s why to the King of Kings
praise we must give
to deserve to be happy
living with him forever.
Say yourself, amen, hallelujah,
-let’s say, therefore, in step,
Ultreia et Suseia
we’ll endlessly sing .
The Book of Liturgies
Book I of the Codex, in chapter XXVI, also includes a mass of Pope Calixtino, on the Day of Santiago the Apostle (July 25th), on which the expression “Ultreia” on the Camino de Santiago appears. The description of this liturgy quotes:
cuncte gentes, lingue, tribus,
iluuc uunt clamantes: suseia, ultreia.
with health are found.
All peoples, languages, tribes
come to him clamouring: Ultreia et Suseia.
Ultreia et Suseia nowadays
Today, the pilgrim greeting “Ultreia et Suseia” has fallen into disuse on the Camino de Santiago. If you are encouraged to travel on one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, you may be lucky enough to meet a defender of the pilgrim tradition who greets you exclaiming: Ultreia et Suseia!, but the vast majority of pilgrims prefer to use: Buen Camino!
“Buen Camino” is the greeting that replaced “Ultreia et Suseia“ on the Camino de Santiago. In the 20th century, with the recovery of routes on the Camino de Santiago, the official greeting that was established among pilgrims was: “Buen Camino!”
Meaning and use of the greeting: “¡Buen Camino!”
The meaning of “Buen Camino” retains the spirit of the Camino de Santiago that was intended to transmit the same ancient greeting “Ultreia et Suseia“. However, this greeting has lost the religious symbolism denoted by “et Suseia” (higher, in heaven).
This fact is countered by the desire conveyed by this new greeting among pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago, that the journey be completed successfully. In this sense, the journey can be interpreted as the pilgrimage to Santiago or the journey of life, whether seen from the spiritual or religious side.
The greeting “Buen Camino!” goes much further than the simple “good morning” we exchange daily, since its meaning is much broader. When another pilgrim greets by saying, “Buen Camino!”, they are wishing you a good life.
Buen Camino! – How to reply
Unlike in “Ultreia“, to which it was likely that the other pilgrim of the Camino de Santiago responded by saying “et Suseia“, to the greeting “Buen Camino” you can reply by saying the same thing. Even when the one who says “Buen Camino” is not a pilgrim, the answer is usually the same. Although on many occasions, it is also common to hear a simple: “Thank you”.
We hope that this information has served to clarify the meaning and use of the two most popular greetings of the Camino de Santiago: “Ultreia et Suseia” and “Buen Camino”. Which one do you prefer? Leave us a comment and tell us why you prefer one and not the other.
To say goodbye, we want to remind you that if you would like to do the Camino de Santiago alone with an entity specialized in Jacobean routes, you know that Santiago Ways is your agency. Call us or write to our Facebook page and we will help you organize your trip to Compostela.