Santiago de Compostela, Spain

[ 0 ] October 11, 2011 |

Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, was the final destination on our northern tour of Spain.

The most significant destination of the city is the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. This is thought to be the burial site of St. James the Apostle who preached in Galicia, died in Palestine and was brought back to be buried. In 813 his tomb was supposedly rediscovered and soon the site became a gathering place for Spanish Christians. The Austurian king Alfonso II came to the site and had a church built above the holy remains. For more than 1,000 years Christians have been traveling by foot (or bike) on a spiritual pilgrimage to this location.

Cathedral De Santiago De Compostela

The cathedral we see today was completed over multiple centuries, and therefore is a combination of Romanesque, baroque and gothic architecture.  A large portion of the spires and statues are covered in moss. The main entrance faces the giant square, Prazo do Obradoiro.

As Pat and I arrived in the square for the first time we took in the moment with reverent awe. Towering above us was the beautiful cathedral and all around us were pilgrims.

The cobblestone square was filled with pilgrims who had finally arrived to Santiago. Some of them had traveled in groups but most were hiking solo. A few groups were on bikes and horses. The majority were wearing boots and carrying hiking poles and backpacks. You could see on their faces the joyful expressions of achievement and relief as they took in the mighty cathedral for the first time. No doubt some of them had faced both physical and spiritual challenges along their journey to Santiago.

There are three “rules” imposed by the cathedral authorities in Santiago. 1. The pilgrims must carry the pilgrim passport and have it stamped at each stage of the journey. 2. Pilgrims must walk or ride on horseback the last 100km to Santiago (or cycle the last 200km). 3. They must declare a spiritual or religious motivation to qualify for the “Compostela”- the traditional Latin certificate of pilgrimage.

After soaking up the exterior we made our way inside the cathedral. We walked around the dirt-covered floors (many pilgrims had been there) taking in the many details. We walked down to see the tomb of St. James.


We decided to stay for mass and experience the world’s greatest dispenser of incense. The service was in Spanish, making it impossible to understand, but the nun’s portion in the universal language of music was a connection to worship we easily understood.

At the end of the service as a blessing to all the botafumeiro (silver chandelier looking incense burner) was swung across the church from side to side. Ten men’s strength in a pumping motion was the counterforce on the end of the rope making it swing. As it happened you could feel and hear the force of the energy and inspiration it gave to all in attendance to go back into the world.  Quite a memorable experience.

pully system for the incense

lighting of the incense



After a dinner of tapas we walked back to the Cathedral square for a final view. Across from the massive cathedral were musicians playing traditional music surrounded by pilgrims, tourist, and locals singing and dancing.

Music in the Night


Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela at night










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Category: Alison's Blog, Blog, Destinations, Featured Posts, Spain

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