1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Santiago de Compostela

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, or Santiago (formerly written in English St Jago de Compostella and sometimes Compostello), a city of N.W. Spain, in the province of Corunna; at the northern terminus of a railway from Tuy, near the confidence of the Sar and Sarela rivers, and 32 m. S. by W. of the city of Corunna. Pop. (1900) 24,120. Santiago is built on the eastern slope of Monte Pedroso, surrounded by the mountains which draw down the incessant rain that gives the granite buildings of its deserted streets an extra tint of melancholy and decay. Its annual rainfall is 66 in., a total rarely exceeded on the mainland of Europe. The city was formerly the capital of Galicia; it gives its name to one of the four military orders of Spain, which rank as follows: Compostela, Calatrava, Alcantara and Montesa; and it is still the seat of a university and of an archbishopric, which long disputed the claim of Toledo to the primacy of all Spain. In the middle ages its shrine, which contained the body of St James the Great, was one of the most famous in Europe; so numerous were the pilgrims that the popular Spanish name for the Milky Way is El Camino de Santiago, or “ The Santiago Road.” The city became, in fact, the focus of all the art and chivalry of neighbouring Christendom, and a spot where conflicting interests could meet on neutral ground. The Congregation of Rites declared in 1884 that the cathedral still enshrines the veritable body of the apostle, and few places of pilgrimage in Europe are more frequented. The city contains many hospitals and other charitable institutions, which are open to the pilgrims. In 1900 its ecclesiastical buildings numbered forty-six. Its chief industries, apart from agriculture, are brewing, distillation of spirits and the manufacture of linen, paper, soap, chocolate and matches. The city has also been long celebrated for its silversmiths' work.

The belief that St James had preached in Spain was certainly current before A.D. 400. The relics of the saint were said, though the tradition cannot be traced back farther than to the 12th century, to have been discovered in 835 by Theodomir, bishop of Iria, who was guided to the spot by a star. Hence Compostela is regarded by some authorities as a corruption of Campus Stellae, “ Plain of the Star ”; others derive it from San Jacome Apostol. According to the legend a chapel was forthwith erected, and the bishopric was transferred thither by a special bull of Pope Leo III. A more substantial building was begun in 868, but was totally destroyed in 997 by the Moors, who, however, respected the sacred relics. On the reconquest of the city by Bermudo III. the roads were improved, and pilgrims began to flock to the shrine, which fast grew in reputation.

In 1078 the erection of the present cathedral was begun during the episcopate of Diego Pelaez, and was continued until 1188, when the western doorway was completed. Minor additions prolonged the work until 1211, when the cathedral was consecrated. It is a cruciform Romanesque building, and keeps its original form in the interior, but is disfigured externally by much poor late work. Besides the classic dome and clock-tower, the two western towers have been raised to a height of 220 ft. and crowned with cupolas, and between them has been erected a classic portico, above which is a niche containing a statue of St James. The façade was the work of Fernando Casas y Noboa in 1738, and the statue was by Ventura Rodriguez in 1764. The design is mediocre, and gains its chief effect from forming part of an extended architectural composition on the Plaza Mayor, a grand square surrounded by public buildings. The ground rises to the cathedral, which is reached by a magnificent quadruple flight of steps, flanked by statues of David and Solomon. Access to the staircase is through some fine wrought-iron gates, and in the centre, on the level of the Plaza, is the entrance to a Romanesque chapel, La Iglesia Baja, constructed under the portico and contemporary with the cathedral. To the north and south, and in a line with the west front, are dependent buildings of the 18th century, grouping well with it. Those to the south contain a light and elegant arcade to the upper windows, and serve as a screen to the cloisters, built in 1533 by Fonseca, afterwards archbishop of Toledo. They are said to be the largest in Spain, and are a fair example of the latest Gothic. The delicate sculpture over the heads of the windows and along the wall of the cloister is very noticeable. On the north of the cathedral is the Plazuela S. Juan, where the peasants collect to do their marketing. Here is the convent of S. Martin, built in 1636, which, after serving as a barrack, is now used as an ecclesiastical seminary, restored to the church. It has a tolerable cloister and bell-tower. The north side of the cathedral is much overlaid by the ugly and extravagant ornamentation styled, after its chief Spanish exponent Churriguera (d. 1715), Churrigueresque work. The same treatment has been applied to the east end, where is the Puerta Santa; this gate is kept closed, except in jubilee years, when it is opened by the archbishop. The corner of the south transept on the Plaza de los Plateros has been mutilated by the erection of the clock-tower, but the facade is intact. Perhaps the chief beauty of the cathedral, however, is the Portico de la Gloria, behind the western classic portal. It is a work of the 12th century, and probably the utmost development of which round-arched Gothic is capable. The shafts, tympana and archivolts of the three doorways which open on to the nave and aisles are a mass of strong and nervous sculpture. The design is a general representation of the Last Judgment, and the subjects are all treated with a quaint grace which shows the work of a real artist. Faint traces of colour remain and give a tone to the whole work. It is probable that, until the erection of the present grand staircase, the portico could not be reached from the Plaza, but stood open to the air. There are no marks of doors in the jambs, and the entrance to the chapel beneath would have been blocked by any staircase which differed much in plan from the present one. The interior of the church is one of the purest and best examples of Romanesque work to be met with in Spain. The absence of a clerestory throws an impressive gloom over the barrel-vaulted roof, which makes the building seem larger than it is. A passage leads from the north transept to the Parroquia of San Juan, or La Corticela, a small but interesting portion of the original foundation. Many fine examples of metal work are in the cathedral, as, for instance, the two bronze ambos in the choir by Juan B. Celma of 1563, the gilt chandeliers of 1763 and the enamelled shrines of Sts Cucufato and Fructuoso. The great censer which hangs from the cathedral roof, and is swung by an iron chain, is about 6 ft. high. In the Capilla del Relicario are a gold crucifix, dated 874, containing a piece of the true cross, and a silver gilt custodia of 1544.

The Hospicio de los Reyes, on the north of the Plaza Mayor, for the reception of pilgrims, was begun in 1504 by Enrique de Egas under Ferdinand and Isabella. It consists of two Gothic and two classic courtyards with a chapel in the centre. The gateway is fine, and there is some vigorous carving in the courtyards, one of which contains a graceful fountain. The suppressed Colegio de Fonseca and the adjoining convent of S. Gerónimo have good Renaissance doorways. The university, which was created in 1504 by a bull of Pope Julius II., has a library containing 60,000 volumes and several MSS., many valuable and one dating from 788. Those of the Seminario (1777) have no merit. The chapel of the convent of S. Francisco, the cloisters of the half-ruined S. Augustin, the belfry of S. Domingo, the church of S. Feliz de Celorio, modernized 14th century, and the façades of several houses of the 12th and 13th centuries are also good examples of different architectural styles.