The 'botafumeiro'. Pilgrim's mass at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
The festivities celebrated in honour of the patron saint of Spain and Galicia reach their peak during what is known as the Apostle's Fires, the offering to the Saint and the exciting ceremony when the 'botafumeiro' or giant incense burner is swung through the cathedral.
According to legend, it was the discovery of the remains of Saint James the Apostle that led to the creation of the Galician capital. Santiago de Compostela would soon become a holy city on a par with Jerusalem and Rome, as well as a site of pilgrimage that eventually gave rise to the Way of Saint James, which nowadays has World Heritage status.
The feast day of Saint James is 25 July, but the festivities start some ten days earlier with the presentation of a full programme of exhibitions, theatre performances, street theatre and concerts. At midday on 24 July, the cathedral bells ring out to herald the event that will occur that night. The Plaza del Obradoiro square is filled with light and colour in a spectacle that transports visitors to a magical world. The most spectacular feature is the multidimensional projections on the cathedral itself, which appear to bring it to life. Another tradition is to set fire to a firework castle representing the cathedral's façade. Regional dances and bagpipes are also part of the festivities. Concerts and open-air celebrations invade every part of the city to celebrate Saint James's Day. Inside the cathedral you can see the offering to the Saint and the Botafumeiro, a large ceremonial incense burner that is swung vigorously over the lesser crossing, filling the cathedral with the scent of incense.
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