“There it is. I see it.” Those are the words, in countless languages, that many a pilgrim has uttered over the centuries at Monte de Gozo (Mountain of Joy), upon catching their first glance of the great Gothic Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela (St. James under the stars). In medieval times, pilgrims had usually trekked from the other side of the continent to reach this apostolic mecca where legend holds that Saint James the Greater is buried. Many would have died on the Camino de Santiago along the way.
This great cathedral, which is a dramatic mixture of Gothic, baroque, and Romanesque styles, has a particularly happy history. Spanish and French kings and bishops avidly supported its construction and the subsequent pilgrimage to Santiago. It served to rally the small parts of Spain around the remaining unconquered Christian strongholds in the northern part of the country. The Moors, who were to remain for almost 800 years, had gained imperial control of 80% of the Iberian peninsula.
The foundation for the cathedral was laid in 1073. Invading Moors burned one of its wings in 1096. But such was the dedication to this marquee structure, that it was quickly built back to ever-grander proportions. In the 17th century, 800 years after it was begun, the splendid, proud magnifying towers of Babel were added that now soar dramatically into the Galician sky. The July 25th Holy Day in this square (Plaza Obradoira) is always packed with several thousand pilgrims from around the world.
Bill Walker is the author of ‘The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago (2012)”. He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail (2008), as well as Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail (2010). Walker, who is almost 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.