Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The goal of all roads

The Cathedral of Santiago is the neuralgic point of the old town of the city of Compostela; it forms a monumental complex with the four squares that can be accessed from its four portals. For more than a millennium it has been the kilt that thousands of pilgrims from all over the world wish to reach.

Plan yout visit to the cathedral

The visit to this important building should be preceded by reading this page and the page dedicated to the city of Santiago. To understand the legend around the building it is convenient to know its fascinating stories: of the shell of Santiago, Bishop Sisnando Menéndez and the tribute of the hundred maidens. The visit to a building with so many spiritual, architectural, cultural and historical values, should take a whole morning of leisurely travel. First by its exterior and then the interior. For art history lovers, we recommend seeing the Pazo de Xélmirez (in the same Plaza del Obradoiro, on the north side of the cathedral) where the Portico de la Gloria Interpretation Center is located. It allows you to understand it and enjoy it more. There is a wide range of hotels and hotels with very variable quality – price relationships; On the page Sleep and Eat in Santiago de Compostela, we explain local gastronomy and select establishments with local flavor and varied prices.

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The origins of the Cathedral of Santiago began with a small Roman mausoleum in which the remains of the Apostle were buried after being transferred by sea to Finis Terrae and tracing the Ulla river. The place was visited for centuries by a local Christian community, of which very little is known, but then forgotten and abandoned.

It was around 813 that the remains of the Apostle were discovered on Mount Libredón by a hermit who observed strange lights on the burial site. The Asturian king Alfonso II the Chaste, advised by the bishop of Iria Flavia, ordered to build a first stone chapel next to the old mausoleum. In the year 834 the temple became episcopal see, exercising some power over the nearby territories. Around it began to establish Benedictine monks and other settlers, thus creating the first foundations of Santiago de Compostela.

Between 872 and 899, Alfonso III ordered the erection of a larger Visigothic style temple since that first church was small. Unfortunately, the attack of the Muslim leader Almanzor destroyed this second church in 997. Years later, it would be rebuilt under the bishopric of San Pedro de Mezonzo. The rise of pilgrimages and the riches of Santiago, which attracted many faithful, allowed to start, in 1075, the Romanesque cathedral that is still preserved today.

Qué ver en Santiago de Compostela
Fachada de la Azabachería

The Romanesque Cathedral

The twelfth century was the century of greatest splendor in the history of Compostela. The cathedral, urban life and pilgrimages to Santiago were especially promoted by King Alfonso VI and the first archbishop of the city, Diego Gelmírez. They designed a cathedral of pilgrimage in the style of those that extended along the Camino de Santiago, through which great architects of the Romanesque would pass, culminating with the arrival of Maestro Mateo, author of the last sections of the ships, the defensive towers of the west (which would later suffer more changes), the crypt and the Portico de la Gloria, which still presides over the western entrance (Obradoiro façade).

The Cathedral was consecrated in the year 1211 and Pope Alexander III granted privileges to everyone who visited the temple in the Holy Year. At the same time, the faithful obtained a document (today called Compostela) that accredited their pilgrimage. At the time, that document ensured the right of asylum in the city. Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral became the goal of salvation for Christians and, around it and its different routes, all kinds of constructions were promoted, such as hospitals, shelters, roads and markets.

As time went by and styles evolved, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements were added. In the conflictive XIV century, the temple acquired traces of fortress with defensive towers like the current Torre del Reloj or Berenguela. In the Renaissance, with the archbishop Alfonso III de Fonseca, the cloister that replaced the Romanesque was built. A time of great reforms that could be allowed by the great flow of money that moved the cult to the Apostle Santiago.

The Baroque reform

In 1660 the greatest aesthetic revolution came to the Compostela temple, renovated according to Baroque taste. The first works were made on the main altar and the dome, then the organs were shaped, the canvas of the Holy Door was drawn, the Clock Tower was embellished and it was finished in 1750 with the grand facade of the Obradoiro.

These baroque works were carried out by the teachers Vega and Verdugo, Domingo de Andrade and Fernando Casas and Novoa, who also undertook the definitive layout of the squares that surround the temple and many of the adjoining buildings. And it was thanks to these numerous reforms and baroque constructions that the city that Santiago de Compostela is recognized as ‘the baroque city par excellence of Spain’.

The long existence of the Cathedral of Santiago has not only hosted sacred episodes, religious splendors and coronations like that of the kings of Galicia in the Middle Ages, but it was also the scene of more mundane episodes, such as being used as a barracks by French soldiers during the War of Independence (which also stole important pieces); Thefts have continued to this day, such as the recent theft of the Calixtino Codex, considered the first travel guide in history.

In spite of everything, after two thousand years of history as a spiritual center, and almost a thousand of the current building, the Cathedral appears as a heterogeneous group and as a pilgrimage center. It is the goal to all the paths of the pilgrims, who undertake their routes for religious, spiritual or sports reasons.

Visit the outside of the building

The Cathedral is the stony icon of the city that developed around it; You can see from anywhere in the city. To preserve that image, the regulations prevent the construction of buildings that hinder their vision.

Oriented to the west is its most famous entrance: the facade of the Obradoiro, which is located in the square of the same name. What you see is the product of two constructive phases – Romanesque and Baroque – that despite their almost six centuries of difference have been successfully merged. This extraordinary work was commissioned to the architect Fernando Casas y Novoa to protect the Porch of Glory (which was the old Romanesque façade) from the deterioration that was suffering from the inclemencies of the weather; that intervention was concluded in 1750 without its author being able to see it finished. This facade was much criticized by contemporaries, who were not in favor of covering the Romanesque temple and the Portico de la Gloria with a baroque “altarpiece”. With the passage of time, the facade has become the icon of Spanish Baroque architecture. The Portico de la Gloria was designed by Maestro Mateo and worked over twenty years, between 1168-1188. Besides its evident beauty it is a theological story destined to impress and indoctrinate the faithful with precise messages on the Apocalypse of San Juan and other texts of the Old Testament. This masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture is composed of three semicircular arches that correspond to each of the nave of the church; Each arch is supported by pillars with attached columns. The central arch is the largest and the only one that has a tympanum, and is divided by a central column – the so-called mullion – with the figure of Santiago. In the center of the tympanum, the Pantocrator (the image of Christ in the position of majesty) is shown, showing on his hands and feet the wounds of the crucifixion. At the foot of the mullion, there is a small statue called the “Santo de los Croques” and it has been speculated that it could be a self-portrait of the portico’s author: Maestro Mateo. It is named because the absurd tradition of giving three croques (blows to the head) and asking for a wish spread; fortunately the bishopric does not allow that ritual that caused so much damage to the statue. All the figures of the group were painted; but the effect of the passage of time on the pigments and those absurd gestures eliminated the color.

The baroque facade of granite and glass is formed by three symmetrical bodies: the central one and two towers that flank it. The central body has a structure in the form of a pyramid with columns that divide it into three parts. In the lower is where the three access doors are; the central door is linteled under a semicircular arch. The upper part of the façade consists of large glazed windows that allow light into the temple. And at the top of the central body of the facade, a curved and split pediment, decorated with a sculpture of the apostle Santiago represented as a pilgrim.

The towers that flank the central body are the so-called “tower of the Bells” (facing north) and the “de Carraca” (which faces south); These are identical. As they gain height both towers are narrowed and the upper part appears perforated, ending with spiers. The singularities of this building also include its inhabitants; until a few years ago, in the tower of the bells – to which there is access from the roof of the cathedral – resided a tailor in charge of the religious vestments; He came to raise pigs and several chickens on the roof.

The facade of Platerías is the south access, that gives to the cruise of the cathedral. It was built between 1103 and 1117 under the command of Bishop Gelmírez; Three sculptors participated in it: Master Esteban, the Master of the Lamb and the Master of the Treason. It is of Romanesque style, granite and marble, and consists of a double doorway that accommodates many sculptures; These works are estimated to have been originally designed to decorate the façade of Azabachería. The tympanum of the left door is dedicated to the Temptations of Christ; there is the famous figure of the adulterous woman, which is the most famous sculpture on the facade of the Platerías. The tympanum of the right door is dedicated to the Passion of Christ (scenes dedicated to the arrest, the flagellation and the crowning with thorns); as well as other varied ones: the creation of Eve, Christ on his throne, the sacrifice of Isaac and the Adoration of the Three Wisdom Kings.

The facade of the Quintana has two doors. The so-called Puerta Real -which receives that name because the kings of Spain acceded to the cathedral of Santiago- is of Baroque style. It was initiated under the direction of José de Vega y Verdugo in 1666 and finished by Domingo de Andrade in 1700; This one made its great columns, a balustrade with great pinnacles, all decorated with bunches of fruits and military trophies. On the lintel of the door is the royal shield. The entrance closest to the steps of the square is called Puerta del Perdón; It is usually closed with a gate and opens only the Jubilee years, on December 31 of the previous year. On this door is the image of Santiago and his disciples. In the lower part, on both sides of the door there are twenty-four figures of prophets and apostles.

Towards the north the facade of Azabachería is oriented. The Romanesque portal was built in 1122 by Bernardo and was demolished after having suffered a fire in 1758. Very few things were saved but some of the recovered sculptures were placed on the facade of Platerías. A new one was built with elements of Baroque style -work by Lucas Ferro Caaveiro- and neoclassical -works of Domingo Luis Monteagudo and Clemente Fernández Sarela-; ending in the year 1769. In the upper part of the façade the statue of Saint James has at his feet in a position of prayer the kings Alfonso III and Ordoño II.

Visit the inside of the building

If we were in the jubilee year and entered the cathedral through the aforementioned Puerta del Perdón on the façade of Quintana, as we pass a small patio, we reach the Puerta Santa; and through it you enter the ambulatory around the altar, located under the apse of the temple. It is identified by its decoration and by being under a window; We make this precision because that interior door is often confused with the Puerta del Perdón.

The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is conceived as a pilgrimage temple. The plant is of Latin cross: the greater arm has 92 meters in length and the transepto or smaller arm has 70. It consists of three naves, the central one of 10 meters of width and the lateral ones of 5 meters. It has a semicircular head with ambulatory, which acts as an ambulatory behind the altar and in which five apsidioles are opened. In the transept there are four apsidal chapels, two on each side of the head.

The central nave measures 22 meters high, is covered by a barrel vault reinforced with arches fajones and is supported on cruciform pillars with semi-attached columns that extend to the fajón arch. It communicates with the side aisles through semicircular arches. The two lateral naves are covered with arched vaults and the grandstand (on the side aisles) with vault of quarter of cannon. The cruise is covered by a Gothic dome on pendentives and cruciform pillars; It has a height of 32 meters. Also in the central nave there are two large organs that in 1978 merged into a single one (to which electronic and computer mechanisms were included).

Interior de la Catedral

Por la nave central llegamos a la Capilla Mayor. de origen románico, pero reformada durante el barroco por el Maestro Vega y Verdugo. Tiene púlpitos renacentistas a ambos lados, un baldaquino del siglo XVII y un camarín barroco. El altar con una representación del apóstol fue diseñado por Domingo Antonio de Andrade sobre el sepulcro del propio apóstol. Su acceso por la parte posterior del altar permite realizar el tradicional abrazo a la figura del santo. Dentro del templo catedralicio hay numerosas capillas dedicadas a diferentes santidades.

Según la tradición, bajo el camarín está la Cripta donde se encuentra el Sepulcro de Santiago y sus dos discípulos, Atanasio y Teodoro. A ella se baja por una escalinata estrecha que da a un espacio más amplio. A uno de los lados hay una puerta con una reja y al fondo se ve la urna de plata que conserva los restos del Apóstol.

Resulta imprescindible realizar una tranquila visita al importantísimo Museo Catedralicio. Éste se compone de cinco estancias con varios accesos. Por detrás de las escaleras de la Fachada del Obradoiro se accede 1. A la Cripta románica, cuyas columnas soportan el peso del Pórtico de la Gloria, simbolizando a la Tierra a los pies de Cristo. Su bóveda de crucería representa el cielo; fijarse en los ángeles que llevan a la luna y al sol. Muy bellos también los capiteles labrados de las columnas. hay una exposición de réplicas de instrumentos musicales representados en el Pórtico de la Gloria, así como piezas originales románicas y góticas. 2. Al Cláustro gótico renacentista se puede acceder también desde la Plaza del Obradoiro (y también desde el interior, desde la Capilla de las Reliquias, que se menciona más adelante). En él se exhiben piezas excavadas en el lugar: tanto romanas, como de la basílica prerrománica y piezas de estilo románico. La pieza más importante es el extraordinario coro de piedra del Maestro Mateo (parcialmente reconstruido) que estuvo entre los siglos XIII y XVI en la nave central. Hay una entreplanta con obras de arte y monedas de los siglos XIII al XVIII. A continuación se debe recorrer el imponente claustro plateresco del siglo XVI, fijándose en sus bóvedas y lápidas; también las antiguas campanas y la fuente románica en las que se aseaban los peregrinos antes de entrar; en esa planta está el archivo (no visitable, donde se conserva el Codice Calixtino). Luego se visita la Sala Capitular y la Biblioteca; en esta última se conserva el Botafumeiro. Se trata de un enorme incensario usado desde la Edad Media como instrumento de purificación de la catedral; su objeto era “purificar” a las multitudes que la visitaban. También tiene la virtud de ocultar el olor de tantos peregrinos sucios y sudorosos agolpados en el templo. En la última planta se ve la extraordinaria colección de tapices, disponiéndose de un balcón con excelentes vistas sobre la ciudad. 3. A la Capilla de las reliquias se accede tras el pórtico renacentista, dentro de la catedral. En esa capilla está lo que se conserva de los regalos hechos por peregrinos; algunos extraordinarios. 4. Al Panteón Real se exhiben los sepulcros de los reyes de León y Galicia durante los siglos XII y XIII. 5. Finalmente, en la Capilla de San Fernando se encuentra el Tesoro catedralicio, con imponentes muestras de orfebrería, destacando la Custodia procesional de Antonio Arfe.

Uno de los atractivos principales de la catedral de Santiago de Compostela es ver en acción su grandioso Botafumeiro. Su puesta en acción está programada por el arzobispado para determinadas fiestas litúrgicas; pero cualquier peregrino puede hacer un donativos como ofrenda particular al apóstol para que sea puesto en acción (y deleite del resto de la gente); por ello no es raro verlo en movimiento casi cotidianamente en las épocas de temporada turística alta de los años jubilares. Cuando suena el Himno del apóstol en los órganos barrocos, un equipo de ocho hombres —llamados tiraboleiros— lo empujan primero y luego cada uno de ellos tira de un cabo de forma que va ganando velocidad. Se trata de un objeto complejo de manipular, pues mide 1,60 metros de altura y pesa vacío 62 kilogramos; llenándose con unos 40 kgs. de carbón e incienso; por ello supera los 100 kgs. de peso al inicio de sus movimientos. Puede llegar a alcanzar una velocidad de 68 km/h durante su desplazamiento por el crucero de la catedral, desde la puerta de Azabachería a la de Platerías. Un movimiento espectacular frente al altar mayor para elevarse hasta casi rozar la bóveda del transepto. El incensario original fue robado por las tropas de Napoleón en abril de 1809 durante la guerra de la Independencia; nunca pudo ser recuperado: Por ello en 1851 fue reemplazado por el actual, obra del orfebre José Losada.

Practical data


42° 52′ 0″ N, 8° 33′ 0″ W


A Coruña 55 km, Vigo 75 km,
Ourense 101 km, Madrid 599 km


260 m


96 041 (2013)

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