The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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There are no stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. Well, there’s one, of St. James, over the Holy Door, which will be opened in 2021, the next Holy Year, when St. James’s day, July 25, falls on a Sunday.

The Cathedral is ancient, finished in the 1100’s, a solid Romanesque beauty.

It was built over an even older structure that sheltered the remains of St. James, which were discovered in 800. Pilgrims began arriving soon after that, and they’ve been coming ever since. And the spirit of the Camino permeates the place today.

I love Cathedrals: Chartres, Canterbury, and Grace are close to my heart. But I think Santiago takes the cake. It’s historic, ancient, and has a deep spirituality; it’s a place of living faith.

Along the Camino, there are numerous Cathedrals. Pamplona, Burgos and Astorga had beautifully artistic cathedrals, but they felt deflated and preserved. You needed a ticket to enter. In Santiago, the door was open to all from 7:00 am to 11:00 at night.

Santiago feels alive, busy with pilgrim traffic, and every Pilgrim mass was full to overflowing with Peregrinos in their hiking clothes, sandals and socks.

Most of all, it is the endpoint of the Camino, and the burial place of the Apostol, James.

In the movie, “the Way” The characters enter the Cathedral through the front door and encounter the Portico of Glory, carved by Maestro Mateo in the 12th Century. There, James greets the pilgrim atop a pilar carved into an exquisite Tree of Jesse, that links Christ back to Adam.

The traditional pilgrim ritual was: touch your hand to the Tree of Jesse, and then enter the cathedral, venerate the tomb of St. James, and climb the stairs behind the altar and hug the jewel-encrusted statue of the Saint. Quite a multi-sensory experience when you add in the flying of the Butafumiero!

These days, the front door is closed and the Portico of Glory is being restored. It’s behind a fence that requires a museum ticket.

About 5 years ago they stopped allowing pilgrims to touch their hands to the Tree of Jesse, to preserve it. The spot where pilgrims put their hands for 800 years wore 5 deep finger holes into the stone, like the grip in a bowling ball. Not being able to place my hand there was my only disappointment in Santiago.

But I completed the other rituals: hugging the statue of St. James, praying at his tomb, and attending the pilgrim mass and seeing the Butafumiero fly.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Cathedral was remodeled in the Baroque style. A giant decorative structure, reminiscent of St. Peter’s in Rome, was erected over the altar. It’s upheld by a crew of massive baby angels with strong arms, one of my favorite features within the space. There’s an amazing amount of gold. Towers, and a new facade changed the outer profile in the 18th Century. Now it all looks unified by the overgrowth of lichen and ferns on the damp stone.

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Categories: Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela, Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

  1. George

    Beth, I am relaxing to know that you are sending posts on different days from the same place. Good for you, peregrina! Thanks for the great images of the cathedral in Santiago. I loved the flying butafumiero. I even like saying the words. YouTube has a video of the Pope watching it sail to the ceiling like you described. I doubt Popes say “Far out, dude!” but that is the expression on his face. That thing reminds me of the backyard trolley that my brothers and I have been remembering lately, although i doubt Hale ever rode it unless we stuffed him in a bag and sent him down the line to see what would happen. And I have always been awed by cathedrals, but I can barely imagine the sense of wonder at reaching a place like that after a trek and experience like yours. I am educating half of DC about the Camino and my amazingly spiritual, hardy and eloquent sister-in-law. Stay off the roof and keep writing.

    Like

    • George, I’m still processing, and will keep posting for awhile, I think. In Madrid today and tomorrow, then fly home.

      Love that you are spreading the word about the Camino. Did not meet many Washingtonians on the Way. But I did meet an older guy from Louisville, MS, and we bonded over Noxube county and Macon. His accent reminded me of your father.

      Watch the movie, “the Way” with Martin Sheen. It captures the Camino spirit, music is on my iPhone, and great scenery.

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

      Like

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