Galicia: the Way of St James Attracts Pilgrims

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Statue of St James stands guard over the Spanish city of Galicia, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

 Travel Destination

The Way of St James was the route followed by Christian pilgrims in ancient times from Central Europe to the tomb of the Apostle of St James, or Santiago, at Santiago de Compostela, which is located in Northwestern Spain.

The pilgrimage was initiated upon the discovery of the Aposle’s tomb in 813. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Santiago, the capital of Galicia, retains its medieval ambiance. There are beautiful churches, granite mansions, and imposing public buildings.

Praza do Obradoiro

The cobblestone streets have porticoes to provide protection against the elements. Considered one of the world’s great squares, the Praza do Obradoiro is dominated by the 11th century Cathedral and surrounded by many of Santiago’s historic buildings such as the Antiguo Hospital Real, the Palacio de Rajoy, the College of San Jerónimo, and the Gelmírez Palace.

The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela has been the destination for pilgrims following The Way of Saint James, or El Camino de Santiago, since the ninth century.

They traveled on foot, horseback,  and – more recently – on bicycle, staying in albergues de peregrinos, or accommodations that are offered free of charge to pilgrims, along the way.

St James Day

According to legend, anyone making the pilgrimage during a jubilee year – a year in which St James Day falls on a Sunday – will be absolved of his or her sins. Because St James Day will fall on a Sunday this year (2010), tourism officials in Galicia have decided to hold year-long celebrations.

Special highlights will include a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. A particularly festive time to visitwill be during the Fiestas for the Apostle, which will run from 19 to 25 July. It will reach its climax on 24 July with a display of fireworks, or Fuegos del Apóstol, in front of the Cathedral in the Plaza del Obradoiro.

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