When visiting Santiago De Compostela, whether as a Pilgrim, a tourist or other reason, the first place to visit is the Cathedral. Although it is currently undergoing serious and necessary renovation it still dominates the skyline and is the centre of all things in the City. This is appropriate because it is within the cathedral that you have the “Shrine” of St James and also the wonderful altar piece which has a statue of Santiago as its centre.
In the middle ages Pilgrims would have entered the Cathedral on their knees shuffled through to the shrine of Santiago and then, after prayers of thanksgiving, penitence or whatever they would have gone behind the altar piece to “hug” the statue of Santiago. I did go to the shrine and said my personal prayers but I didn’t then hug the statue (apparently he’s been hugged so often, and there are massive queues to do so, that he has hand marks warn into him!). The other infamous thing in the Cathedral is the Thurible (pictured).
It is huge and is swung by a rope which takes 12 monks to swing! The reason its so big is because in the middle ages (and even today!) Pilgrims hadn’t washed during the Camino and thus the smell often was over powering. The incense would have masked that stench!
The Cathedral itself is, otherwise, fairly standard in its appearance and style, although it has a few hidden gems that can be missed if you don; t go to the Museum. Entrance to the Museum allows you not just to view ancient artefacts and Architecture but also to go through and up the West Front of the Cathedral. This takes you to the Cloisters
and ultimately to a balcony overlooking the Praza Do Obradoiro, the square before the Cathedral where Pilgrims gather prior to entering the Cathedral.
Also in the Museum are many tapestries some telling the story of Santiago (as I told it in my previous blog) and others showing scenes from the Camino (amusingly each of these tapestries has a Pilgrim urinating in the corner!). It is quite a remarkable Museum and your entrance also allows you entry into the “restoration wing” of the Cathedral which explains the works that have been undertaken and what is currently being done. You also get entrance to another Church/Museum 15 minutes away from the Cathedral at the Church of Santa Maria Do Sr which I shall write about in my next blog.
Two things to note about visiting the Cathedral are: 1) its is full of Pilgrims and Tourists so if you wish to visit go early in the morning or later evening 2) it holds Pilgrim Masses throughout the day, the main one being at 12 noon in the main body of the Church, the others, often in a specific language (on the day we visited at 10am there was an English Mass) throughout the day. If you are a Roman Catholic you can, of course receive the sacrament at these, if not you can go but not receive. It give you insight to the life and work of the Cathedral and how central the Pilgrims are to its life and worship. I will write more about my feelings/reflections on the Pilgrims and the worship in a later blog.