It was wonderful to explore the city of Santiago de Compostela without a backpack on! I taped up my blisters and headed out for the Cathedral where I spent several hours looking around and visiting the museum, as well as attending Pilgrim’s Mass. There are 3 per day so you will find one that suits and it lasts about 45 minutes.
Pilgrims arrive in the Plaza del Obradoiro which has the most imposing cathedral facade. You can’t enter the church this way but the entrance to the museum and the Portico da Gloria are on this side.
There are several entrances around the corner. They close the doors during Mass, so make sure you time your visit so you can enter. You can also book a ticket in advance for the museum and the Portico da Gloria.
The door above the main entrance to the church is carved with figures of saints.
View of the altar and the vault above the crossing with the pulley system for the Botafumeiro, the cathedral’s famous swinging censur (pic below).
The altar is extraordinary with its huge, oversized angels and bright gold.
View of the ceiling above the Crossing.
The church is covered with symbols including this alpha and omega seal.
In the crypt under the altar lie the relics of St James in a silver casket. I was excited to finally visit as they feature in my thriller, Stone of Fire.
The cathedral is also famous for the Botafumeiro, the largest censer in the world, billowing incense over pilgrims as it swings. It’s not used in every Mass. I arrived just after it had swung at the 9.30 am Mass and the clouds of incense still filled the air.
There are a number of chapels around the altar offering Confession in different languages and services for pilgrims from different countries.
Although I am not a Christian, I always light a candle for my family in places of belief. In many churches, they use electric candles now, so I appreciated the real flames in the cathedral. It’s usually 1 EUR per candle.
I much prefer the Gothic cloisters to the Baroque extravagance of the altar!
The cloisters were also empty so I wandered around in the peace and quiet.
The museum includes entrance to the Chapel of the Relics. It was full of holy body parts! I am fascinated by religious relics and they find their way into many of my ARKANE thrillers.
I only had one extra day in Santiago de Compostela so the cathedral was my focus. But I can also recommend the Monasterio de San Martin Pinario, which was completely empty when I visited even though the rest of the city was heaving with tourists.
Go behind the altar to see the wooden choir, and then into the museum to find some unusual exhibits. The monks were into all kinds of things — printing, taxidermy, chemistry, and even human anatomy. It’s only 5 EUR and well worth a visit.
There are lots of wonderful restaurants and tapas bars, including the produce market which has great fish restaurants. Here’s a selection of my gastronomy — chocolate con churros, tapas, scallops and albarino wine.