Feast of St James, the patron saint of Santiago de Compostela

feast of st james cabezudos parade

When July comes, Santiago de Compostela dresses up to celebrate the feast of St James (“fiesta de Santiago” in Spanish), the patron saint of Santiago, Galicia and of all Spain. If your pilgrimage to the holy city ends by the last two weeks of July, you will have the opportunity to witness one of the most representative and vibrant celebrations.

It is important to know that St James Day is on 25 July and is a public holiday in the Basque Country, Cantabria and Galicia. It means that it is a day off for the general population, schools and most businesses are closed. Most shops are closed but some bakers and food stores may be open. Public transport services generally run to a reduced schedule.

Why is St James the patron of Santiago

Santiago de Compostela, located in northwest Spain, is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Galicia. The name of the city is directly related to St James. According to local legend, the tomb of St James was discovered in 813AD by a shepherd named Pelayo.

When the king of Asturias and Galicia, Alfonso II, found out the news, he undertook the Camino de Santiago. The king followed the Primitive Way (Camino Primitivo) to see with his own eyes the discovery. He ordered a church to be built were the remains of St James were found and declared St James the patron of his empire.

Celebration of St James, the apostle

Celebration of St James cathedral Santiago light show festival

Even though the main days of celebration are the 24th and the 25th of July, different activities and entertainment take place in the city starting in the last fortnight of the month. The sound of the cathedral bells ringing out at noon on the 24th is one of the main acts to announce the big event that will take place at night.

The Plaza del Obradoiro is filled with lights and colours. The cathedral is illuminated by eye-catching multidimensional projections. Also, you can see the setting on fire of an impressive firework castle that represents the cathedral’s facade. At almost the same time, a magnificent fireworks display in honour of the apostle. What a fantastic way to celebrate! Definitely a show that it’s worth seeing.

St James Day windows illuminated

Another important focal point is inside the Santiago cathedral, where you can see the Botafumeiro and the pilgrim mass. It is important to know that this year, due to the restoration work inside the Cathedral, the pilgrim mass is celebrated in San Francisco Church at 12pm. The Botafumeiro ritual is suspended until further notice.

Activities like traditional dances, local music (bagpipes), theatre plays, street shows, passacaglias, giants and bighead parades, concerts and popular night parties are also part of the St James festivity agenda. Another impressive firework display announces the end of the festivity on the 31st of July.

Things to do in Santiago de Compostela during the festivities

feast of st james cabezudos parade

In 2020 the Feast of St James will be celebrated from 17 to 31 July. The Apostle’s festivities bring proposals for all audiences in smaller and safer formats, giving a boost to local and nearby artists, complemented by other more renowned artists to make a program for all audiences.

Circus, music, cinema and humour join the traditional events of these dates: the Torneo de Chave, the Día do Traxe, Gigantes y Cabezudos and the Día de Padrón.

All the activities are free and require a reservation through reservations.gal in order to limit the number of attendees. There may be some changes, so make sure to keep checking the website.

Ending your pilgrimage on St James Day

Pilgrim arriving on St James Day

Some devoted pilgrims walk, cycle or ride a horse on the Camino. They hope to complete their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela just before St James Day, so they can experience this big celebration and to attend all the special services to honour the apostle.

If you want to plan your Camino and to experience this big celebration contact us. Our Camino advisors will be very happy to help you design a tailor-made Camino for you.


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