Celebrating St James’ Day in Santiago de Compostela
The Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela is synonymous with the Camino, and is the final destination on the ancient pilgrimage route. But this city is famous for another reason - St. James, the patron saint of Santiago de Compostela and of Galicia, is reported to be buried here. St. James has become a symbol of Galicia and a very important figure in Galician culture. If you can plan your Camino to finish in Santiago around the time of the Feast of St. James on July 25th, you are in for a real treat!
History of St James in Santiago
After St. James was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44AD, his remains were taken by his disciples to Spain by boat. They landed at Padrón on the coast and took his body inland to be buried at what is now known as Santiago de Compostela. St. James remained undisturbed there until the 9th century. King Alfonso II made the first pilgrimage to the relics and afterwards provided protection along the route for those making the pilgrimage to visit the relics of Saint James, and so began the Camino de Santiago.
For the last two weeks of July, Santiago de Compostela really comes alive as it celebrates its biggest festival of the year; St. James Festival. The entire city comes together to celebrate with exhibitions, theatre performances, street theatre and concerts each day. Closer to the event itself, there is something on almost every night in the two mains squares of the city. On the evening of 24th July, in the Plaza del Obradoiro, are the Fuegos del Apóstol – an incredible display of pyrotechnics that sees the side of the cathedral dramatically illuminated at midnight. This is not to be missed! Each year, the display is completely different, so you never know what to expect. The feast day itself includes many official celebrations and processions, the most important of which is an official Mass which is attended by representatives of the Galician government and often by members of the Spanish Royal family.
The Botafumeiro (which is Galician for "smoke expeller") is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. It takes 8 people to swing it and it is the one of the largest in the world. The Botafumeiro dates back to the Middle Ages and was originally used to clean the air when crowds of pilgrims having completed the Camino de Santiago arrived in Santiago de Compostela. The Botafumeiro used in the city today dates back to 1851 and weighs 53kg when empty and up to 10kg more when full. It is used on special dates throughout the year for important liturgical celebrations, including Saint James Day. While there is no official timings released for the Botafumeiro, it is most likely used during pilgrim Mass on July 25th. The Botafumeiro can also be requested and booked by individuals (you will have to contact the cathedrals there may be additional fees).
Attending the St James Festival in Santiago de Compostela makes for a truly unique experience and insight in Galician culture, and timing your Camino de Santiago with the festival will provide an unforgettable encounter.
Please see here for more details on our Camino departures or find out more about our short break to Santiago de Compostela for the Festival of St. James. Please don’t hesitate to to contact our team of Camino specialists via email here or by phone on 01 241 0800.