Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral, one of the outstanding monuments of Early Romanesque architecture, was built between 1060 and 1211 on the site of an earlier ninth century church destroyed by Almansor's Moorish army in 997 - though Almansor, respecting the religion of his enemies, left the relics of the Apostle undisturbed. The new building was begun in the reign of Alfonso VI, and after the completion of the main structure new elements were added in later centuries, culminating in the Baroque transformation of the exterior in the 16th-18th centuries. The interior of the Cathedral, however, is still in the purest Early Romanesque style.
Address: Praza do Obradoiro, E-15704 Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Cathedral Highlights

Cathedral - West Front

The west or Obradoiro front, facing the Plaza del Obradoiro, is one of the most impressive church facades in Spain, built in lavishly decorated Baroque style between 1738 and 1747 by Fernando Casas y Novoa. The central gable, which is flanked by two richly articulated towers 76m/249ft high, is topped by a statue of St James. A handsome double staircase of 1606 leads up to the doorway.

Cathedral - Doorways

On the north side of the Cathedral, in the Plaza de la Inmaculada, is the Puerta de la Azabachería (1769). In the Plaza de los Literarios, at the east end of the Cathedral, is the Puerta Santa, which is opened only during Holy Years; built in the 17th century, it is decorated with 12th century sculpture representing prophets, apostles and fathers of the church. Over the doorway are statues of St James and his disciples Athanasius and Theodore (1694). The oldest surviving doorway of the Cathedral is the Puerta de las Platerías on the south side, a double doorway richly decorated with 12th and 13th century Romanesque sculpture. In the tympana are the Nativity, the Adoration of the Kings and the Temptation. Above the arches of the doorways, in the center, is the figure of Christ in the act of blessing, flanked by St James and Moses, and below this are the Creation of Adam, the Expulsion from Paradize and Abraham emerging from the tomb.

Old Cathedral

Below the staircase leading up to the west doorway can be found the oldest surviving part of the Cathedral, the vaulted Romanesque chamber known as the Old Cathedral, though in fact it is merely a crypt built in the early 12th century to compensate for the fall in ground level.

Portico de la Gloria

Immediately inside the west doorway of the Cathedral is the Pórtico de la Gloria, part of the old west front now concealed by the 18th Century Baroque facade. This triple doorway with its profusion of sculpture (which was originally painted) is one of the largest and most magnificent collections of Romanesque sculpture that have come down to us, carved by one Master Mateo between 1166 and 1188. The sculpture in the arch of the central doorway (the only one with a tympanum) is of overwhelming power and abundance. In the center is Christ as the Savior of the world, surrounded by the four Evangelists, two angels with censers and eight angels holding the instruments of the Passion. In the archivolt are the twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse. The central pier of the doorway is still the first objective of all pilgrims. The wearing away of the stone and the holes in the base of the column, which represents the Tree of Jesse, are evidence of the age-old practice of touching or kissing the column to mark the end of the pilgrimage. On the top of the Tree of Jesse is an impressive figure of St James; the capital of the column represents the Holy Trinity. The clustered columns to the left of the main doorway have figures of Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and Jeremiah; to the right are Peter, Paul, James and John. In the archivolt of the left-hand doorway is Christ with the Jews, in that of the right-hand doorway Christ with the Gentiles.

Cathedral - Interior

The Romanesque interior of the Cathedral (94m/308ft long, nave 24m/79ft high, dome 33m/108ft) is dominated by the elaborately decorated Capilla Mayor, built over the Apostle's tomb.

Capilla Mayor

The high altar consists of a superstructure of jasper, alabaster and silver with numerous figures (1665-69) and the altar proper (by Figuera, 1715). In the center is a 13th century wooden figure of the Apostle, richly decked with silver, gold and precious stones added about 1700. On either side of the altar are narrow staircases leading up behind the figure of St James, so that pilgrims go up and kiss the Apostle's cloak - the culminating act of the pilgrimage.

Cathedral - Crypt

Under the altar is a crypt (entered by steps on the right) with the remains of the Apostle and his two disciples Theodore and Athanasius. The silver casket containing the Apostle's remains is 19th century work.


In the dome over the crossing (1445) can be seen the device (installed in 1604) for swinging the huge Botafumeiro (censer), 2m/6-1/2ft high, which is set in motion on great feast days by a team of eight men. When not in use it is kept in the Library.

Cathedral - Chapels

Only a few of the chapels in the aisles and transepts of the Cathedral, all sumptuously decorated and furnished, can be mentioned here: the Capilla del Sagrado Corazón, a tall circular marble chapel in the north aisle, with bishops' tombs; the Capilla del Espíritu Santo in the north transept, which also has fine tombs; the adjoining Capilla de la Concepción, with the tomb of Canon Rodríguez Agustín by Cornelis de Holanda; and the Capilla de Mondragón in the south ambulatory, with a finely wrought ceiling. In the Capilla de las Reliquias or Relicario, the first chapel in the south aisle, are the tombs of kings and queens of the 12th-15th centuries.

Cathedral - Treasury

The Capilla de San Fernando in the south aisle contains the Cathedral Treasury (Tesoro), with splendid vestments and silverware. A particular treasure is a silver monstrance by Antonio de Arfe (1545).

Cathedral - Cloister

In the south transept, to the right of the Puerta de las Platerías, is the entrance to the Plateresque Cloister (1521-86), one of the largest and finest in Spain, measuring 35m/115ft each way, with walks 5.8m/19ft wide.

Cathedral - Library

At the northwest corner of the cloister is the entrance to the rooms surrounding it. The first of these, on the ground floor, is the library, in which are displayed a number of large and very beautiful hymnals, manuscripts and two examples of the Botafumeiro.

Cathedral - Chapterhouse

In the Chapterhouse the walls are hung with fine 17th century tapestries by Juan Raés and others from the Madrid manufactories.

Tapestry Museum

The Tapestry Museum, in four rooms on the upper floor of the cloister, displays Flemish tapestries and tapestries from the Real F Ábrica de Madrid after cartoons by Teniers, Rubens, Goya, Bayeu and other artists, most of them on country themes and depicting scenes of aristocratic life. From the last room a passage leads to the outer gallery, from which there is a good general view of the Plaza del Obradoiro.

Archaeological Museum

In three rooms on the lower floor is a small archeological museum illustrating the different stages in the building of the Cathedral. The first room is devoted to carving in stone (sculpture, architectural elements), the second to carving in wood (sculpture, fragments of retablos), the third to 17th and 18th century plans and drawings of the Cathedral and some very fine examples of book illumination.

Near the Cathedral

Monasterio de San Martin PinarioMonasterio de San Martin Pinario

Plaza de las Platerías

The south doorway of the Cathedral, the Puerta de las Platerías, leads down a flight of steps into the picturesque Plaza de las Platerías, in the center of which is a handsome fountain. On the far side of the square is the Baroque Casa del Cabildo, with a regularly articulated facade. On the south front of the Cathedral, flanking the doorway, are the Torre del Tesoro (on the left), the counterpart to the Torre de la Corona on the Plaza del Obradoiro, and the 14th century Gothic Torre del Reloj (Clock-Tower), with a bell 2.5m/8ft in diameter. To the left of the doorway is the outer wall of the Cloister (by Gil de Hontañón).

Monasterio de San Martín Pinario

The Plaza de la Inmaculada is dominated by the former Benedictine house of San Martín, founded in 899, which is now a seminary. It has a massive pillared doorway (begun 1590) and a handsome courtyard.

San Martín

Within the seminary complex is the church of San Martín, with its main front on Plaza San Martín (reached by a street on the east side of the seminary). The church (by Mateo López, 1590) has a sumptuous retablo by Fernando Casas y Novoa and Miguel de Romay and beautiful choir-stalls of 1644.

Pilgrimage Museum

The Pilgrimage Museum was established in 1954. Theme rooms describe the history pilgrimage ritual.
Catedral de Santiago de Compostela - Floor plan map Catedral de Santiago de Compostela Map
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