Question: Where in the world does a massive cathedral welcome the travelers who walked hundreds of miles to get there?
Answer: Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Spain
For pilgrims making an epic trek of faith along the Camino de Santiago, the spectacle of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a welcome sight to see. Marking the finish of the near 500-mile journey, this massive cathedral welcomes the pilgrims or peregrinos, as they take the final steps of their expedition.
Located in the heart of the Galicia region in northwest Spain, the cathedral stands upon the supposed site of Saint James remains. Also known as Santiago, Saint James was thought to be the apostle who spread Christianity among the Iberian Peninsula. When his tomb was miraculously discovered in 814 AD, the faithful from all across Europe began making the journey to visit the sacred spot of his relics.
In 1075, the Spanish King Alfonso VI ordered for the construction of a spectacular cathedral to be built on the spot of Saint James’ tomb. Throughout the following centuries, countless extensions were added to the building in varying architectural styles from Romanesque to Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassic. All the way up until the 19th century, towers, ornate doorways, gold altars, and detailed embellishments were added. Inside, the world-famous Botagumeiro hangs—one of the largest censers in the world. The giant metal fixture disperses incense during special occasions and requires the work of eight men to swing it above the congregation.
While many of the cathedral’s visitors stop by to simply witness the sheer magnificence of the building, many still travel by foot for hundreds of miles to reach it steps. Some ride on bicycles and the most devout may even travel barefoot, all with the intention of reaching this magnificent monument.
The Camino de Santiago: 10 Facts About the Meaningful Route
- While the Camino de Santiago has been a Christian pilgrimage route for more than 1,000 years, evidence suggests that there was even a route to northwest Spain in pre-Christian times. It is thought that the ancient route follows the Milky Way to what people believed was the end of the Earth.
- The route grew in popularity during the Middle Ages, attracting up to 250,000 pilgrims each year.
- It became one of the most important and popular Christian pilgrimages, following those to Jerusalem and Rome.
- In the early years, pilgrims started their journey on the Camino de Santiago from right outside their homes, but over time as more people traveled and learned the best ways to pass through mountains and bodies of water, large and widely-traveled routes began to emerge.
- The most popular route is the Camino Francés which stretches from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port in France to Santiago—a route of nearly 500 miles. This route is fed by three French routes: the Voie de Tours, the Voie de Vezelay and the Voie du Puy, as well as other Spanish routes.
- Today, the Camino Francés route attracts about 55% of all travelers and takes approximately five weeks to walk.
- Along the way, the symbol of a yellow scallop shell and a blue background is marked along the trail to prevent pilgrims from getting lost.
- The scallop became a symbol for the Camino centuries ago when pilgrims would travel beyond Santiago to the ocean. Picking up a scallop shell to bring home would prove they had completed the journey. Today, many pilgrims tie a scallop shell to their bag to show they are on the Camino.
- Nowadays, the Camino de Santiago remains a spiritual journey for many, but for others, it’s a place to experience history and the local culture. The route offers stunning countryside scenery and many beautiful monasteries and cathedrals along the way.
- In 1993, the Camino Frances and the routes of northern Spain were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of their help in exchanging cultural ideas between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe.
Witness the spectacular Santiago de Compostela Cathedral that welcomes pilgrims from far and wide during Northern Spain & Portugal: Pilgrimage into the Past.