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Santiago Apostol Festival

20 July 2022

Honoring Spain’s patron saint with fiery celebrations   

The Camino de Santiago is a year-round activity that captivates thousands of modern-day tourists and faithful pilgrims alike, coming in from all around the world. This pilgrimage, otherwise known as The Way of Saint James, follows the steps of Spain’s patron saint as he made his way to Santiago de Compostela – the burial place of Saint James the Great and the apostle of Jesus Christ. This same city, dedicates an annual festival, whereby the patron saint of Spain and Galicia is honored with particular traditions on a very special night that combines religious and official solemnity, tradition and entertainment- turning the entire city into a massive fiesta: this is the Santiago Apostol Festival!

Bits of History
As far back as 865 AD, St Germain’s text, known as Martyrology, brings up Saint James’ feast day, and it was also on July 25th 1120 that Saint James was given supremacy of the churches in the west of Spain.

Saint James, one of Jesus’ early disciples and apostles, made his way to Spain to preach Christianity during the Moorish occupation, and met his fate shortly after, making him a staple in Christian history and an iconic figure to the Spanish nation.

Time & Place
Starting from the 2nd fortnight in July, the celebrations last up to two weeks of that same month, however there are two main days of festivity: July 24th and 25th (the latter being a public holiday in Galicia).

Santiago de Compostela is the place to be in order to catch this festival, as the entire city is flooded with exhibitions, concerts, drama productions and street entertainments for the whole festivity period. Not to mention the integral role of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – a world heritage site that also houses the burial place of Saint James himself.

The feast day of Saint James is on the 25th of July, but the celebration commences the day before! Join the fun on the night of the 24th of July as the city witnesses an impressive firework display in honor of the Apostle. The fire show coincides with the burning of a large pyrotechnic castle imitating the cathedral’s gothic façade. At midday on the 24th, the cathedral bells ring, heralding the events to come at night. The Plaza del Obradoiro square gets filled with light and magical colors in a spectacle that is sure to transport participants to an out-of-this-world experience.

The cathedral itself gets flooded with projections that bring it to life, as regional dancers and bagpipers parade the vicinity with music galore. The streets of Santiago de Compostela get lined with spectators of the processions of different carnival groups, papier-mâché cabezudos and numerous Galician musicians – all contributing to the dancing, performance, eating and drinking that go well into the next day.

The feast day itself includes many official celebrations and processions, most notably is the official mass attended by representatives of the Galician government and often by members of the Spanish royal family. Foods that are given more emphasis are oysters and scallops, as tradition declares them to ensure a year ahead full of wealth and health. The scallop shell itself is regarded as a symbol of Santiago, becoming a physically symbolic emblem of the different paths to the city, as well as how it ties with the story of how Saint James himself rescued a knight from a sea covered with scallop shells.

The feast day itself includes a major event of the festival, otherwise known as the Botafumeiro. On this occasion, a gigantic incense burner swings down the cathedral aisles in a breathtaking fashion, and almost touches the vaulted ceilings. The handlers of the Botafumeiro, known as Tiraboleiros, manipulate its movements by pulling the attached ropes. The word Botafumeiro is the Galician word for “smoke dispenser”, with the biggest and most famous one being obviously in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Weighing around 80 kg and standing at more than 1.6 meters, it takes the command of 8 people to swing it in full force. The Botafumeiro is swung only 11 days of each year, with the mass of the 25th of July being one of them – this is mostly due to the high cost of incense that it holds, making it an occasional event only.

In addition to the aforementioned scallop beliefs and correlations, other traditional thinking goes into play on this joyous Spanish occasion – this includes the day of the week that the mass falls on. The year July 15th falls on a Sunday and is considered to be a Compostela Holy Year. This takes place in cycles of 6, 5, 6 and 11 years – such as in 1993, 1999, 2004, 2010, and 2021. During these years, the number of pilgrims visiting the city from all over the world multiplies.

July 25th is also considered to be Galicia Day, which is a day of patriotic power, as well as spiritual reinforcement – bringing thousands of Galicians to the center of the city in celebration.

Celebration goes on until the end of July, more specifically the night of the 31st – as another firework display brings an end to the two weeks of marvelous festivities.

Private Camino Tour
You can now arrange your very own private Camino de Santiago Tour with us, as we accompany you with a local guide for 8 days and 7 nights, for a better and safer experience across the many villages and cities – Contact us for more information.

Soak up the extraordinary ambience of the Santiago Apostol Festival in Santiago de Compostela, and don’t miss the opportunity to experience these amazing two weeks with their unique atmosphere!

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