The Holy Door: Everything you need to Know

Posted on April 14, 2021

One of the most important rites in Santiago de Compostela is to enter the Cathedral of Santiago, and even more when it is done after having done some of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago.

In this post we are going to talk about the Holy Door, its origin, meaning and opening.


Its origin is not entirely clear and there are several theories about it: some maintain that it is a medieval tradition, while others argue that Santiago took this ritual act from Christianity. The most widely held is the second, which states that the Holy Door we know today is inspired by a ceremony initiated in the Holy Years of Rome in the fifteenth century.

What we are sure of is that the door has undergone numerous transformations throughout history until it reached its present appearance. The modest opening in the cathedral chevet facing the Plaza A Quintana is composed of two bronze leaves that present passages of the life, death and translation of St. James. The door communicates the pilgrim with the main altar, where the sepulchral crypt and the popular medieval image of St. James the Apostle are located.

What is the source of the spirituality of the Holy Door?

The source is Rome and the Bible. The main reference are the words of Revelation (3:8): “I have opened before you a door that no one can shut”, and those that John attributes to Jesus (10:9): “I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved”.

The use of the hammer has been interpreted as an example for the Christian, who had to open the heavenly door with effort and decision.

Therefore, the Holy Door symbolizes a rite of passage in which it is intended to demonstrate to the pilgrim that the way of salvation is that of humility and penance.

The Opening of the Holy Door.

It should be noted that the Holy Door only opens in Jacobean years when July 25 falls on a Sunday, which happens every 6, 5, 6 and 11 years.

The custom dictates that it is opened from the outside, in a ceremony led by religious authorities to enter the Cathedral, and that during the Holy Year it remains open for pilgrims, tourists and the curious to enter from the Plaza de La Quintana.

The opening is celebrated on December 31, the eve of the first Jubilee Year.

The opening rite dates back to the 16th century. Since then, every holy year the archbishop performs the same ritual witnessed by hundreds of pilgrims, faithful, members of the church and other people. 

The Ritual.

The archbishop performs an ancient ritual (the “Recognitio”) preceded by all the parish crosses of the city and a prayer before the altar. Then, he leaves the Basilica through the Platerías and stops in front of the Holy Door.

There, an acolyte (cleric who has received the fourth of the minor orders granted by the church. Among his functions is to help the priest during the mass) offers him the ritual silver hammer, with which he strikes 3 times on the wall that walls the door.

While they strike the blows they chant:

  • – Aperite mihi portas iustitiae
  • – Ingressus in eas confitebor Domino
  • – Aperite portas, quoniam nobiscum Deus

When the wall falls the chapel sings Jubílate Deo and the archbishop cleans the door with olive branches and holy water.

Finally, the priest kneels, says new prayers and crosses the threshold while the Te Deum is sung and the archiepiscopal cross is raised.

Closing of the Holy Door.

A year later, on December 31, the Holy Door is closed with the same ritual. The archbishop of Compostela blesses the new stones, places one of them on the threshold and, while the Caelestis urbs Jerusalem is sung, returns to the temple through the Platerías.

Now we know a little more about the Holy Door, did you find it interesting? What surprised you the most? Leave your answer in the comments!

Remember that 2021 is a Holy Year and we can organize your Camino according to your needs. In addition, you have the maximum flexibility of cancellation

Have a good Camino!


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