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Santiago de Compostela, Spain: The Pilgrim Route of Saint James

About Saint James:

One of the early apostles, James was a fisherman like many of the others.  Although he had been preaching in Galicia (modern-day Spain) he traveled to Jerusalem, and upon his arrival there, he was captured and executed under the orders of King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44 AD.

Although he died in Jerusalem, his remains were brought back to Galicia and a church erected above them. This was the beginnings of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the tomb of St. James.


About Santiago de Compostela:

Here in Northwestern Spain you will find one of the most revered places of pilgrimage anywhere in the world. In fact the Pilgrim Route of Saint James (the Camino Real) is an ancient pilgrimage route that stretched from France all the way across Spain to end up here. It became one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in the world, second only to Rome and Jerusalem.

Medieval pilgrims were easily recognized by their wide-brimmed hats and more notably for a scallop shell attached to their cloaks. This along with a walking stick and a supply of water was all that many pilgrims took with them on the 500 mile journey. As you can imagine, this was a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey. Bandits were only too ready to rob the pilgrims of whatever they might have on them. Gradually, inns sprang up along the way to provide respite and safety to the pilgrims.

Several movies have been made about this route, most recently one entitled  The Way staring Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Esquivez. Today you can still see groups of pilgrims, young and old, with the scallop shells walking the ancient route. Over 100,000 people make this journey each year.

It should be noted that are several variations of the route, so click here to learn more.

About the Cathedral of Saint James:

There is a reliquary in the crypt below the main altar of the Cathedral that holds the remains of Saint James. A 12th Century statue of the saint is above the main altar and you can climb up a stairway behind the altar for a closer look.

incensor in Cathedral of Saint James
Georges Jansoone [CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
And the immense Botafumerio (incensor) is an amazing event to watch when it is being swung in the Cathedral.  Here is a YouTube video of such an occasion.

Also don’t miss the Capilla de la Corticela, right next to the main entrance.   It was actually a 9th century church, but as time went on the Cathedral expanded to include the chapel. It is often overlooked by visitors (although frequented by locals) which is a shame, since it offers a quiet place to pray and meditate.
The Cathedral has been undergoing renovation, and  pilgrims arriving in Santiago will now get to appreciate the full beauty of the Cathedral’s facade after it has been cleaned and restored.  Restoration works inside the cathedral are still taking place and they are expected to be completed in 2020, just in time for by Holy Year 2021.

Meantime, Masses are now held at different churches in the city.

The Daily pilgrim’s Mass is in the Church of Saint Francis at 12:00 noon daily rather than the Cathedral.

Other Masses are held in

-Iglesia de Santa María Salomé:

From Monday to Friday: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 7:00 pm

Saturdays: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm

Sundays: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm

-Chapel of la Corticela: Every day – 11:00 am



Traveling to Santiago de Compostela:

There is an airport at Santiago de Compostela. There is also Talgo high-speed train service from Madrid that covers the distance in about 7 hours. And, of course, you can try walking one of the several pilgrim routes.

Address: Praza do Obradoiro, s/n, 15704 Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain

GPS coordinates: 42° 52′ 50.1456” N, 8° 32′ 40.7076” W

Tel:   +34 981 58 35 48

e-mail:   dean@catedraldesantiago.es (Dean of the Cathedral)

Click here for the official website of the Cathedral of Saint James

While here you should also visit Museo das Peregrinacións, the museum dedicated to the pilgrimage.

email:   deac@catedraldesantiago.es (museum)

Click here for an interesting and more in-depth look at the pilgrimage of Saint James.

There is one hotel on the Cathedral square, a Parador known as Parador de los Reyes Catolicos, that offers 5-star accommodations but gets mixed reviews however there are many other good hotels nearby at reasonable prices. If you are going there any time near the Feast of Saint James (July 25) you can naturally expect large crowds.

Find hotels & restaurants in Santiago de Compostela, read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor

⇐ Back to Catholic shrines & places of interest in Spain

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