5 amazing experiences to live at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Posted on April 27, 2017

We have all heard the quote, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. So, for a Camino Pilgrim what is that first step? It is making the decision to walk the Camino de Santiago. After this, one starts to think about which route to take, when and with whom to do it, and where the journey should end. There are as many answers to these questions as there are pilgrims. However, the last question often has one common answer: The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrims spend time appreciating and marvelling at the four façades, attend the famous Pilgrims’s Mass to watch the impressive Botafumeiro, and may hug the statue of Saint James. These experiences help Pilgrims rejoice in the celebration of their arrival!

Although some pilgrims choose to continue their Camino to Finisterre, or walk other routes, Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral remains the top destination to finish the pilgrimage.

Experience 1: On the journey to the Cathedral

On the Camino de Santiago pilgrims spend many hours just walking. Whether you decide to walk by yourself or in a group, your attention is constantly shifting. Some moments it will be focused inward; you might be thinking about your life, memories, hopes and dreams. Other moments the focus will be shifted outward to look for the next yellow arrow.

The last day, you know your walk is coming to an end. You are excited but nostalgic. The emotions and excitement increase when you enter the city! At this point you know there are fewer arrows between you and your goal. It seems that the fewer arrows that are left, the less pain or exhaustion you feel.

Experience 2: The arrival

As those physical distractions disappear, all your senses seem to open up for the expectations of seeing that wonderful symbol of the end of your journey. Many pilgrims experience an overwhelming surge of emotions upon arriving to the Cathedral. Upon reaching the end of the Camino everything falls into place. All the effort makes sense.

Experience 3: The Four Façades of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Despite the restoration, which is due to finish by May 2018, each of the façades still retain all the beauty and charm of their Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architectural styles.

Northern Façade

If you choose to walk the French Way (on any of the routes that we offer), Primitive Way, North Coast Camino  or English Way, you will arrive to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and see the Northern Façade or da Acibecharía first. You can only smile with the satisfaction of knowing that you have achieved your goal. Here you will see the Statue of Faith next to the Statue of Saint James and the two kings in prayer.

Southern Façade

At the Southern Façade you will be amazed at the figures of the Apostles and prophets above the gate’s archivolts. In the central frieze is various scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. These are wonderful pieces of art, you can’t help falling in love with them.

Eastern Façade

Would you like to feel like royalty? On the Eastern Façade also known as “da Quintana” you can enter the Cathedral through the Royal Gate (Porta Real). This is the entrance used by the Kings of Spain which is why it has the Royal coat of arms above it.

The second gate is the Door of Forgiveness (Porta do Perdón), which is only opened on the 31st of December the year before a Jubilee Year.

Obradoiro Façade

Finally, the most famous façade of the Cathedral is the Obradoiro façade, which is also the name of the main square it faces. You can see depictions of it on the one, two and five cent Spanish coins. This important façade houses the Pórtico de la Gloria as well as the bell towers and the Carraca (ancient noisemaker). Here, you will be able to appreciate the figures of Saint James and his two disciples, all of them dressed as pilgrims. You can also see a replica of the tomb of the Saint.

When you are facing the Cathedral and admiring its magnificence, you realise that you are in front of a symbol that represents the end of a long journey in which you may have left many worries behind. Perhaps you finally understand something about yourself or a situation or you forgave someone, or  you may have proved something to yourself. Whether you started from Madrid, León, Pamplona, France or Switzerland, the Cathedral will help you realise that its greatness can only be compared with your own journey.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was built between 1075 and 1211. It took shape one stone at a time to become the beautiful structure that it is, much in the same way that you completed your journey to it, one step at a time. This helped you to be transformed on the inside. You have now built a beautiful place in your mind and soul to find peace in the same way that Pilgrims find peace in the Cathedral.

Experience 4: The Botafumeiro Experience

Regardless of why you are doing the Camino de Santiago, all of us on the Camino will have a sway of emotions. You will spend some days submerged in some sort of hypnotic trance induced by the sound of you own boots and breathing. In this moment you will go very deep into your mind to look for answers. You will find yourself answering some new questions that came up during the Camino.

It is very common for pilgrims to come in contact with a very wide range of emotions. A few buried feelings and memories will come back for you to learn something from. This emotional roller coast is hard to understand, and/or appreciate, when you are in the midst of all of it. But when you arrive to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, your entire journey takes perspective. And, if you are there for the Pilgrim’s Mass and the swing of the Botafumeiro, you will find yourself amazed.

Botafumeiro Pic

What is the Botafumeiro?

The Botafumeiro is a 116lb (53kg) brass thurible or censer covered in silver. It swings on the main dome from one side to the other. It takes eight men (called tiraboleiros) to move it. In less than two minutes it can be swinging at more than 40 miles per hour (70 km/h) and almost reaches the ceiling in each swing. Pretty impressive isn’t it?

This giant pendulum helps you understand some very powerful things, like the sway of emotions that one may experience in the Camino de Santiago. When you see the swinging of the Botafumeiro, how it goes and comes through the dome just like the emotions inside of you, you may understand that just as the purpose of it is to cleanse the whole Cathedral with the incense, your own emotions do the exact same thing.

Your own emotions will settle as you watch the Botafumeiro slow down. And right there as the eight men hold back that big and marvelous censer, you will hold back and you will return to yourself.

How can I experience the Botafumeiro?

The Botafumeiro ritual is only done on special occasions like Christmas, Easter, or St. James Apostle’s birthday for example. Besides these special occasions, the only other way to see the ritual is to pay certain fee to the Cathedral of Santiago as collaboration. It is pure luck whether you get to see it or not, because it is never announced.

One of the biggest perks of doing the Camino with Marly Camino is that we pay the fee for all of our groups’ Pilgrim’s Mass. We can’t let you leave without seeing the Botafumeiro!

Experience 5: The Saint James of hugs

One of the most common traditions at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is to hug the Statue of Saint James. There is usually a line (except during the time of the celebration of the Pilgrim’s Mass).

In the whole world there might be just a handful of statues so beautifully decorated as the seated golden Saint James. It is dressed with the pilgrim’s cape and it is located behind the main altar. It is a true honor to be able to hug one of the most magnificent pieces of art in the world.

To get to the “camarin” of Saint James, you might want to enter the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral through the Acibecharía (North) façade. Then, you can walk through the right hall, go around the main altar to find the line to go upstairs.

The Saint James statue popularly know as “El Santiago de los abrazos” (The Saint James of hugs) was reformed to look more like a pilgrim. The hug is one of the oldest rituals practiced nowadays.

Why do we hug the Statue of Saint James?

Every journey has a purpose, and for many people the purpose is to reconnect with something or someone. More often than not, that someone is oneself. It is believed that the hug to Saint James represents an appreciation moment where one can get physically close to him. The pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago ask for his favor in front of God.

We may see an incredible view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela from the camarin. We can marvel at the beauty of the precious stoned embedded in the golden robe of Saint James. Some people think that what we are truly recognizing in all that beauty is a reflection of our own life and our own self. It is like after walking the Camino de Santiago, we are beautiful pieces of art with embedded experiences in our minds that make us more unique and special.

Do I have to pay an entrance fee at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela?: Can I attend mass services?

You don’t have to pay, the entrance is free. If you want you can leave a 1 euro donation per person to contribute to the building’s maintenance. The Cathedral is open everyday from 9 to 20:30pm.

If you want to attend mass services, you can do it Monday to Saturday with the following schedule: 12:00, 18:00 y 19:00 pm or Sundays and festive days at 10:30, 12:00, 13:30, 18:00 y 19:00pm.

All the magic that happens inside of the Cathedral…

With its myriad of pilgrims arriving every day, is the same magic that may start to happen in you after you go through a journey of building yourself one step at a time in the Camino.

Each one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago is filled with unforgettable experiences, that’s why such a significant journey only deserves an ending such as that one given by at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It truly invites to personally experience its magic.

Come and experience it for yourself, maybe you will experience the same or something better.


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