Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain, is the architecturally impressive destination of thousands of pilgrims who set out each year on the world-famous Way of St. James.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is greeted annually by thousands of pilgrims with exhausted but beaming faces. Finally at the destination! Because the magnificent cathedral in northern Spain is the end of the Way of St. James - one of the most famous pilgrimages of Christianity. In 1985, the old town of Santiago de Compostela, and with it the cathedral, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We have put the world-famous pilgrimage destination on our lists of the 10 most beautiful churches of Spain and the top 10 sights of Spain.

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PICTURES: Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Photo gallery: Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Tomb of the Apostle James

The impressive main portal of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the west façade is flanked by two 75m high towers, Spain - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

The origins of the famous place of worship date back to the 1st century AD. At that time, in a then still pagan mausoleum, the bones of the apostle James the Elder were buried, who had to pay for his faith with his life in the year 44 AD; he was beheaded in Palestine.

As a result, the mausoleum of Santiago de Compostela became a place of religious worship as early as the 9th century. Moreover, this place of worship was intended to unite all the Christians of the West against the advance of the Moors. From the numerous pilgrimages that set out to visit the tomb of St. James, over the centuries became the now world-famous Way of St. James and Santiago de Compostela became the spiritual center of Western Europe.

In 830, the first simple church was built over the mausoleum, whose construction also marks the official founding date of Santiago de Compostela. Today, this small church is the magnificent Cathedral of Santiago and the most important Romanesque building in Spain. It forms the destination of all the routes of the famous Way of St. James and, as the official burial church of St. James the Apostle, it remains one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christendom.

Construction of the present Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Detailed view of the Baroque, Neoclassical and Gothic elements of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in its current appearance dates from the mid-18th century. The facade was created by the local architect Fernando de Casas y Nóvoa. From the cathedral of that time can still be seen the Romanesque south portal.

Due to the ongoing extensions, the impressive sacral building combines baroque, classicist and gothic elements. The impressive main portal on the west facade is flanked by two 75m high towers. Entering the cathedral through the magnificent Portico de la Gloria, one is greeted by a 100m long and 20m high central nave. The long aisle leads to the spectacular gilded main altar, under which the remains of the Apostle James rest in a silver shrine.

Tip: In the Holy Years, when the name day of James (July 25) falls on a Sunday, the otherwise walled "Gate of Forgiveness" (La Puerta Santa) can be passed through. It is ceremonially opened on December 31 of the previous year and leads directly (not through the church) to the tomb of James.

The treasures of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Detailed view of the Baroque, Neoclassical and Gothic elements of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

Through the different cultural currents, the cathedral has been enriched with a variety of treasures. One of them consists in the west portal in Obradoiro Square. The so-called "Pórtico de la Gloria" is by Maestro Mateo from the 12th century and impresses with a series of masterfully created sculptures.

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The treasures of the cathedral have always attracted robbers and so the Normans invaded the city several times to plunder the cathedral. However, a successful looting succeeded only the Moors in 997 AD, but they left the tomb of the Apostle John untouched.

After this invasion, the destroyed city was rebuilt on a larger scale, and in 1077 construction also began on the Romanesque cathedral. Diego Xelmírez, who was appointed bishop in 1099, contributed to the expansion of the city and the cathedral.

Incense against pilgrim sweat

Through the different cultural currents, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has been enriched with a variety of treasures, Spain - © FCG / Shutterstock
© FCG / Shutterstock

In the middle of the cathedral, the famous botafumeiro hangs from the vaulted ceiling on a long rope. This almost 2m tall incense bur ner is set in motion by six men on high holidays, by order or after pilgrims have spent a night praying in the church. The smoking cauldron then swings at breathtaking speed up to the roof of the cathedral and spreads a pleasant fragrance.

Related links:

Official site of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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