It was when we read in the pilot guide book
that the port of La Coruna had seen its best times in the 14th and 15th
Centuries when it was the main port of arrival for pilgrims en route to Santiago
de Compostelo that the scale of this inland city began to dawn on us. So leaving
the boat in Villa Garcia in the Ria Arousa, we took the fast modern train
for just 35 minutes to find out more.
[Thanks for the following fascinating
notes to the Pilot guide author Detlef Jens]
"The pilgrim city of Santiago (Saint James)
is famed even amongst circles normally not closely associated with the Catholic
Church. The town derived its name from it's connection with the Apostle James,
who around the time of 44 AD went to north-west Spain to convert people to
Christianity. After returning to Palestine, he was murdered by Herodes Agrippa,
who prohibited any burial. His body was therefore smuggled on to a small ship
and sailed to the Spanish coast. Here, covered in an armour of scallop
shells, he was finally buried in a secret place.
It wasn't until many centuries later, in 813
AD, that a shepherd stumbled upon the grave, and on discovery of the apostle's
tomb, the king had a church built in honour of Saint James. Reputedly, from then
on Saint James' spirit performed many miracles and fought as Santiago Matamoros
(Moor-killer) on the battlefield. Not surprisingly, his fame spread rapidly and
pilgrims started to come from far and wide to pay homage, adopting the tradition
of wearing a scallop shell in remembrance of him.
Thus Santiago de Compostelo, grave of the
apostle, became, after Jerusalem and Rome, the most important destination for
Christian pilgrims. The constant seething presence of Christians in what is now
the northern part of Spain, but was once formally the kingdoms of Navarre,
Aragon, Leon and later Castile, eventually forced Islam to retreat to the
pillars of Hercules and then to Africa." The pilgrim's
tradition of wearing a scallop shell continues to this day.
The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage
site. Ther were groups of modern day pilgrims from all over the world,
blending slightly inconguously with vast numbers of cyclist with
heavy laden touring bikes, wearing their modern day uniform of lycra shorts and
go-faster helmets who also seem to have made the pilgrimage
The cathedral is hugely impressive - the
ultimate goal for the pilgrims. The square is surrounded by buildings and
churches of various epochs and styles. It's is a fascinating and rather
beautiful city - and one not to be missed if you are in this corner of Europe.
We felt that you probably need to be Catholic to get the full benefit and fully
understand the cathedral signs that explain how you can be granted a pardon or
Indulgence by saying extra prayers for a couple of weeks - particularly by
praying for the Pope.
Wouldn't have missed it for anything