A look at the Santiago de Compostela cathedral
Dozens of pilgrimage routes through Europe lead to the ancient and awe-inspiring Santiago Compostela cathedral in Spain
FROM the Middle Ages to this day, thousands of people walk one of the trails of the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) every year to visit the beautiful cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Galician region of Spain.
Also known as the Pilgrimage of Compostela, it’s a long trek to the shrine of Saint James the Great, where the remains of Jesus Christ’s apostle are said to be buried. There are a few ways to travel the religious or spiritual pilgrimage route, the most famous of which covers 772km all the way from SaintJean-Pied-de-Port in France and across the north of Spain. All of them end at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is considered a masterpiece of religious architecture.
THE SCALLOP SYMBOL
During the Middle Ages the scallop shell became known as the symbol of St James. There are a few legends that link him to the shell – one tells of how he rescued a knight who’d plummeted off a cliff into the ocean and emerged covered in scallops – but the shell is also found on the coast of Galicia, the region of Spain where Santiago de Compostela is located. The scallops served a practical purpose for the pilgrims, who wore them attached to their cloaks or hats: they were used as bowls to hold their food or water on the long journey.
HISTORY OF THE CATHEDRAL
The cathedral was built on top of the site of an old church, which had been constructed on top of St James’ tomb. The original church was destroyed in 997 by a Muslim army.
Construction of the mostly granite building began in 1075. According to the Book of Saint James – a guidebook for pilgrims – the cathedral was built by Bernard the elder, “a wonderful master”, and his assistant, Robertus Galperinus, with help from Esteban, master of cathedral works. The book also says the last stone was laid in 1122, but the cathedral was expanded many times in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The Botafumeiro is a huge censer (a metal container for burning incense). It swings from the ceiling on thick chains to spread the incense smoke to the congregation below. “Botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller” in Galician.
PÓRTICO DA GLORIA
The name is Galician for The Portal of Glory, given to the Romanesque-style main entrance to the cathedral. It was added to the building in 1188. Its three arches are decorated with 200 figures and mythological creatures representing the apocalypse. Christ sits on the throne in the central arch, with a statue of Saint James below Him to greet pilgrims at the end of their journey.