The Holy Gate of Cathedral of Santiago


Did you know that in the Cathedral of Santiago  there is a gate  that opens only 14 times in a  Century, and to go through it, first it is necessary to demolish a wall with a small hammer? It´s true! It is the Holy Gate and its origin is directly related to the Apostle Santiago   and the phenomenon of the pilgrimage. 800

Photo: – Flickr


This gate is located at the back of the Cathedral, at Plaza de la Quintana. Only opens in Holy Year and this occurs when the 25th of July falls on Sunday, which happens with a cyclic frequency of 6, 5, 6 and 11 years (in Rome, this happens once every 25 years). If it is the case, the gate opens on the 31th of December of the year before to the Holy Year, and it remains open along 12 months. But before it opens it is necessary to do an ancient ritual.

Before anyone can enter or leave through the Holy Door, the Archbishop of Santiago (the head of a procession) uses a hammer to knock three times on the stone wall blocking the door (symbol of the Camino hardness), and asks to the Apostle Santiago  for permission to enter, and then follows by the demolition of the wall. In this video of EFE Agency you can see the ritual.


But…. When did all this tradition start?  Well, we should tell you about two important dates that explain the origin of this tradition in Santiago de Compostela.

On the twelfth century Pope Calixto II instituted the Jacobean Holy Year, as I told you before, the July 25 that falls on Sunday. It would be then that the pilgrims who visit the tomb of the Apostle Santiago would gain the Jubilee or plenary indulgence, in the same way that happened  in Rome (but in this case every 25 years), a right that was confirmed years later by a Papal Bull by Pope Alexander III. These enactments popularized the pilgrimage to the Galician city during the Middle Ages.


Imágenes: Wikipedia

The other relevant date is the period between 1616 to 1661, when the facade of Holy Gate and the Gate itself were built. Since its first opening until nowadays it has had the same “opening hours”. But its original orientation is slightly different from the one  at the beginning to the one we see today. In a first place was oriented to East, with the intention that the pilgrims “see the light” just at the moment they are going through the Gate. That´s why on a Holy Year the pilgrims who arrive to Santiago go through this Gate to go into the Cathedral.


On top of the Holy Gate we can clearly see the figures of St. James dominating the Plaza de la Quintana, who along with his disciples Theodore and Anastasio welcome the travelers. The attached figures represent apostles, prophets and patriarchs, but while the figure of Santiago was expressly made for the gate, these twenty-four figures (which originally were only twelve) are reused figures from the late Romanesque cathedral choir conducted by Maestro Mateo (who also designed the Portico de la Gloria).

Foto: José Antonio Gil Martínez (Wikipedia). Edición: Vojoway

Foto: José Antonio Gil Martínez (Wikipedia). Edición: Vojoway


The Holy Gate of the Cathedral of Santiago is not unique, there are a few more distributed in several Christian churches along several European cities (like the Holy Gate of Vaticano, as an example). Still on the topic and to finish with this post, I would like to tell you a couple of things: Firstly, following the calendar of Holy Years, and knowing that 2010 was the last one, there will not be another Holy Year until 2021, therefore you will have to wait a little bit before you can access the Cathedral through this gate… unless the cabildo of the Cathedral of Santiago decides to open it because of the announcement by Pope Francis that this year will be an extraordinary Holy Year. Secondly, even if this happens, you don´t need to go to Santiago to go through a Holy Gate or to get the Compostela; you could do it at Villafranca del Bierzo, because it has its own Gate, and they can issue the Compostela when is Holy Jubilee Year.

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Header photo: MarisaLR (Wikipedia).
Translation: Elvira Sánchez.


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Sergio De Arriba

Graduado en Historia del Arte, trabajo como Gestor de Contenido Cultural y arquitecto de rutas en VOJO, aunque de vez en cuando también realizo vídeos corporativos e ilustraciones. En este blog mi intención es mostraros el Arte de la forma más atractiva y sencilla posible, alejándome de descripciones complejas pero sin olvidar los métodos científicos que acompañan a la teoría artística.

1 Comment

  1. Albergues camino de Santiago on

    Santiago de Compostela es un sitio muy bonito para visitar. Ya he realizado dos veces el camino de santiago y tengo claro que repetiré!.

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