The city in north-west Spain is the most important pilgrimage site for Christians after Rome and Jerusalem, and the well-preserved old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to legend, a hermit saw a vision which revealed to him that St. James was buried in a previously undiscovered grave. The Apostle is believed to have made his way to the Iberian Peninsula and preached there. The site draws around 75,000 visitors a year, many in wheelchairs, and most bearing the scallop shell emblem, which has been the symbol of the St. James' Way since the 11th century. The route leads from south-west France to Santiago via Pamplona, Burgos and León. The pilgrimage route has experienced a revival in recent years, even among non-Catholics seeking spiritual rejuvenation.
Church above the apostle's tomb
The Cathedral above the tomb of the Apostle James is the destination of the Way of St. James. The magnificent forecourt is teeming with pilgrims and hikers, hawkers and cyclists. The Cathedral of Santiago is one of the oldest churches in Spain. Construction began in 1075 on the remains of an 8th-century church. Entering the cathedral via the double staircase leads to the Pórtico de la Gloria, a portal from 1188 with masterful sculptures. Inside, your attention is caught by the main altar on the opposite side of the almost 100-meter-long central nave, which was built over the tomb of the Apostle. On the west facade rise two towers both 75 meters high, of which the right was a bell tower, while the left is called “Torre de las Carracas” – after the rattling or creaking, with those in the Holy Week (“semana santa”) the ringing the bells is replaced. In the central gable, the statue of the apostle James rises. He is shown as a pilgrim accompanied by his pupils Atanasius and Theodor.
Spiritual walks all over Europe
The Way of St. James is a network of pilgrimage routes covering Europe. They all head for Santiago de Compostela, the epicenter of Spanish Catholicism. Legend has it that James, the brother of Jesus, is buried below the cathedral. Every year, 75,000 pilgrims come to the Jacob's grave – on foot, by bicycle or by wheelchair. They recognize each other – often hundreds of kilometers from their destination – by the scallop shell. The Scallop pierced with two holes has been the pilgrim's mark since the 11th century. Innumerable pilgrims from Central Europe have taken the Way of St. James for centuries. It leads on different routes to southwest France and from there via Pamplona, Burgos and León to the city of St. James. Recently, the pilgrimage has experienced a renaissance even not only among Catholics.
Pilgrimage with view
The last leg of the world famous pilgrimage route leads directly to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It starts west of the airport and is believed to be one of the most traveled trails in the world. Landscape is less important here than the countless pilgrims, who are finally at their destination – some of after weeks of hiking and great hardships. (11.6 kilometers, 3 hours, at: 140 meters, from: 170 meters)