Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Santiago de Compostela Photo © bernavazqueze

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Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

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A place of pilgrimage for millions of Catholics across the world, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela lies at the heart of the city of the same name in Galicia, northwestern Spain. Believed to be the burial place of Saint James the Great, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, this magnificent Romanesque building is a cathedral of the archdiocese.


Saint James the Great was famed for bringing Christianity to the Celts in the Iberian Peninsula before being beheaded in Jerusalem in 44 AD. His remains were brought to Galicia but abandoned in the 3rd century when the Spanish Christians were persecuted by the Romans. In 814 AD, his tomb was rediscovered by Pelagius upon seeing strange lights in the night sky and this believed miracle led King Alfonso II of Asturias and Galicia to order a chapel be constructed on the site.
In 829 AD, the first church was built on the site, followed by a pre-Romanesque church in 899 AD that developed into a site of significant pilgrimage. The church, however, was burnt to the ground in 997 by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir, the army commander of the caliph of Córdoba. Despite significant looting, St James’ tomb and relics were left intact.

The current cathedral began construction in 1075 under King Alfonso VI of Castile and Bishop Diego Peláez. Built primarily of granite to the same plan as the monastic brick church of Saint Sernin in Toulouse, the last stone was believed to be lain in 1122, and the Cathedral consecrated in 1128.

The Codex Calixtinus (Wikipedia Article) states that the architects were ‘Bernard the elder’, his assistant Robertus Galperinus, ‘Esteban, master of the cathedral works’ and ‘Bernard, the younger’, in later years.
In 1495, a university was added and the cathedral expanded and embellished over the 16th to 18th centuries in a Baroque transformation.


The exterior comprises a number of facades with adjoining squares that together constitute an urban plaza. Fernando de Casas Novoa completed the Baroque Obradoiro Square façade in 1740, while Ferro Caaveiro and Fernandez Sarela completed the Acibecharia façade, and Master Estaban built the Pratarias façade in 1103.

Entrance to the Cathedral is via the Portico da Gloria, considered one of the finest works of medieval art. It was built by Master Mateo in 1188 in Romanesque style and comprises three round arches that correspond to the three naves of the church. The tympanum, divided by a central column, is of note for its depiction of Saint James, carved animals, and statues of the Apostles.
Saint James is also depicted in the mullion in a seated position with a pilgrim’s swagger stick, identifying him as the patron of the basilica. The custom is for pilgrims to pray with their fingers pressed into the roots of the Tree of Jesse below Saint James, and you can see the deep indentations that have been worn into the marble. Looking towards the main altar of the cathedral is the kneeling figure of Master Mateo with a sign identifying him as ‘Architectus’. The figure has deteriorated significantly over the years from the tradition of students hitting their heads against it to gain wisdom.

The early bell towers were built in the 12th century in Romanesque style in what is now the Obradoiro façade. Known as the Torre das Campas (right side) and the Torre da Carraca (left side), they rise to between 75 and 80 meters. Modifications were made in the 15th century and reinforcements added between 1667 and 1670 due to a tilt that was detected.

The interior comprises a nave, two lateral aisles, a wide transept, and a choir with radiating chapels. Designed in a barrel-vaulted cruciform Romanesque style, it presents a first impression of austerity until one ventures further and encounters the spectacular organ and choir. At 97 meters long and 22 meters high, it is the largest Romanesque church in Spain and among the largest in Europe.
The crypt below the main altar houses the relics of Saint James and his disciples, Saint Theodorus and Saint Athanasius, and is the final destination of pilgrims who come to Santiago de Compostela.
At the altar, which is a blend of Gothic simplicity and elaborate 18th century Churrigueresque, stands a medieval statue of Saint James who pilgrims greet with a hug upon arrival.

Visiting the Cathedral

The Cathedral is open daily for pilgrims and visitors alike to marvel at its blend of architectural styles and visit the tomb of Saint James. On occasions the church displays its ‘Botafumeiro’ – a large solid silver incense burner that is swung using ropes from the ceiling by a team of ‘tiraboleiros’.

An archaeological museum, the Bucheria, housing fragments and tapestries is located beneath the Late Gothic cloisters that are interesting to explore themselves for their view of the cathedral’s exterior.

The Cathedral marks the end of the Camino de Santiago or ‘Way of St James’. While this incorporates many routes that end in Santiago de Compostela, the most popular route is the ‘French Way’ that traverses from France across northern Spain. Many pilgrims stop just outside Santiago, before entering the city itself, at the town of Monte de Gozo, where there are a large number of beds available. The former medieval pilgrim hostel, Hotel Dos Reis Catolicos, now offers luxury accommodation on the same square as the Cathedral or the nearby Hesperia Gelmirez offers 3 star accommodation. For those on a budget, Hostal R Mexico and Hostal Pazo de Agra are also within relatively close proximity to the Cathedral.

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Author: Pip23. Last updated: Oct 09, 2014

Pictures of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Photo by Worldisround

3649-Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
3649-Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Photo by Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias

Fachada de la catedral - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Fachada de la catedral - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Photo by Carlos de Vega

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Catedral de Santiago de Compostela - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Photo by Astro Oscar ||*||


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