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The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Let’s learn a bit more about the most precious jewel of the Capital City of Galicia Region: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the result of more than 700 years of construction. This architectonical jewel is the fruit of different styles and expansions, and continuous restorations.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela galiwondersThe Origins of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

When we talk about the protohistory of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, we must mention two pre-Roman churches built on the IX century. The construction of the basilica that was the origin of the Cathedral as we know it nowadays, started in 1075. It started with the figure of Bernaldo o Vello, who was the leader of a team of quarry workers.

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    Almanzor and the Cathedral’s Bells

    The Catedral de Santiago has a long history, so for the first notorious issue we must go back in time more than 1000 years. In 997, Almanzor, the ruler of al-Andalus, sacked Compostela and set the town, all of its churches, and its cathedral on fire. He also stole the Cathedral’s bells, to serve as lamps at the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The bells did not return to Santiago until more than 200 years later, when Ferdinand III of Castille took Cordoba. However, the great impulse of this construction came after that, when Diego Xelmírez was the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela. He was an educated and cosmopolitan person, and stand out as a cultural and spiritual promoter of Santiago de Compostela. The basic struThe Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela galiwonders Camino de Santiago Tourscture of the building (the head, the main altar, the arms of the crossing and the radial Romanesque chapels) were already finished when he died (in 1139 or 1140).

    The Artistic Style

    The Cathedral is inspired by the great churches of France. It was subject to the most updated architectural techniques of the Western World. In fact, it was the first Romanesque church in Europe with a monumental sculpture on the three façades: Obradoiro, Platerías and Paraíso (nowadays, Azabachería). Moreover, the Portico de la Gloria (Arcade of Glory) is one of the most spectacular demonstrations of Romanesque art in Europe. The author of this jewel was Maestro Mateo (an architect from Santiago de Compostela) and his teamThe Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela galiwonders portico de la gloria. They worked for more than 40 years on this piece of art, from 1168 to 1211. And, after so many years of works, they left a poem made of stone to be enjoyed by all the future generations. This stone-made jewel, is not just a manifestation of the medieval art, but also a summary of the human conception and the universe. It is presented on a architectural structure made of three superimposed floors. In XVII took place the last great renovation of the Cathedral of Santiago. On the one hand, it was to protect the Portico de la Gloria. On the other hand, to create a western structure, appropriate to the significance of the temple. This way, the Baroque façade was built. Fernando de Casas Novas was the designer, and the construction was finished in 1750. This Baroque style provides the sense of verticality to the building, of elevation. It also combines glass and stone in a way that had never been done before. The Holy Year in 1784, marked the conclusion of the works, and the unveiling of the Communion Chapel.

    Some of the highlights

    The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela galiwonders Saint James the ApostleAlso, one of the most iconic parts of the Cathedral of Santiago, is the Clock Tower, or Berenguela. And, of course, the Porta Santa. But in this case, it is only possible to access the Cathedral through this door during the Holy Years. Once inside, we recommend to hug the statue of the Apostle, and go down to visit the crypt that keeps his remains. Furthermore, the visit to the Royal Mausoleum and the Pilgrim Mass (if you are lucky you will be able to see the Botafumeiro), and the chapels, are some of the highlights. There are also hidden surprises, like archaeological excavations that started to be open to the public in 2011. This way, it is possible to access the subsoil of the cathedral to visit the medieval cemeteries. In fact, this settlement was the origen of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

    Botafumeiro

    The botafumeiro is one of the Cathedral’s most iconic objects. It is a metallic censer that originates from the Middle Ages. Back then, it was used to purify the air. Nowadays, it is only used in special occasions, such as St James’ Day.

    But the botafumeiro has suffered a few accidents. The first, and perhaps the most notorious one, took place on the 25th of July in 1499, during St James’ Day. On this day, there was a mass in honor of Catherine of Aragon (who would go on to become Queen of England in 1509), and during the service one of the censer’s chains broke mid-flight. The rest of the chains could not hold the botafumeiro’s weight and the censer flew across the Cathedral and hit the southern door, that of Praterías.botafumeiro catedral de santiago mishaps

    The second accident took place in 1622. That time, the rope that holds the censer broke and the botafumeiro fell among the tiraboleiros, the people in charge of moving it. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But others were not so lucky: in the 20th century there were two instances of people getting hurt from getting too close to the censer. The result? Broken ribs and a broken nose, respectively.

    Ronaldinho’s powerful kick

    In 2004, world famous football star Ronaldinho was shooting an advertisement with the Catedral de Santiago as a background. During the filming, the director asked the footballer to kick the ball harder… and the Brazilian star’s strength ended up breaking one of the Cathedral’s glass panes. Luckily for everyone, the cost of the damage was just 1.2 euros!

    ronaldinho catedral de santiago mishaps

    Outside damage

    Because of the Cathedral’s age and Santiago’s weather, the erosion of the statues is to be expected, but some of it is consequence of vandalic (or careless) actions. In recent years, an Erasmus exchange student who lived in Santiago confessed that she had accidentally damaged one of the statues in Praza da Quintana. But she was not the only one: over the centuries people have broken and damaged parts of the Cathedral with their careless acts.

    Graffiti

    This past Sunday night, someone defaced one of the statues in Praterías with blue marker. The graffiti imitated the makeup of one of rock band Kiss’ Eric Carr. The culprit also wrote the band’s name on the statue.

    The victim was a statue in a marble column on the Cathedral’s southern facade, which dates to the 12th century. By now, the statue is clean of graffiti, but there are still blue tints left on it. The police are working to find the culprit, who could be punished with a fine of up to 150,000 euros.

    This is just a small part of the Catedral de Santiago’s checkered history. Perhaps one of the most notorious ones is the disappearance of the Códice Calixtino in 2011… but that’s a tale for another day.

    Had you heard about these Catedral de Santiago mishaps? Do you know of any others?

    Want to know Santiago de Compostela, the Camino and all their history on a firsthand basis? Then do not hesitate to contact us! We are local Camino experts who offer tailor made tours.

    Restoration works inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

    The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is on renovation works since past February. The length of the restoration works inside the Basilica will take around a year. Although, the covers of the temple and the transept of the main nave may take up to 6 more months.

    After a long time, the last year we were finally able to see how the restoration of the façade was completed. But now, it is time for the inside. Due to some water leaking through the roof, there is a problem of humidity that must be treated in order to avoid more serious problems. Moreover, thanks to the installation of some scaffoldings, the workers will check the state of conservation of the capitals and operate on them if necessary. In addition, they will renovate the slabs that are in poor condition, reorganize the wiring of the Cathedral and restore those sculptures, stained glasses, gratings and other elements that may demand some work. Furthermore, they will change the ancient bronze carpentries for other wooden ones. That is because the wooden carpentries will allow a better air circulation system inside the Cathedral.

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    Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our FREE Practical Guide to the Camino de Santiago. In this guide you will find all the information you need to start planning your Camino.

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      I want to receive news, exclusive content, commercial communications.


      By registering I agree to receive the guide of the Camino in PDF format as well as practical information about routes to do the Camino.

      – Data controller: Galiwonders, S.L.U.

      – Purpose: Manage subscriptions, sending communications, and data processing in accordance with the purposes indicated in our privacy policy.

      – Legitimation: consent of the interested parties

      – Destination: suppliers, partners and developers. Outside these fields, no data will be transferred to third parties, unless legally required.

      – Rights: access, rectify and delete data, as well as other rights, as explained in our privacy policy.

      Visits inside the Cathedral

      The workers will work on an intensive schedule from the Pórtico de la Gloria to the north transept, so they estimate that it will take as little time as possible. Thus, after the restoration, the visitors, believers and pilgrims will have the chance of contemplating it in better conditions. However, the area of the ambulatory will be accessible in order to allow the passage of visitors who want to do the ritual of the Embrace in the Camarin of the Apostle and descend to the Apostolic Crypt. Unfortunately, we must wait to the next year in order to see the traditional “Botafumeiro”. Furthermore, in order to access inside the Cathedral, we must enter through the door of Plaza de Platerías, while the door of the Pórtico Real is only available as an exit. Therefore, the traditional entrance by the Plaza de Azabachería is not working at the moment, as it is just opened for workers. Regarding the opening hours of the Cathedral, it will be from 9 am to 7 pm, with the exception of October, when it will open until 8 pm.

      Change of dates and places for the Masses and timetables

      Although the Masses will not be preached in the Cathedral along the present year, other churches will give them in the city of Santiago. Specifically, the Church of San Francisco, the Church of Santa María de Salomé and the Church Parroquia de la Corticela. All the pilgrims will be able to go to 12 pm’s Pilgrim Mass in the Church of San Francisco, that it is only 300 meters away from the Cathedral. Moreover, daily masses will be made in the Church of Santa María de Salomé and Parroquia de Corticela. You will see the timetable below:
      • Church Santa María de Salomé:
      In the morning: Monday to Sunday: 7:30, 9:00 y 10:00
      In the afternoon: Monday to Sunday: 7 pm. Saturdays: 6 pm, 7 pm. Sundays: 1 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm
      • Parroquia de Corticela: Monday to Sunday at 11 am.
      This year will be the first time in history that the Ofrenda del Apóstol on 25th July will not be celebrated in the Cathedral. But devotes will be able to go to the Church of San Martin Pinario in order to attend the Ceremony.  This Church, placed in front of the façade Azabachería, is a magnificent work from the Galician Renaissance. In addition, the building shelters one of the best religious-art museums in the community of Galicia.

      Architecture

      The restoration works inside the Cathedral are expected to be completed on 2020. Then, we will be able to see the total restoration of this important work. It will allow us to enjoy one of the best example of religious architecture that we can find in Galicia. There is no doubt that the details, structure, carpentry and all the elements that comprise the building represent one of the greatest works of universal art. The Museum of the Cathedral dedicates a permanent space to Maestro Mateo, sculptor of unknown origins who articulated this great work. This space, composed with original pieces and interpretive resources, shows us a complete vision of a fundamental period in the history of the Cathedral. This Museum remains open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from April to October, and from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from November to March. Although the visits to the roof, tribune and archaeological excavations are inactive due to the works, we can choose to visit the rest of the spaces. Thus, we will have a perfect opportunity to know the origins of the Cathedral, the artistic evolution from the thirteenth century to the eighteenth century and other collections that will complete our stay in the monumental city of Compostela.
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