camino de santiago
  • The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

    The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela image

    Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral of the archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The cathedral is the reputed burial-place of Saint James the Greater, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. It is the destination of the Way of St. James, a major historical pilgrimage route since the Early Middle Ages. The building is a Romanesque structure with later Gothic and Baroque additions.

    History of the Cathedral

    Declared Historic-Artistic Monument in 1986.

    In the 9th century, Bishop Teodomiro of Iria Flavia identified a small Roman temple with the tomb of the Apostle St. James. As a result of this discovery, King Alfonso 2nd "The Chaste" ordered a modest church to be erected around this pagan construction. The increase in pilgrimages and a certain stability after Arab attacks led to a new construction, begun in the year 1075, during the reign of Alfonso 6th and under the direction of Archbishop Diego de Peláez. Work started on the Romanesque cathedral, continued during the period of Archbishop Diego Gelmírez, and did not stop until it became the large building we can see today.

    The cathedral is built in granite masonry with roofs in slabs of the same material. It is a Romanesque construction on a Latin cross ground plan, with a longitudinal arm and transept in three aisles, an ambulatory in the sanctuary and a tribune that runs along the whole perimeter; side chapels are arranged along the whole interior with their own individual space.

     The Acibechería facade is Neo-Classical (Ventura Rodríguez and Lois Monteagudo). The Praterías facade is Romanesque and a paradigm of medieval religious art. The Baroque Puerta Santa, (1611) is only opened in Holy Years. The Obradoiro facade (Fernando Casas y Novoa, 1738-1750) is a combination of stone and glass, with a remarkable large window in the central section, among the largest prior to the Industrial Revolution.

    In special religlous events, visitors may have the chance to see the unique ceremony of the botafumeiro, a spectacular incensory made of silver-plated brass, weighing eighty kilos, whose original purpose was to perfume the church.

    It hangs on a rope from the centre of the transept, and it is nudged from vertical by being pushed. As it swings like a pendulum, eight men (called tiraboleiros) let out rope at the apex of the swing and pull on it at the lowest point. This amplifies the incensory’s oscillation swinging it to 21 metres up in the top of the vault, in a 65-metre arc along the transept from the Azabachería to the Praterias doorways. It passes along at floor level at a speed of 68 km/h, leaving behind it a fine trall of smoke and a fragrance of incense.


    The Squares around the Cathedral

    Four magnificent squares open up before the four doors of the basilica:

    • Plaza del Obradoiro...

    The main one was given the name of Obradoiro, for having had for nearly ten years, between 1738 and 1747, the obradoiro, or workshop, where the stones for the Baroque facade were cut and carved. It was the work of the Galician architect Fernando Casas e Novoa, and it replaced the early Romanesque facade. The towers reach a height of 74 metres.

    Alongside, the Palacio de Xelmírez, still survives, built in the XII century at the same time as the early Romanesque cathedral. The canons’ residence, on the opposite side, now houses the Cathedral Museum.

    Another three buildings, of diverse periods and styles, close the square. Firstly, the Colexio de San Xerome, founded by Bishop Fonseca, with a Romanesque-ogival portal, the Palacio de Raxoi, of XVIII century neo-classical style, which was built as a confessors’ seminary, a choirboys’ residence and town hall for the city. And finally, the Hospital Real, ordered to be built by the Catholic Kings to take in pilgrims and sick people. It is a fantastic example of Plateresque style, quite uncommon in Galicia, and is today a Parador (hotel).

    • Praza da Acibechería...

    The Praza da Acibechería is the first square encountered by the traveller entering Santiago by the French Road. It was known as the Puerta del Paraíso, but was replaced by the present neo-classical style square in the XVIII century. The craft of jet working, closely linked to the Pilgrimage, prospered in Santiago from the XV century onwards. The workshops and stalls were here in the square.

    • Praza das Praterías...

    On the opposite side, the door of the southern arm of the cathedral’s cross aisle preserves all the iconographic richness of the Romanesque art of Compostela’s golden age. It is the Porta das Praterías. Alongside it stands the Torre do Reloxo, (Clock Tower) or the Berenguela, of Baroque style, as are the other buildings surrounding this square, except the building of the old Bank of Spain, that is being nowadays prepared to house the Museo das Peregrinacións (Pilgrimage Museum) and of Santiago.

    • Praza de A Quintana...

    Behind the cathedral is the wide expanse of the Praza da Quintana. The Porta Santa, which faces this square, is only open in the Compostela Holy Year, when the Apostle’s festival, the 25 July, falls on a Sunday.


    Cathedral of Santiago : Virtual Visit

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