Maybe you’ve been walking for weeks. Or days.
Maybe you’ve walked 800km to get to Santiago de Compostela. Or 100.
Maybe you’ve done your Camino in one go. Or you’ve done it over a few years, a section at a time.
It doesn’t really matter. Arriving in Santiago, entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and finally seeing the catedral is always a very special moment.
There are several rituals and traditions that pilgrims generally follow, such as greeting fellow pilgrims with ¡Buen Camino! or Ultreia; getting your credencial stamped at least once a day; drinking Rioja from the wine fountain outside Estella or leaving a stone at Cruz de Ferro, on the Camino Francés.
So, of course, Santiago and its catedral have their own rituals too. The Cathedral’s webiste lists them: http://catedraldesantiago.es/en/pilgrimage/#rites
El Pórtico de la Gloria
As you access the catedral from Plaza del Obradoiro, the first thing you see is the wonderful Pórtico de la Gloria, built by Maestro Mateo in the 12th century. Well, you’ll be able to see it again in a few days, when it’s officially reopened after a 10-year long restoration.
So, if you’ve already done a Camino in the past 10 years, you missed it and you need an excuse to come back, this is it! The Pórtico de la Gloria was beautiful before, but it’s just amazing now, by the looks of some images that have been released before the official reopening.
There used to be a couple of rituals attached to the Pórtico de la Gloria, but they had to be stopped because they were causing damage to this work of art. One of them, which you can see in the movie The Way, was to place your hand on the centre pillar, under the statue of St. James.
At the back of this, there’s another little statue known as Santo dos Croques (literally the saint of the bumps). This is not really the image of a saint, but that of Maestre Mateo. According to tradition, you had to bump your head against the head of this “saint” in order to get wisdom and intelligence.
Once inside the catedral, you should visit the cripta (crypt). There is a one-way system to access it, with stairs going down at one side of the main altar and going up the other way. The cripta is where the sepulchre of St. James is kept. On your way up, you can also embrace the image of the Apostle.
El Botafumeiro, I’m sure you already know, is this big censer that gets used during special occasions. It weighs over 50kg (over 100 pounds) and measures around 1.5 metres in height (5ft). It hangs from the main dome of the cathedral and it takes 8 men to swing it.
When can you see it? It has some fixed dates you can check in advance: https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/ufaqs/when-is-the-botafumeiro-used/ You can also request it by contacting the Cathedral (and paying around €400). Groups do this all the time, so you might be lucky and be able to see the Botafumeiro in action outside of those fixed dates.
During Holy Years, the Botafumeiro is swung daily during the Pilgrim’s Mass or Misa del Peregrino.
La Puerta Santa
You can only enter the cathedral through the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) during Año Santo or Holy Year (it can also be referred to as Xacobeo, in Galician), i.e. those years when July 25 falls on a Sunday.
The day before an Año Santo begins, the Puerta Santa is opened in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop. At the end of the year, this door will be closed again and remain so until the next Año Santo. Access to the Puerta Santa is from Plaza de la Quintana.
I’ll leave you with this clip from the movie “The Way” where Martin Sheen’s character and his companions reach Santiago and enter the catedral.
Pórtico de la Gloria
Santo dos Croques
Misa del Peregrino
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