Santiago Highlights: The Cathedral, from Roof to Crypt

Continued from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Santiago.

This post covers some of the fascinating aspects of the cathedral, including the rooftop tour, holy doors, botafumeiro, crypt, as well as the rites of embracing the apostle, and attending a pilgrim mass.

Rooftop tour of the Cathedral

If you enjoy great views, I recommend the Santiago cathedral rooftop tour. I did the Spanish tour because that was the only tour available on my last day. When I return to Santiago in June, I will book the English-speaking version of the tour.

Model of the cathedral

Model of the cathedral

St. James has my back!

St. James has my back!

Wildflowers grow on the rooftop!

Wildflowers grow on the rooftop!


Learn more about the Cathedral Rooftop tour and buy tickets.

Puerta Santa (Holy Doors)

Because Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016 , I was able to enter the cathedral through the Holy Doors. (See statistics and Holy Year Factor in this post)

View of Puerta Santa from inside the Cathedral

View of Puerta Santa from inside the Cathedral

 The Botafumeiro

The botafumeiro is a silver incense container that is swung from the ceiling during special pilgrim masses. It is said that this tradition began as a way to cover up the smell of pilgrims! Check the cathedral’s schedule to find out when they will swing the botafumeiro, and get there early if you want a seat.  Be prepared for sudden cancellations. The botafumeiro did not swing on the Friday night mass due to “safety reasons,” which could also mean the cathedral didn’t get enough donations to make it happen.  Despite the setback, I ended up getting my Compostela and having a great Friday night in Santiago.  Luckily, I was able to witness the swinging of the botafumeiro during the Sunday pilgrim mass.

From where I stood, I could see the choir and priests doing preparations for the eucharist

From where I stood, I could see the choir and priests doing preparations for the Eucharist

The botafumeiro swings to a height of 20 metres and can reach a speed of 70 miles per hour!

The botafumeiro swings to a height of 20 metres and can reach a speed of 70 miles per hour!

Relics of St. James

Crypts aren’t for everyone, but I wasn’t going to miss seeing the sepulchre, where the relics of St. James are kept.

The Santiago Cathedral website describes it:
The Sepulchre of Saint James
Under the altar of this crypt lies the true destination of The Way: the walls of the ancient tomb and in the centre the urn containing the remains of the Apostle. And you are here, Saint James, in this part of the world. You arrived here to announce Christ and here you remain to encourage our search and our faith. Strengthen my faith, my Christian life, which so often seems to wane. You the strong, you the intrepid, you Son of Thunder.

Prayers and donations go here

Prayers and donations go here

Embracing the Apostle

There is another rite of pilgrims that involves hugging a statue of St. James on the altar. I did not take photos because photography is not allowed in this sacred space. But you can easily find photos from people who broke this rule by doing an image search.

“Hic Est Corpus Davi Jacobi Apostoli Et Ispaniarum Patroni”

It is traditional to hug or pat his statue in order to thank him for the strength that he has given you along the Camino de Santiago, in spite of the heat or the cold, your tiredness, the blisters, and any obstacles you might have encountered.
Ultreya Tours

Pilgrim Mass in English

The icing on the cake was the pilgrim mass in English that took place in a small chapel. I wrote my prayers on a piece of paper and placed it at the altar. The Irish priest said that the nuns would read them and pray for us. He invited each of us to speak about what the Camino provided us and what we are praying for. This mass was especially meaningful. If you would like to attend, look for the tiny chapel with the Mass in English signs. Below are photos of the flyers and pilgrims’ blessing.

 Mass in English flyer Take a seat 



As you can see, I got over the cathedral fatigue that I mentioned in my previous post. I totally enjoyed every aspect of the cathedral in Santiago and look forward to exploring more of it this June and after my future Caminos.  I know my visit to the cathedral will be different next time, because I am different.

Buen Camino!

For more things to do in Santiago, see:

Santiago Highlights: Plaza del Obradoiro

Santiago Highlights: Free Walking Tour and Secretos de Galicia

Santiago Highlights: Pilgrim Lunch at the Parador

Santiago Highlights: Hospedería San Martín Pinario, a Pilgrim’s Paradise

2 thoughts on “Santiago Highlights: The Cathedral, from Roof to Crypt

  1. Hello, there! 😀
    Thank u very much for sharing your pics and your experience. Not everyone knows that u can actually go and walk on top of the cathedral, you’re a privileged woman for have had that experience 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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