How is the feast of St James celebrated in Spain?

25th July is the feast of the Apostle St James, patron saint of Santiago de Compostela, who many pilgrims visit and honour when they arrive at Santiago’s Cathedral (where the saint’s remains are believed to be located), after walking the spiritual trails of the Camino Pilgrimage.

Fireworks Santiago de Compostela Saint James Day festival Camino de Santiago tours

Who was St James?

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” – St James

St James, also named James the Greater, and Santiago in Spain, was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. Born in Bethsaida in Galilee, Israel nowadays, he came from a family of fishermen.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, the saint travelled to Zaragoza, Spain, where he preached and spread the word of Jesus.

It is believed that during his time in Spain, he received the apparition of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River, who told him to return to Jerusalem, which he of course did, leading him to his execution after King Herod ordered the persecution of Christians. Pilgrims will be able to find the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in the same spot where the Virgin appeared to St James. 

St James and the Camino pilgrim’s symbol is the scallop shell and he is represented in many different ways, such as riding a white horse in battle, and as a pilgrim with a scallop shell, a staff, and a gourd.

The tomb of St James

According to tradition, the remains of the saint were transported by his followers to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

In the 9th century, a hermit named Pelayo rediscovered the tomb of St James while he was following a bright star which derived on the use of Compostela which means “field of the stars”. Pelayo reported the discovery to the local bishop who declared this place as the burial site of the Apostle.

King Alfonso II ordered the construction of a chapel after the finding of the tomb, which it is believed to be the beginning of the Cathedral of Santiago as we know it today.

St James celebration in Spain

St James feast is celebrated in Spain, specially Santiago de Compostela. This two weeks festivity, starts 10 days before the 25th July and ends on the 31st July, with St James Day being the main day of the event.

St James festivities combine cultural and religious events, with many processions, as well as music and parades taking place during this two-week celebration, where many pilgrims will have the opportunity to not only honour the saint but also learn about Galician culture and history.

Pilgrims who are in Santiago during St James feast, will enjoy many activities, including the celebration of a very special mass on the 25th July to commemorate the life of the Apostle and his martyrdom. On this day, the Botafumeiro is swung through the cathedral. The Botafumeiro is a an impressive ‘censer’ or thurible and one of the most striking rituals at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The firework display on the evening of St James Day and the cathedral bells ring on the 24th July to announce the event are part of this festivity, with the Plaza del Obradoiro full of great and light colours as well as the setting of firework and different projections on the cathedral’s façade.

When St James day falls on a Sunday, is considered a special date, and it is called a “Xacobeo Holy Year.”, which was celebrated last year 2021-2022.

St James feast ends on the 31st July with amazing fireworks which is an emotional moment for Spanish people and all the faithful pilgrims who are in Santiago during this time.


If you wish to walk our Camino tours, talk to our travel experts or check all our upcoming dates for our CAMINO GUIDED TOURS.

See you on your next pilgrimage!

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