A city around a tomb

traslatio_Padron
The *traslatio* of Saint James, on a stone relief on Padrón’s Municipal Chamber.

Every city has its origin on some cause or pretext: natural or human
resources, stages and crossroads between them; power, oil, harbors…
most of them seem to have been placed by nature itself, arbitrarily.

Compostela, instead, was founded for a different a very particular
reason: the fact of there being buried a man, in a place that had been
previously nothing closer to a city than a derelict necropolis, abandoned in the top of a forested mount called Libredón, with some enigmatic ruins standing out, that were later found to be an early Christian temple. As tradition goes, the remains of the apostle arrived by sea from Jaffa to Iria Flavia, an ancient settlement on the confluence of the rivers Sar and Ulla, and from there to the necropolis on an oxcart, centuries before being discovered by a hermit called Paio on a distant day of the year 813.

Since it was found out that one those ancient tombs was lodging nothing
else than the remains of James, son of Zebedee, the Jesus’ Apostle that
had been beheaded in Jerusalem on 44 AD, the sepulcher has been receiving an unending tribute, and surrounding it were built, first a small shrine, then an inconspicuous monastery and a settlement surrounding it, encouraged by a royal privilege that, in a full feudal era, made a free man of anyone who had remained inside the city for 40 days without being claimed as his vassal by any feudal lord. Many things have happened since, up to the city we know today, surrounding a cathedral that surrounds an ancient tomb. A long —yet relatively short— history, with battles against Vikings, Arabs
and French invaders, a five times centenary university, and the lengthy
litigations to preserve its status as the holiest city in Western
Europe.

sepulcro_apostol_santiagoGIMP
The urn with the apostle’s remains.

Few cities as Compostela can be so sure of the exact reason why they are here and now. And there is it still, the tomb of the Apostle James the Elder, his remains and those of his two faithful companions Athanasius and Theodore within a richly engraved silver urn in the crypt beneath the cathedral’s high altar.

Visiting the tomb of Santiago is one of those inescapable pilgrimage
rituals in Compostela; regardless of any debates about historical
truths, and no matter which one’s own beliefs may be, the sepulcher of Santiago is a spiritual and cultural symbol with a universal value.