In Santiago itself the great Romanesque Cathedral, goal of the pilgrimage, is now encased in 18th century splendour, but the elaborately carved Romanesque ‘Portico de la Gloria’ of 1188 remains to welcome the pilgrim or visitor now as in medieval times.
The relics of St James are housed in a silver casket below the high altar, above which his statue presides over the cathedral. On the feast of St James, 25th July, and other high days and holy days, a giant censer, the Botafumeiro, is swung on ropes by red-coated attendants in a great arc from floor to vaults, emitting clouds of incense over delighted crowds. Among the old buildings of the city statues of St James abound, whether as a mounted warrior or as a pilgrim with wide-brimmed hat, staff and bottle. The scallop shell was and still is the emblem of the pilgrimage, carried back by the proud pilgrim as proof of the successful completion of the long and arduous journey to the shrine of St James.
On arrival, pilgrims present their Pilgrim Passports, duly stamped at each of their halts along the way, at the Cathedral’s Pilgrim Office, and apply for the Compostela, the traditional certificate in Latin confirming their completion of the pilgrimage. It also entitles them (provided they are among the first 10 in the queue) to three free meals a day for three days in the staff quarters of the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, now a parador, but formerly the pilgrim hospital established by Ferdinand and Isabela as a thank offering for the final recovery of Spain from the Moors in 1453: the pilgrims’ right to hospitality has survived the change in the status of the hospital.
The Pilgrim Office welcomes pilgrims and is the source of information for pilgrims in Santiago.