The wonders of the Jacobean treasury

Find a selection of the most representative pieces belonging to the Treasury and Reliquary of the Museum of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

Fachada del ObradoiroThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela houses the remains of the apostle St. James, an important attraction for the faithful that led the temple to become one of the main pilgrimage centres of Christianity.

Since its origins in medieval times, the cathedral has gathered a large collection of relics, as well as pieces of great material and spiritual value. Over time, these contributed to increasing its wealth, and today, they are exhibited in the Reliquary and Treasury areas of the Cathedral Museum.

Reliquary bust of Santiago Alfeo (1332) by Attributed to Rodrigo EánsThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Reliquary

In the Middle Ages, the cult of relics was especially important; the significance of a cathedral depended on their quality and quantity. The cathedral of Compostela has, since then, an outstanding collection, for which important artistic pieces were made to serve as containers and exhibitors of these relics.

This altarpiece contains the reliquaries, objects intended to contain the relics, which are essential for worship. This type of reliquary altarpieces had a great impulse during the Baroque period, a style to which the original altarpiece from Compostela, lost in a fire in 1921, would have belonged.

Pilgrim Santiago from Geoffroy Coquatrix (Circa 1321) by Parisian Royal workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The relics of St. James

The remains of St. James the Apostle are not only preserved in the Apostolic Urn. In addition, various relics are associated with him. This reliquary, from medieval times, is the first that seeks to represent him as a pilgrim, giving rise to a new iconography.

This iconography has its culmination in this piece, from 1890. Made in silver, it was commissioned when the remains of the apostle were found. These had been hidden in the altar to protect them from a possible attack by the English pirate Francis Drake.

Reliquary bust of Santiago Alfeo (1332) by Attributed to Rodrigo EánsThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Given the belief that the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela housed the entire body of the Apostle James, the arrival of the relic of a head attributed to him caused confusion. Finally, this was put in relation to Santiago the Lesser, becoming a piece of great devotion.

Santiago and Beatus Franco of Siena's pilgrim staff reliquary (Columna: último cuarto del siglo XII / Column: last quarter of the 12th century Imagen de Santiago: segunda mitad del siglo XV/ Santiago's image: second half of the 15th century) by Anonymus from Santiago de CompostelaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

However, not only remains of the body of the apostle James are preserved, but also objects, such as the staff contained in this column, which would have been found next to him in his tomb. This type of relics, called contact relics, were common in the cult of the saints.

Reliquary arm of San Cristobal (1573) by Juan de ArfeThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Relics of other saints

But the cathedral also houses relics of other saints. Among them the reliquary that contains the arm of Saint Christopher is particularly interesting, since it adopts the shape of the part of the body that it houses. This type of reliquary is known as a talking reliquary.

This piece was commissioned in gratitude to Saint Barbara for her protection from a lightning strike in the cathedral in 1731. Saint Barbara is considered a protector against storms, something established in the popular tradition, as it is said that people remember the saint when it thunders.

Santiago Matamoros from the Duchess of Aveiro (1677) by Roman workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Treasury

The Treasury of the Cathedral was of special importance from the origins of the cult to Santiago, especially due to the support of the monarchy and the rapid development of pilgrimages.

The Treasury of the Cathedral of Santiago is an essential sample of the sumptuary arts from the Middle Ages to contemporary times and, also, memory of many characters who showed their devotion to Santiago and pilgrimaged to his Tomb.

Cape (1704) by Juan de FigueroaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The presence of Santiago in the Treasury

In the Treasury, Santiago continues to be the main protagonist. This piece is a short cloak, an attribute of the pilgrim, made to be placed over the image of the saint on the main altar. Today, the original piece is in the museum, since it was removed due to wear and tear.

Santiago Matamoros from the Duchess of Aveiro (1677) by Roman workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

During the Baroque period, the image of Santiago Matamoros spread, an iconography that did not exist until then. This is the one represented in this silver piece, an example of the many pilgrimage offerings that the cathedral received throughout the 17th century.

Pilgrim Santiago (1919) by Enrique MayerThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

However, the most representative image for Compostela is that of Santiago on pilgrimage. This is the one chosen by Enrique Mayer for this piece, in which the main protagonist is jet. It was his father who, at the end of the 19th century, revived the art of jet in Compostela, a tradition of the city that had practically disappeared.

Ordoño's rood (h. 1060-1063) by Rhenish workshop active in the Leonese courtThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Medieval crosses

Another type of pieces found in the Treasury are medieval crosses. The cathedral would have had a rich collection, although only some have survived to the present day. This example is a Lignum Crucis, since it contains a fragment of the cross of Christ.

Calyx of Archbishop Monroy (End of XVII century) by Roman workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Objects of a liturgical and ceremonial nature

Objects that would have been used in the liturgy are also included, highlighting the relevance of the chalices. An example of this is this piece from the time of Archbishop Monroy, who gave a great impulse to the baroque in the cathedral of Compostela.

Processional custodia (1539-1545 and 1573) by Antonio de ArfeThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Processional monstrances were one of the most coveted pieces by cathedrals as a symbol of prestige. For this purpose, this one was commissioned by Archbishop Fonseca in 1539. It should be noted that it is not only exhibited in the museum, but it is still taken out in procession on the feast of Corpus Christi.

Hammer of the Holy Door (2010) by Fernando MayerThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

According to the rite of opening the Holy Door, the Archbishop of Santiago has to strike the door three times with a ceremonial hammer. This was the one used in the Holy Year of 2010.

Puerta Santa cerradaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The opening ceremony of the Holy Door in the Cathedral has no clear origins. It was probably modeled after the one performed since the 16th century at the Holy Door in Rome, in which the Jubilee year began with the opening of the Door and ended with its closing.

Credits: Story

An initiative by The Catedral de Santiago Foundation.                    

Direction: Ramón Yzquierdo Peiró.
Texts: Nuria Sobral Estévez and Celia Vila Fernández.
Images: The Catedral de Santiago Foundation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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