The ‘old’ Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

posted in: Europe, Galicia, Home, Spain | 0

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has been a site of pilgrimage for nearly 1200 years, revered as the grave of St James, an apostle of Christ. There are many photographs on the internet, and a lot of information; all I can do here is share with you my impressions from a few brief hours. 

Aerial view of the Cathedral (Camino Pilgrimages)
Aerial view of the Cathedral (Camino Pilgrimages)
Ground plan of Cathedral
Ground plan of Cathedral

The first Church and a small monastery were built when the bones of St James were rediscovered here, sometime between 791AD and 842AD. This early church was destroyed by the Moors in 997 although they left the relics undisturbed. The current Cathedral was built between 1078-1211 with later, Baroque, additions such as the façade of 18C on the Obradoiro Square. The relics of St James are now buried in a silver casket under the High Altar. I particularly wanted to see the ‘old’ Cathedral while enjoying the splendour of the later additions.

Where to start? The Portas das Praterias (the Silversmiths Doorway) built between 1103-17 is the oldest doorway into the Cathedral and so an appropriate way to enter. Many of the figures on the doorway were apparently taken from the North Door and attached to this, south, doorway in the 18C, and if you look closely you can see the patchwork effect of different stone colours and unbalanced sizing. Beautiful nonetheless.

The Cathedral Square, Santiago de Compostela

Inside the Cathedral there are aisles on either side of the central nave.

The west aisle


In the transept, the Azabacheria Door (the north door), the cord for the Botafumeiro, and above – the dome. The Plaza de Azabacheria, which gives its name to the north door, is where jewellery made from jet (azabache) was traditionally made.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The Azabacheria Door of Santiago Cathedral
The Azabacheria Door of Santiago Cathedral

The Pilgrim’s Door, the Holy Door, is only opened when the Feast of St James, 25 July, falls on a Sunday.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostelo

Carved columns and lintels.

The doorway to the Cloister from inside the Cathedral.

The doorway into the cloister
The doorway into the cloister

Master Mateo and his workshop were responsible for the Portico de la Gloria but also the stone choir of 1200 in the cathedral, taken down in 1603. A reconstruction of this beautiful work can be seen in the Cathedral Museum.

Stone choir of Master Mateo, Santiago Cathedral (Wikipedia)
Stone choir of Master Mateo, Santiago Cathedral (Wikipedia)

The Portico de la Gloria on the West of the Cathedral was created between 1168-99 by Master Mateo but is currently being restored and not visible, apart from one statue.

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You may be interested in
3D representation of the Cathedral
Santiago, including the Cathedral
The Cathedral and here and here
The Portico de la Gloria
Romanesque Churches
An interesting article on the Cathedral
Routes to Santiago – a site which gives information on the Pilgrim Routes, including those from Spain and Portugal
Article with photography


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