Some of the most beautiful monuments to the genius and capabilities of men are the cathedrals of medieval Europe. These “grandchildren of God” still amaze those who see them today. Chartres, Cologne, and Notre Dame de Paris all hearken to an age where all worshiped God and sought to glorify Him in magnificent places of worship.
One such example is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in the city of the same name in Spain. An ancient and venerable pilgrimage site for centuries, thousands of pilgrims still make their way today along the Camino de Santiago to see the relics of the Apostle Saint James the Greater.
The cathedral houses his relics in the crypt, where the Spanish nation pays tribute to the apostle who evangelized the country. It was built in the Romanesque style, with two massive towers and many statues on the exterior. Indeed, the whole cathedral has many representations of Santiago, as the Spanish call Saint James.
The most impressive of these is the massive statue of the saint immediately behind the main altar. Another is Saint James on horseback slaying Muslim soldiers, alluding to the Battle of Clavijo (922) when the saint appeared to lead the Spanish to victory over a large Moorish host. He killed many Moors, for which he received the title of Matamoros or Moor slayer.
Another impressive object in the cathedral that shows the Spanish spirit of daring is the Botafumeiro. The Botafumeiro is a huge thurible used to incense the congregation during Mass. It uses a pulley system operated by eight men. The sight of the Botafumeiro soaring over one’s head and casting smoke everywhere is unforgettable.
All of these make the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela a marvelous pilgrimage site. In an age where the Church is beset on all sides by enemies who wish to “modernize” and destroy her, the cathedral of Santiago recalls the words of Our Divine Savior to Saint Peter concerning the Church: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”[Matthew 16:18]
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