Following the most important examples of pure and unadulterated Christian legends and traditions, the story of Santiago (James) Zebedeo, also called the Great, tells of his having received, like all the other Apostles after Pentecost, the call to begin preaching the Gospel in all the known world, and to him corresponded the conversion to Christianity of Spain. Thus, taking only his dog with him, he embarked on a great sea voyage which brought him to Galicia.
He debarked in Padron, where he founded the first church and appointed his disciples. After founding the second temple in Muxia, which, with time, would be known for its special devotion to the Virgin Mary, after her having appeared there, later on, before he left for Jerusalem, Santiago traveled to Roman Zaragoza, where the mother of God appeared to him on the waters of the Ebro rover.
Heeding the request of the virgin, Santiago built the original temple as the basilica of the pilar, the great cathedral of the Spanish world.
The subsequent sacrifice and death of the Apostle Santiago in Palestinian lands, the removal of his remains to Spain and the appearance of his tomb in Santiago de Compostela, transformed that small village located in the province of La Coruna into an internationally important place of pilgrimage, since the lower Middle Ages, where numerous pilgrims went to visit the tomb of the Apostle.
The royal Spanish houses, consecrated to the protracted struggle against the Moorish invaders which they had launched with the Reconquest a century before, were provided with a new rallying point for Christian Spain thanks to the Saint’s tomb.
And from the times of Alfonso II, the Chaste, the king of Asturias who ordered the construction of the first temple of Compostela, power in addition to Spanish aristocrats turned Santiago, over the centuries, into the great, mythical and monumental city that Roman Christian all over Europe had yearned for.
Santiago’s Cathedral is, unquestionably, the quintessence of a city that, at the same time, became the motive for and the goal of the various Ways of St. James. It represents one of the largest religious constructions of the Roman Catholic universe.
The centuries that its building lasted converted the spending temple into a unique display of harmony comprising the most faithful Romanesque style together with Gothic features in addition to the exuberant beauty of the Baroque and the Plateresque.
The façade of Lass Platerias is the oldest, formed by two superimposed bodies of semicircular arches. It is embellished by a rich and dense iconography that is only slightly overshadowed by the magnificence of the astonishing and unique Portico de la Gloria.
In 1128, work on the Cathedral was completed under the direction of Diego Gelmirez, and the enormous temple that welcomes and protect the faith of the pilgrims displayed a central nave and two side-aisles, a very long transept, semicircular chapels in the transept arms, and an apse with is ambulatory and radiating chapels, and then the piece de resistance of this great church: the portico de la Gloria.
Mateo was the name of the obscure but brilliantly inspired creator of this fantastic cathedral façade, although it was not completed until a half a century after the rest of the structure.
However, it was well worth waiting for, because the Portico de la Gloria is one of these wonders of the world sculptured by chisels that seem to have been guided by the hand of God. In its balanced density of images, Christ appears with Evangelists, Apostles, prophets, and angels, the twenty-tour Ancients of the Apocalypse….. All posed in frozen movement and expressively serene and with beatific countenances.
Nevertheless, Santiago is much more than the Sanctorum of its grandiose cathedral. Because the whole city of Santiago is a solemn tribute to the Middle Ages, from the long-lived peace of its grey stones, its arcaded streets, its withdrawn small squares with singing fountains to the silence of its solitary streets, almost always wet from the rain that falls softly and silently, in mystic humility.
When day breaks over the cathedral, the great city of Compostely begins to emerge as the light descends the staircase that ends in the Plaza de Obradoiro, or the ones that descend into the plazas of la Quintana or las Platerias.
And if we follow its flag-stone streets we will encounter multiple monuments scattered all over the city: The monastery of San Pelayo de Antealtares, contemporary with the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle. The monastery of San Martin Pinario is one of the most important monasteries in all Galicia.
The monastery of sanfrancisco, founded by Francis of Assisi during his pilgrimage to Santiago in 1214. The monastery of Santo Domingo where the great Galician poetess Rosalia de Castro is buried. The monastery of Santa Clara, possessing one of the most beautiful Baroque facaces of all Compostela.
And with regards to secular buildings: the old royal hospital, today transformed into a hotel, the Hostel de los Reyes Catolicos; the Casa Consistorial or town hall, the Seat of the Presidencia de la Zunta: the Colegio de San Jeronimo, founded in the 15th century; the Colegio de Fonseca; the elegant Archbishop’s Palace; the Gelmirez Archbishopric …
And following along the streets Vieja, Nueva, and del villar, we will come upon the big old houses of the Galician aristocrats, and later there loom up the old student inns, the chemist shops, sweet shops, and various other sorts of businesses that emerge from under the obscure arches and worn away Baroque carvings, which display the new face of this holy and eternal city. The city of Santiago was included on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO In 1985.