Pilgrim traditions at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
Many pilgrims on the Way of Saint James arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, an ancient cathedral finished in the 1100s, with a grateful heart for having safely completed their long journey. Those who have walked for religious and sometimes spiritual reasons often engage in certain rituals when they arrive at the Cathedral. Some of the ancient traditions no longer can be carried out due to the need to protect the physical structure of the Cathedral from millions of hands and heads. Regardless of why you choose to walk or your religion, you may find some of these ancient traditions interesting.
First, the entrance to the Cathedral. In times past, pilgrims entered the Cathedral through the Holy Door. Now, however, you can only enter through that door if it’s a Holy Year, when July 25 (St. James’ Saint Day) falls on Sunday. It remains closed the rest of the time. (The next Holy Year will not happen until 2021, so don’t wait that long to walk the Camino!)
Once inside the Cathedral, you can find the Portico de la Gloria, an incredible door carved by Maestro Mateo in the 12th Century and currently under restoration. Here you will find the Santo dos Croques, a statue on which, until a decade ago, pilgrims used to bump their head three times in order to request wisdom and intelligence. There’s also a Tree of Jesse carved in the stone of the Portico, which pilgrims used to touch with their hands. After 800 years of touching, you can clearly see the finger holes on the stone. So now, in order to preserve them, you cannot touch either the Santo dos Croques or the Tree of Jesse, but you can do guided visits to the Portico.
But don’t worry, because in the middle of the Cathedral, you will visit the jewel-encrusted statue of St. James, which you can still hug, as a pilgrim is doing in the photo above. Then, you can visit the crypt where you can pay respects to the remains of the Saint. Every day you can attend the Pilgrim’s Mass, which is where you can often see the Botafumeiro fly inside the Cathedral. (Read our blog about the Botafumeiro)
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