Santiago de Compostela Cathedral - History and Facts | History Hit

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain is home to the relics of Saint James and a place of pilgrimage for centuries.

Image Credit: artem evdokimov / Shutterstock

About Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela), or simply “Santiago Cathedral”, in Spain is believed to house the tomb of one of the Twelve Apostles, Saint James the Greater, making it one of the most important places of pilgrimage within Catholicism.

History of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Whilst the grand and ornately carved Romanesque structure which today makes up Santiago de Compostela Cathedral was built from 1075, it is not the first such church on this site. The earliest incarnation of this cathedral was built in the ninth century AD atop the saint’s tomb under the orders of King Alfonso II.

The tomb of Santiago (St James) is the real draw for many, and since the Middle Ages, millions of pilgrims have made their way along the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral to pay their respects and visit his relics. The official Camino de Santiago begins in the Pyrenees, along the Spanish-French border, and covers roughly 500 miles.

The cathedral has been added to considerably over time and a painstaking restoration programme is ongoing: look out for the baroque flourishes mixed with original Romanesque architecture. The Portico de la Gloria is worth seeing if you’re organised enough to get tickets: it has 200 intricate Romanesque sculptures which would have once rested over the entrance to the cathedral.

Over the centuries, several additions have been made to the architecture of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque construction, a view shared by UNESCO, who listed it as a World Heritage site in 1985.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral today

The cathedral is the end point of the Camino de Santiago and gets extremely busy, especially in high season. A Pilgrims’ Mass is held at noon daily, and assorted other masses are normally held. It’s worth booking tickets as far ahead as possible – 50 free tickets are given out between 7 and 8pm the day before from the Fundación Catedral, but you’ll need to take your ID for these.

Guided tours are normally in Spanish, but it’s worth checking on the day if there are any in English and whether you can swap. Rooftop tours also run semi-regularly, when construction allows. They offer phenomenal views across the city and are well worth doing if you can.

Getting to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The cathedral is in the heart of Santiago de Compostela: you’ll want to walk here through the winding streets of the old city. Santiago’s train station is a 20 minute walk away with regular connections to Madrid, A Coruna, Vigo Urzaiz and Ourense.