You’ve finally made it to the famed Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, which sits regally in Obradoiro Square in Santiago’s old quarter. A masterpiece of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture, its façade is stunning, with turrets, spires, statuary and more.
If you’ve timed it right, you’ll arrive on a Sunday around 11:30 a.m., in time for a good seat at the noon Pilgrim Mass. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the church’s famous botafumeiro in action at the end of Mass. A massive incensor, its original purpose was to rid the cathedral of the unwashed pilgrims’ stench.
Whether or not you attend Mass, make sure you take a tour of the cathedral. Interestingly, and a bit disappointingly, its interior is rather bleak. That’s because most of the vibrant colors that once decorated its walls and pillars have worn away over the centuries.
But no matter. The cathedral’s most important asset is, of course, the tomb of St. James the Apostle. The tomb resides in a silver coffin beneath the altar, along with the remains of his disciples, St. Athanasius and St. Theodore. A statue of the apostle is nearby; pilgrims have an affinity for hugging it.
Don’t be daunted if you see long lines stretching out the passageways that lead to these attractions. A security guard and traffic lights ensure you’ll get through in a timely fashion. The tomb area is open daily in the morning and early afternoon, and again in the late afternoon and evening.
Another popular spot to visit, and perhaps the most beautiful, is the Pórtico de la Gloria. This 12th-century Romanesque group sculpture sits in the narthex of the church’s western façade. It depicts all of Biblical history through more than 200 individual sculptures. Behind the portico is a statue of its sculptor, the famed Maestro Mateo. Local practice is to bump your head against the statue three times to get a little bit of Mateos’s smarts.
A very cool Cathedral Rooftop Tour is also available.