Biking Camino de Santiago Cities Culture Spain

Just Another Church? Santiago Cathedral

Cathedral Santiago de Compostela
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Just Another Church?
Santiago Cathedral

Kirstie Profile SmallAt first glance at it was nothing special. We approached it down a side alley, at lunchtime, as the daily pilgrim mass was spilling out hundreds of people from a side door. It didn’t have the gothic magnificence of its sisters in Leon or Burgos, nor their clean, restored and obviously cared for exteriors. The few towers we could see looked untended, moss grown and decaying. It was only later as I came upon the main square and saw the full building against the skyline that I saw what an extraordinary beauty it was. How a medieval pilgrim must have fallen to their knees in awe.

Pilgrim’s all over the square

Today’s pilgrims, littering the square with their backpacks scallop shells and sticks, quickly faded away for me, along with the tourists and the electric guitar playing busker. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the monument in front of me; it’s grey towers soaring into the even greyer sky as if growing out of the earth. Everywhere there was detail; not gothic design but truly gothic substance and texture. Like the wicked Queen’s castle in a fairytale; the window panes dark from within, and green with the creep of the years and the intensity of the weather. The classic Rapunzel towers, with their mossy bells and uneven stone dominating everything.

Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

Magical by night

But it was later, at night when it really hooked me. Lit up from outside, but dark and uncompromising from within, it was Disney with depth. Despite the group of people praying together on the steps, the silence was louder as I stood rooted and calm in the warm air. A lone star that had fought its way through the cloud struggled to compete. I sat down to spend some time with this one building in this one city that has inspired thousands of people, travelling thousands of miles over thousands of years to take on this ridiculously hard journey by foot, horseback or bike. They have come for many reasons but ultimately to see what lies inside; their holy grail, the bones of St James. But perhaps while rushing in to queue up at the altar to have their moment with the relic, they miss the real thing; the keeper of the treasure, the home of the saint, the house of God.

Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, the destination for pilgrims

We have arrived

The moss grew on in silence as it has done for centuries, but a group of Friday night drinkers crashed in to the square. Pilgrims, many now limping and on crutches from their long ordeal, hobbled home on their last night in Spain. Some didn’t even look up at the building in front; others just stopped and stared. We have arrived.

Cathedral Santiago de Compostela

Round the back of the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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