Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the province of Galicia, Spain. The city’s Cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St James … known locally as the Camino de Santiago. In 1985 the city’s Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The cathedral borders the main plaza of the old and well-preserved city. Legend has it that the remains of the apostle St. James were brought to Galicia in the early 9th century on a boat made of stone, and were later discovered at Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral was built in his honour on the spot where his remains were said to have been found.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known in English as The Way of St James, is a collection of old pilgrimage routes which cover all of Europe. They all have Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain as their final destination. For more than 1000 years pilgrims have been walking along the Camino de Santiago.
The main Camino route is the Camino Frances. This part of the Camino de Santiago traditionally starts in St Jean Pied de Port, France, and finishes in Santiago de Compostela about 780km later, after traveling the breadth of Northern Spain, however you can start anywhere and even continue past Santiago to the sea at Finisterre. Finisterre was once thought to be the end of the world in medieval times, when people believed that the Earth was flat.
On arrival at the Cathedral in Santiago, pilgrims take their credencial or Pilgrim Record, duly stamped along the way, to the nearby Pilgrim Office and a Compostela certificate (still written in Latin, and confirming the completion of the pilgrimage) is generally issued. Walkers and pilgrims on horseback must have completed at least the last 100km and cyclists the last 200 km, in one stretch, to qualify. You will be asked your motivation: those who do not count ‘spiritual’ as part of their reason for making the pilgrimage can obtain another document, a certificado, to attest to their having completed it.
Michael and I weren´t visiting Santiago to walk the Pilgrim´s Route, but to see the beautiful architecture in this World Heritage city … and we weren´t disappointed! We chose to stay at the San Martin Pinario Hospederia which is a former monastery directly across from the Cathedral.
During the first morning we wandered around the city viewing the fine granite buildings, before a delicious Menu del Dia (menu of the day) at our hotel. We dined on huge plates of jamon serano and melon, cod, and pork ribs followed by baked apple and rice pudding. Included in the price of €12 was a bottle of wine between us, large bottle of water, bread and coffee … what a bargain!
After lunch we wandered around the inner courtyard of the Hospederia before once again taking to the streets to see the city. We decided to view the interior of the Cathedral and queued to hug the statue of St James that stands over the high altar before visiting his tomb in the catacombs, as visited by Pope John Paul II.
The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or ” incensory”. The name “Botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller” in Galician. Sadly we didn´t get to see the Botafumeiro in action during a service, but you can get the idea if you watch the video below.
In the evening we enjoyed a wonderful selection of tapas at some of the many bars and restaurants in the city.