Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela. A Coruña province, Galicia, Spain
José Fuste Raga/© José Fuste Raga
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain
Herbert Spichtinger/© Herbert Spichtinger
After mysterious lights led a 9th-century hermit to St. James’s remains, King Alfonso II ordered that a chapel be built on the site. Since the Middle Ages, the magnificent cathedral has been the destination of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. Stand outside to watch the peregrinos, exhausted at the end of their 800-kilometer hike, step briefly on a scallop shell embedded in the pavement, then enter the cathedral to visit the saint’s tomb and touch the foot of a statue of him.
Santiago de Compostela
On the way to visit friends in Galicia, we wanted to visit Santiago de Compostela. As we drove into Galicia, we saw many pilgrims walking the “Way of St. James”. This pilgrimage became a leading Catholic route in the 9th century and during the Middle Ages, an historical pilgrimage route. Santiago means Saint James and legend has it that the body of the apostle was brought to Galicia for burial in 813. A small chapel was built to house the remains at that time and in 1075, work on the cathedral began. The facade of this spectacular edifice is ornate and detailed. The interior is also. There are many altars and chapels to visit, each one more ornate and impressive. You can line up to pass by the tomb of St. James. The plaza, cathedral, and parador (built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for pilgrims in 1499) pulsed with life day and night. Santiago de Compostela is one of the continents’ great cultural centers. The interior of the cathedral took hours of my time. This experience was a rewarding walk through history. I recommend the parador, Hostal dos Reis Catolicos which was first built as a hospital for pilgrims by the King and Queen. Don’t forget to try to see and hear Santiago’s tuna troubadours who carry on the tradition of serenading young girls with romantic sons. The tuna wear traditional costumes with capes flowing, and carry their instruments. They are famous in this area, and very entertaining. Valuable info available at:www.galiciaguide.com
Mime artists welcome pilgrims to Santiago
Pilgrims who arrive at Santiago de Compostela go straight to the Cathedral, where they have plenty of options. They can go sign in at the Pilgrimage Office to get their ‘compostela’ certificate, they can go to the daily noontime Mass dedicated to the pilgrims, they can sit somewhere and catch their breath, or they can watch the entertainment spread out throughout the gigantic Cathedral’s exterior. Here a couple of mime artists stand still, waiting for tourists to pose with them for a small fee. A bit further, a student orchestra, the ‘Tuna’, sings. And there are more musicians, artists, jugglers, salespeople, a bit like a medieval marketplace where everyone gathers after a long journey. It’s a wonderful plaza, huge, and filled with individuals standing in awe of the Cathedral and of their own journey, or interlaced couples, or entire tour buses stopping by for a moment.
From San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela
On a map, the Way of St. James, also known as El Camino de Santiago, looks like a great river with tributaries streaming into its main confluence at Spain’s border into the Basque Country and then on into Galicia in Northwestern Spain. In Santiago de Compostela tradition has it that the remains of the apostle, St. James are buried. Technically, to travel the Camino as a pilgrim, and get your passport stamped along the Way, one must walk it or ride it- 100+ kilometers by foot, or 200+ kilometers by bike or burro. We traveled by train from San Sebastian to Santiago. It was an eight day trip with stops along the way each day and plenty of rich food to eat from the four autonomous regions of northern Spain. These are Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Throughout these regions are plenty of religious sites, cultural contributions and natural adventures to visit, enjoy, see and participate in. From touching an actual piece of the Holy Cross to climbing to the top of a lookout above the Pico de Europa National Park, to visiting the Roman victory bridge in Cangas de Onis, one can find what one is searching for along his or her path.