A tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: the Portico de la Gloria (Part 2)

As we announced a couple of days ago, we continue our series of articles specially dedicated to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

After visiting the crypt, we will be fascinated by the masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture: the Portico de la Gloria. It was completed in 1188 by Master Mateo, who dedicated twenty years of his life to sculpt more than 200 figures in granite, giving the atrium of the Cathedral a powerful symbolism.

The entire sculptural ensemble is structured in three large semicircular arches. There are many theories about the iconographic interpretation of the Portico, but according to most experts in the field, the reading of the whole should be sought in the Apocalypse according to St. John, where it says: “(…) the four living and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each having a zither and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”.

The Portico of Glory represents the Heavenly Jerusalem. An important fact to be able to understand it is that at the beginning it was designed without doors. The one we crossed when we entered the Cathedral did not exist, since it corresponds to the baroque façade.The Portico was the entrance door to the Cathedral itself, which gives strength to the theory about the Apocalypse when it says: “your doors will not close with the day, because there will be no night there, and it will bring to it the splendor and treasures of the nations”.

* Central arch: represents the glory as the destiny of the righteous. We see the 24 elders of the Apocalypse at the moment of tuning their instruments. They have a dialoguing attitude among themselves.


Under this arch we observe on both sides a series of small figures representing the righteous, who are seated to the right and left of Christ.

In the center is the majestic figure of a resurrected and crowned Christ.


Surrounding this figure we see the four evangelists with their respective symbols: St. John with the eagle, St. Luke with the winged bull, St. Matthew with the angel and St. Mark with the lion. On the far left of this tympanum appears an angel carrying the column on which Christ was tied and scourged. Next to him, two angels: one with the cross and the other with the crown of thorns. To the right of the tympanum, four more angels with the nails and the lance of martyrdom, the sentence of condemnation and the jar of vinegar, the whips and scourges and the cartouche of the INRI.

* Arch on the left: represents the Jewish people awaiting the arrival of Christ. In the lower archivolt we see several figures among vegetation. In the center, Adam and Eve are represented blessed by the soul of Christ. Between this arch and the central one, two angels with children represent the faithful Hebrews who are led to the glory, which is in the central arch.

* Arch on the right: symbolizes the Final Judgment to which all men will be subjected. In the keystones of the arches appear two heads that are identified as those of Christ and the archangel Saint Michael, who carry cartouches where the destiny of men would be written. To the left of the arch we see the just in the form of children, who are carried by angels in their laps. On the right, the damned are tormented in hell by demons. One of them tries to eat a pie while a snake coils around his neck… another tries to drink in desperation from an upside down wineskin.

More figures of the prophets and apostles appear on the pillars of the Portico. We see the prophets Obadiah and Amos, and to their right two figures who may be Joel and Hosea. To the left of the central arch, four figures representing Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah and Moses.

In the mullion rises the figure of the Apostle Santiago, patron of the Cathedral, occupying a prominent place after Christ and welcoming the pilgrims who approach the temple. To his right, four sculptures representing the apostles St. Peter, St. Paul, St. James and St. John.


Then we find two figures that may belong, the first to St. Andrew or St. Matthew and the second to St. Philip or St. James Alpheus. In the last pillar we see Saint Bartholomew and Saint Thomas.

Under the image of the Apostle Santiago in the mullion, there is a capital with a relief representing the divine nature of Christ through the Trinity. Below it, the tree of Jesse or the human genealogy of Christ. From top to bottom are the figures of Jesse, David, Solomon and Mary. According to a popular tradition, the pilgrims introduce the five fingers of the right hand in this place and pray some type of prayer to obtain indulgences. At the bottom of the column, a figure fights with two lions; it could be a pagan Hercules.


Behind this mullion, kneeling and facing the altar in a devout attitude, Master Mateo represented himself. This sculpture is popularly known as the “santo dos croques” and according to a ritual, pilgrims hit his head with the forehead of the statue to get some of his wisdom.


Walking away from the mullion and a few meters towards the main altar, we can contemplate the upper part of the Portico. Through the rose window we see the representation of an Agnus Dei with the apocalyptic text: “the city needs neither the sun nor the moon to illuminate it, because it is illuminated by the glory of God, and its lamp is the Lamb”.

Messages and expressions taken to the art of stone that have moved thousands of pilgrims of all times since the inauguration of the Camino de Santiago. Would you like to be the next one to live this experience? Contact us and find out more about our tours.

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