From the Praza do Obradoiro, climb the two flights of stairs to the main entrance of Santiago's cathedral. Although the facade is baroque, the interior holds one of the finest Romanesque sculptures in the world, the Pórtico de la Gloria. Completed in 1188 by Maestro Mateo, this is the cathedral's original entrance, its three arches carved with figures from the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and purgatory. Below Jesus is a serene St. James, poised on a carved column.
Look carefully and you can see five smooth grooves, formed by the millions of pilgrims who have placed their hands here over the centuries. On the back of the pillar, people, especially students preparing for exams, lean forward to touch foreheads with the likeness of Maestro Mateo in the hope that his genius can be shared. In his bejeweled cloak, St. James presides over the high altar. The stairs behind it are the cathedral's focal point, surrounded by dazzling baroque decoration, sculpture, and drapery. Here, as the grand finale of their spiritual journey, pilgrims embrace St. James and kiss his cloak. In the crypt beneath the altar lie the remains of James and his disciples St. Theodore and St. Athenasius.
A pilgrims' mass is celebrated every day at noon. On special, somewhat unpredictable occasions, the botafumeiro (huge incense burner) is attached to the thick ropes hanging from the ceiling and prepared for a ritual at the end of the pilgrims' mass: as small flames burn inside, eight strong laymen move the ropes to swing the vessel in a massive semicircle across the apse. In earlier centuries, this rite served as an air freshener—by the time pilgrims reached Santiago, they were not, to put it mildly, at their freshest. A botafumeiro and other cathedral treasures are on display in the museums downstairs and next door. On the right (south) side of the nave is the Porta das Praterías (Silversmiths' Door), the only purely Romanesque part of the cathedral's facade. The statues on the portal were cobbled together from parts of the cathedral. The double doorway opens onto the Praza das Praterías, named for the silversmiths' shops that once lined it.