European Capital of Culture 2000 – Santiago de Compostela

Santiago Cathedral

“Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.” 
                                                                                         Sir Walter Raleigh

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited.  Seventh in the final competition results was another Cathedral, out of a total of five in the top twelve, this time Santiago de Compostela

If El Cid represents the secular aspects of heroism and military conquest during the Reconquista then the spiritual hero representing the religious justification and the Christian ethos of the crusade against the Muslims was Santiago, St James the Apostle, and the patron Saint of Spain.

Scallop Shell Santiago de Compostela

In ‘Don Quixote’ Cervantes wrote ‘St. James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection.’  Ever since the reconquest ‘Santiago y cierra España’, which means ‘St James and strike for Spain’ has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout disciple of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa I arrested and (allegedly) personally beheaded him in Jerusalem.   According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body back to the peninsula. On the way they were caught in a storm and were almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

Besalu Catalonia Spain

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Pilgrims Way of Saint James

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and when I visited there were many who could be identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travel but all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

There was certainly no mistaking that this is a very holy city indeed and the route to the Cathedral was lined with churches, monasteries and seminaries and finally we emerged into the central square, Praza de Obradoiro, where the Cathedral (which is depicted on Spanish eurocent coins) loomed high above in a most spectacular and impressive way.  Inside, the Cathedral is nearly a hundred metres long and over twenty metres high and is the largest Romanesque church in Spain as well as being one of the biggest in Europe.

We took an hour or so to look around but it was a approaching lunch time and so we declined to join the long queue of pilgrims and visitors who were waiting in line to visit the crypt and see the box that contains the bones and other grisly relics of St James and left by a side door that opened onto another remarkable courtyard that was surrounded by huge medieval buildings and magnificent towering statues.

Santiago Saint James The Moor Slayer

The Cross of St. James includes the lower part  fashioned as a sword blade making this a cross of a warrior and in crusading terms the symbol of taking up the sword in the name of Christ.   Most notably, it was the emblem of the twelfth-century military Order of Santiago, named after Saint James the Great.

These days we are a bit more sensitive about religious wars and killing each other in the name of God or Allah and in 2004 a statue in Santiago Cathedral showing St James slicing the heads off Moorish invaders was removed and replaced with a more benign image of him as a pilgrim to avoid causing offence to Muslims.   A Cathedral spokesman in a classic understatement said that the Baroque image of a sword-wielding St James cutting the heads off Moors was not a very sensitive or evangelical interpretation that can be easily reconciled to the teachings of Christ. Good point!

Saint James at Santiago de Compostella

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More posts about El Cid:

El Cid and the Spanish Reconquista

El Cid and his Horse, Babieca

El Cid and his Wife, Ximena

El Cid and his sword. La Tizona

El Cid and Saint James

El Cid and Alfonso VI

El Cid and the City of Burgos

El Cid and the Castle of Belmonte

El Cid – The Film Fact and Fiction

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Burgos Weary Pilgrim

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15 responses to “European Capital of Culture 2000 – Santiago de Compostela

  1. Yes a little more sensitivity seems reasonable. I’ve never been too keen on gazing at ancient body parts myself. However each to his own. Fascinating place.

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  2. Sure. Lets erase history and pretend Christians never killed people. Think god telling GWB to go to war 😦

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    • Quite right. Saint James did his fair share of slaughtering. I have come to the conclusion that the Christian/Muslim conflict is on going and in 500 years time history books will refer to the 21st century as an extension of the medieval crusades.

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      • Indeed. Just read a blog post somewhere about how there is an ongoing trend to reverse secularisation and modernity in favour of (repressive) religions ie Christianity and Islam. Not good.
        Sometimes religion is the reason, sometimes it is the excuse for war.

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  3. Great post Andrew! I rather envy you Santiago de C. It must be an impressive city. Given up all thought of walking the walk? Thanks for the history x

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  4. Interesting post, Andrew… I love that image of the arches and shadows, by the way

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  5. Pingback: European Capital of Culture 2000 – Santiago de Compostela — Have Bag, Will Travel – Sporting Jazz Music

  6. Glad to see that head chopping off was eliminated, Andrew. As for the body parts, there is a custom that I simply don’t comprehend. Liked the pilgrim sculpture. It has a very modern feel to it. –Curt

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  7. A great place to visit. It was mostly showery when we went but it added to the ambience of the place. Some pretty decent cafes and tapas bars too I recall.

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