Every place has something special that defines it and makes it universally known: its cultural heritage, architecture, traditions, gastronomy... Regarding the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, it is undoubtedly its connection with the Apostle Saint James the Great, or as they say in Galician, Santiago o Maior.
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the beautiful region of Galicia, located in the northwest of Spain, just above Portugal. Its impressive cathedral is the reputed burial place of Saint James and, as such, the final destination of the pilgrims (and not pilgrims) who hike or cycle a stretch of the way known as St. James’ Way (Camiño de Santiago).
The Way of St. James is not just one way. It's a network of ways all leading to the shrine of the Apostle from different parts of Spain, Portugal and France. The most renowned is the French Way, starting where pilgrims coming from France cross the border into Spain. The Silver Way, that goes through western Spain from South to North, is also very popular.
2021: next Jubilee Year
With a cadence of six, five, six and eleven years, the 25th of July, the feast day of St. James the Great, falls on a Sunday. The year when that happens is known as a Jubilee Year (Ano Santo Xacobeo). This is a very significant celebration for Christians, since all their sins will be forgiven if they visit the Apostle in his tomb at the cathedral and follow some other precepts. The Jubilee Year begins with the opening of the Holy Door (Porta Santa) of the cathedral on the 31st December of the previous year. This door only opens on this solemn occasion.
Furthermore than the Way
But Santiago de Compostela has much more to offer to the visitor apart from the pilgrimage tradition. The old town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1985. Ancient monasteries, churches, palaces, the old University, the cobbled streets and squares, the many taverns and restaurants, the magnificent Galician wine and food, the friendly local people…
Visiting Santiago is something every person should experience at least once in a lifetime!
Foto of Santiago historic center by Silvia Sevilla.