Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

[san-tee-ah-goh; Sp. sahn-tyah-gaw]
Santiago de Compostela or Santiago, city (1990 pop. 91,419), A Coruña prov., NW Spain, in Galicia, on the Sar River. The city is one of the chief shrines of Christendom. There in the early 9th cent. the supposed tomb of the apostle St. James the Greater was reputedly discovered by a miracle, and Alfonso II of Asturias had a sanctuary built. The city grew around the shrine and became, after Jerusalem and Rome, the most famous Christian place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. It still thrives as a pilgrimage and tourist center. It is an archiepiscopal see and has a university (founded 1501). Its economy is based on tourism, agriculture, and the manufacture of linen and paper. Its most remarkable building is the cathedral, which replaced the earlier sanctuary after its destruction (10th cent.) by the Moors. Built (11th-13th cent.) in Romanesque style, the cathedral has had baroque and plateresque additions and restorations. Other historic buildings include the Hospital Real (1501-11), built by Ferdinand and Isabella to accommodate poor pilgrims, and the Colegio Fonseca (16th cent.), a part of the university.

See E. F. Stanton, Road of Stars to Santiago (1994).

Compostela, Santiago de, Spain: see Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela (also Saint James of Compostela) is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the northwest of Spain in the Province of A Coruña, it was the "European City of Culture" for the year 2000. The city's Cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James (Galician: Camiño de Santiago, Spanish: Camino de Santiago).


One etymology for the name "Compostela" is that it comes from the Latin phrase campus stellae, i.e. "field of the star", making Santiago de Compostela "St. James of the Field of the Star". This would reflect the belief that the bones of St. James were taken from the Middle East, to Spain and then buried where a shepherd had spotted a star. A church was eventually built over the bones, and later replaced with the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.

Other etymologies derive from the Latin word Compositum, i.e. "The well founded", or Composita Tella, meaning "burial ground". Yet another etymology derives it from "San Jacome Apostol". ɑ.


Santiago de Compostela is served by an airport and rail service. There are also plans to provide access to Santigo de Compostela by the Spanish High Speed Railway Network, a project under construction.

The city

The cathedral borders the main plaza of the old and well-preserved city. Across the square is the Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi's Palace), the town hall and seat of the Galician Xunta, and on the right from the cathedral steps is the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, founded in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, as a pilgrim's hospice (now a parador). The Obradoiro façade of the cathedral, the best known, is depicted on the Spanish euro coins of 1 cent, 2 cents, and 5 cents (€0.01, €0.02, and €0.05).

Santiago is the site of the University of Santiago de Compostela, established in the early 16th century. The main campus can be seen best from an alcove in the large municipal park in the centre of the city.

Within the old town there are many narrow winding streets full of historic buildings. The new town all around it has less character though some of the older parts of the new town have some big apartments in them.

Santiago de Compostela has a substantial nightlife. Divided between the new town (la zona nueva) and the old town (la zona vieja), one can often find a mix of middle-aged residents and younger students running throughout the city until the early hours of the morning. Radiating from the center of the city, the historic cathedral is surrounded by paved granite streets, tucked away in the old town, and separated from the newer part of the city by the largest of many parks throughout the city, Parque Alameda. Whether in the old town or the new town, party-goers will often find themselves following their tapas by dancing the night away.

Santiago gives its name to one of the four military orders of Spain: Santiago, Calatrava, Alcantara and Montesa.

The prevailing wind from the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains combine to give Santiago some of Europe's highest rainfall: about 1,900 mm (75 inches) annually.



Santiago de Compostela was originally founded by the Suebi people at the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century just after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Then, in 584 the whole settlement together with the rest of Galicia and northern Portugal was incorporated by Leovigild into the Visigothic kingdom of Spain. Raided from 711 to 739 by the Arabs, Santiago de Compostela was finally recaptured by the Visigothic king of Asturias in 754, about 60 years before the discovery of the remains of Saint James the Great. So, from the 9th century onwards, with the recognition of the Pope and Charlemagne, during the reign of Alfonso II of Asturias, this settlement was not just a city, but a holy city, and one of the main centers of Christian pilgrimage, rivaled only by Rome itself and the Holy Land. Still, there are some who claim that the remains found here were not those of the apostle James but those of Priscillian. They are also thought by many to be someone else altogether.

History of the Way of St. James Pilgrimage

The legend that St James found his way to the Iberian peninsula, and had preached there is one of a number of early traditions concerning the missionary activities and final resting places of the apostles of Jesus. Although the 1884 Bull of Pope Leo XIII Omnipotens Deus accepted the authenticity of the relics at Compostela, the Vatican remains uncommitted as to whether the relics are those of Saint James the Great, while continuing to promote the more general benefits of pilgrimage to the site.

According to a tradition that cannot be traced before the 12th century, the relics were said to have been discovered in 814 by Theodomir, bishop of Iria Flavia in the far northwest of the principality of Asturias. Theodomir was guided to the spot by a star, the legend affirmed, drawing upon a familiar myth-element, hence "Compostela" was given an etymology as a corruption of Campus Stellae, "Plain of Stars."

The establishment of the shrine

As suggested already, it is probably impossible to know whose bones were actually found, and precisely when and how. Perhaps it does not matter. What the history of the pilgrimage requires, but what the meagre sources fail to reveal, is how the local Galician cult associated with the saint was transformed into an international cult drawing pilgrims from distant parts of the world.

The 1000 year old pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is known in English as the Way of St. James and in Galician as the Camiño de Santiago. Over 100,000 pilgrims travel to the city each year from points all over Europe, and other parts of the world. The pilgrimage has been the subject of many books and television programmes notably Brian Sewell's The Naked Pilgrim produced for UK's Five.

Pre-Christian legends

As the lowest-lying land on that stretch of coast, the city's site took on added significance. Legends supposed of Celtic origin made it the place where the souls of the dead gathered to follow the Sun across the sea. Those unworthy of going to the Land of the Dead haunted Galicia as the Santa Compaña.

Main sights

Sister Cities

These are the official sister cities of Santiago de Compostela: Santiago do Cacém, Portugal (1980s)
Mashhad, Iran (2000s)
Buenos Aires, Argentina (1980s)
Qom, Iran (2000s)
Santiago de Querétaro, México (2005)

See also

Saunders, Tracy, Pilgrimage to Heresy: Don´t Believe Everything They Tell You (iUniverse 2007), for a somewhat different slant on the occupant of the tomb in Compostela. Though a fictionalised history, it looks at what we know of Bishop Priscillian of Avila, arrested on charges of "heresy and witchcraft" along with eight of his followers, including a noblewoman, Euchrotia, and subsequently decapitated in 385 CE by the Romans with the full knowledge of the newly formed Catholic Church, and whose remains have been suggested (by Prof. Henry Chadwick and others)may be entombed in the sepulchre which is said to contain the remains of St. James. See also: Priscillian, and Priscillianism, and The Way of St. James


External links

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