Romans built an altar called the Ara Solis to the dying sun here. They honored this place as where the sun disappeared in the west over the ocean. It suggests that Finisterre was an important part of a sun-worshiping pilgrimage.
The Ara Solis was located on the highest point, near Finisterre’s present-day lighthouse. This sun worship is even older than the Romans.
Finisterre may have been the end of an initiatory road dating back to Celtic and perhaps Neolithic times. This idea is reinforced by the ancient remains of a nearby Neolithic stone circle on Monte San Guillermo. Other Neolithic and Celtic remains sprinkled across the length of Finisterre’s peninsula add to this interpretation.
Around this same spot, pre-Christian lore survives about fertility rites among local women. Those having trouble getting pregnant would visit a standing stone on nearby Mount Fache. By rubbing it they hoped its magic would wear off and improve their fertility. Too explicit for an 18th century bishop, he ordered locals to destroy the stone. Though gone, the energy of the place remains, not to mention the stunning views.
Arriving at Finisterre, the pilgrimage road leaves from the village center toward the Cabo Finisterre, the end of Finisterre. This road leads to the lighthouse and just south of the spot where the Ara Solis once stood.
About midway on the hike to the lighthouse is the pilgrimage church, Igrexia de Santa Maria das Areas. This is a 12th century Romanesque church housing a Gothic 15th century image of Jesus, Santo Cristo da Barba Dourada, Christ of the Golden Beard.
Legend says that the statue came from an English vessel hit by a bad storm at sea along this coast. As the ship tossed back and forth, the sculpture fell overboard. A nearby fisherman from Finisterre found it. At the moment he pulled it out of the water, the storm stopped. Indicating that the statue wanted to make its new home here, they built this church.
Arriving at the last outcrop of land at Cabo Finisterre, sticking dramatically out into the Atlantic, pilgrims enact rituals of completion and renewal, from greeting the dying sun as it is swallowed in the vast ocean, to bathing in the ocean, to (safely) burning their old pilgrimage clothes that no longer serve them.
After such a journey, which created incredible physical, psychological, social, and spiritual transformation, a closing ritual is essential and coming here fulfills this need beautifully, putting a final end to a long journey where the road really ends, tumbling into the ocean.
The ocean and shoreline is among the most potent thresholds in the natural world and a potent place of transition to finish out the pilgrimage. For many pilgrims, coming here prepares them with more closure before returning home.