The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: The Camino Destination
Over the centuries thousands of pilgrims from all over the world have made their way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, North West of Spain. The pilgrims’ routes are known as the Camino de Santiago, the ways to Santiago. The Camino is a network of different trails spread across Europe, all sharing one goal and destination: the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
It is here, in the cathedral, in a crypt beneath the Main Altar, where pilgrims can visit the Tomb of the Apostle St James, kept in a silver urn, alongside those of his disciples Saint Athanasius and Saint Theodore.
A Romanesque masterpiece
As well as being one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the world, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is a magnificent work of art and religious architecture. While the building preserves its orginal medieval structure and Romanesque essence, its character and unique beauty have been been reinvented over time, with Gothic and Baroque touches shaping today’s masterpiece.
After the discovery of the remains of St James by a sheperd in the 9th century, a small chapel was built (versions of the specific year vary but some time between 813 and 830) but this chapel was soon too small to host all the worshippers. A second and larger church was built but later destroyed. Bishop San Pedro de Mezonzo rebuilt the temple in 1003 in pre Romanesque style and the current cathedral was erected by 1075, at a time when pilgrimages enjoyed their heyday.
The 12th century saw the Pórtico da Gloria being built by Mestre Mateo: a masterpiece of Romanesque sculture featuring 200 figures from the Bible inside the western facade of the cathedral. The Pórtico da Gloria was reopened to the public in 2018, after a 10-year long detailed restauration project.
At 76metres, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was Europe’s tallest building at the time.
Gothic and Renaissance elements were gradually added, including new chapels, the 14th century Clock Tower, the Holy Door and a reinvented cloister. However the biggest and most dramatic transformation of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela would take place in the 17th and 18th centuries, during the Baroque period. The culmination of these works would result in the iconic facade we see today from Praza do Obradoiro, once again in all its glory after several years of cleaning and restauration work.
Porta Santa: the Holy Door
The Porta Santa or Holy Door was built in the 16th century and it is also known as the Forgiveness Door (Puerta del Perdon). It is located in the Praza Quintana and takes pilgrims straight to St James crypt and the Main Altar of the Cathedral, as well as the image of St James that is traditionally hugged by pilgrims.
The Holy Door is only open on Holy Years, or Ano Xacobeo.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is also home to the famous Botafumeiro, a giant incense thurible dating back to the mid 19th century, which swings impressively across the Main Altar on special dates and occassions.
Confession and Mass
Confession is available throughout the day at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. If there are no priests in the confessionals, or you are seeking confession in your own language, please ask in the sacristy.
Different mass services, including pilgrims mass, take place at the Cathedral daily, many of them in different languages.
For more information about the history of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela or about specific services, we recommend you visit www.catedraldesantiago.com
For more information about the Camino de Santiago routes or to book your trip, contact our travel expert