When pilgrims arrive in Santiago, they have certain rituals they perform at the Cathedral.
One is to simply stand out in the giant square and look up at the Cathedral, thankful you have arrived alive after your six week journey. Some pilgrims fall to their knees. Some lie on their backs and just look up. Some sit in a circle of friends. There is back slapping and joyous laughter and often, tears.
Next, in the past, the pilgrim would enter the Cathedral and beneath the Portico de la Gloria (Google it) they would place their fingers in the depressions on the Tree of Jesse pillar. The Portico was created over a twenty year period by the master sculptor, Mateo, who finished it in 1188.
The depressions have been worn into the stone pillar by thousands of pilgrims over the years.
As they touched the pillar, they repeated the prayer or petition that brought them on the pilgrimage to begin with.
Next, they would walk around to the other side of the pillar and would touch their forehead or 'knock heads' with the statue of Mateo three times. This was supposed to give them some of the Master's wisdom!
I have been lucky enough to have done these rituals before the area was roped off to protect it. Pilgrims are no longer allowed to touch the pillar or knock heads with Mateo. They can only stand behind a rope, look and take photos.
After this, the pilgrim gets in line to walk up some ancient stone steps that lead behind the altar to the gilded statue of St James. More New World gold and silver!
Once there, they give him a hug, thanking him for a safe journey. When you are up there hugging the huge statue, you can see the people down on the floor of the cathedral. It's the strangest feeling!
A green light indicates when the entrance is open and a red light marks the exit.
Next, you visit the saint's casket under the floor of the cathedral. Supposedly, the remains of the Apostle James are there. But again, if you Google the history, it's doubtful. Even so, everyone goes to the crypt where his (or someones) relics (bones) are kept in a beautiful silver casket.
Last, you attend a pilgrim mass. If you are lucky you will see the huge botafumeiro (incense burner) swing. I think I have an entire blog post on this a year ago.
You can see Martin Sheen performing these traditions in the movie, The Way, which is worth watching if you haven't seen it.
The statue of St James Matamoros (the Moor Killer) is purposefully covered with flowers on the bottom these days so you can't see the dead Moslems. I've added a photo of what the statue looks like without the flowers. That statue is in a church near the coast. I wonder why they feel they must cover it up? It's a part of their history and everyone knows what's down there?