Santiago is named after Saint James (Sant-Iago), one of Jesus' disciples. After his martyrdom in Palestine, his mortal remains were supposedly put in a stone boat by two of his followers.

According to legend, the ship sailed to the province of Galicia in the Northwest of Spain in 7 days, guided by angels. Here the body was buried at the foot of the mountain Libredón. After this, the apostolic grave becam forgotten. Until roughly 842, when it was rediscovered by the hermit Paio.

Following the find, the tomb becomes an important place for Christianity. This is partly because James is believed to have personally intervened in Spanish history: During a battle between Christians and Mores at Clavijo, the apostle appeared on horseback and participated in the fight. This is where James’ nickname “matamores”, killer of Mores, derives from.

Worshipers wanted to address this active and powerful Saint directly and hence went on pilgrimage to the city of Santiago. The more pilgrims made the journey to the relics of James, the more he became the patron and the helper of pilgrims. This made him exceptionally popular, also outside of Spain.

But the miraculous stories about the apostle James were not the only reason why Santiago became such an important destination for pilgrims during the middle ages. This was also due to the fact that the Abby of Cluny (France), stimulated the “Peace of God” Movement in the 11th century, that was aimed to establish a greater safety within Western Europe.

This first ecclesiastical pacifism not only stimulated churches and monasteries, but also the pilgrimages to Santiago and with that the rise of the Roman coast along the pilgrim paths. Because of this, the architectural influence of Cluny up until now is still noticeable in Spain.


Originally, the St. James Way was not solely used by pilgrims, but also by merchants, soldiers and farmers that rode in their carriages, pulled by mules, to markets in nearby villages.

Over the alleged grave of James, a mighty basilica arose. The cathedral has the shape of a cruciform church. It was build from 1077 onwards, under Alfonso VI from Castilia, on the remains of an earlier church from 800. The southern portal is in Roman style, the western portal is Baroque, the north side Neoclassical and the ambulatory Gothic.

The cathedral is 97 m long and 22 m high. In 1985, the cathedral was declared UNESCO world heritage. Furthermore, the cathedral is illustrated on the Spanish Euro coins of 1, 2 and 5 cents.

Because there are more cities called “Santiago”, the addition “de Compostela” is often used. The combined name can thus be translated as: “Santiago, also called Compostela”.

Generally, it is said that the nickname comes from “Campus Stallae” (star field) because of the star that, according to legend, appointed the skeleton of James on this place. Another explanation is that the name refers to a graveyard; think about the word “compost”.

Initially, Saint James was only pictured as an old man and an apostle. Before the 12th century, we would therefore see him accompanied by the general apostles attribute: a book. The sword appears too, but first this is merely as a symbol for his decapitation. Later however, the sword represents James’ patronage over warriors, knights and fighting men.

The sword often has the shape of a red cruciform, of which the dagger-shaped transverse arms end in lilies.

Since the late middle ages, the scallop-shell is the principal attribute of James in Christian iconography.

These shells are found along the Galician coast, where they are cultivated. The animals in the shells are a desirable delicacy in Galician restaurants under the name “viera”.

The shell is mostly attached to the hat, cloak or knapsack of James. Being the father of pilgrims, he is also often shown with a staff and a gourd bottle.