Iglesia de Santiago has a very tall bell tower which can be seen for miles and used to guide pilgrims. We didn’t realise just how massive it was until we drove along the motorway. It dwarfs the houses round it which are three or four storeys high and are quite tall. The square tower has an octagonal bell tower above topped by a lantern, globe and metal cross with a weather vane.
The original building was 12thC and the lower part of these walls survived the major restoration in the 17thC when the church was rebuilt. Entry is through the impressive 13thC south doorway. The two large wooden doors with metal studs have a series of large and small pillars on either side. The smaller pillars have carved heads at the top. Running along the top of the pillars is a carved frieze with animals. There is a Moorish style arch around the top of the doorway with round arches above it. These are carved with figures and animals but the carvings are now becoming eroded. On either side of the doorway are the remains of two full size figures now minus heads. That on the right hand side has a foundation cross carved on the wall above it.
Inside is a small porch with two large doors and then a further set of doors into the church.
It is a massive church but quite dark inside as the only light is from large round topped windows on the north wall of the chancel and two windows in the south wall of the nave. There is a coin operated meter accepting €1 coins for electric lights.
The nave has large bulging wall pillars with a narrow frieze round the top and a very fancy vaulted ceiling of intersecting ribs and circles. A wooden balcony across the back of the nave is supported on a stone archway. This has the organ and some high backed choir stalls.
Our eyes were immediately drawn to the massive carved and gilded reredos which covers all of the east end of the church. Steps lead up to the free standing altar in front of it which has a beaten bronze front. There is a modern large round stone font and a small reading desk on either side. Behind are carved chairs for the priest. On the walls on either side of the chancel are two large chinese vases standing on gilded platforms carved with flowers. On the north wall is a large painting of the Trinity represented by three figures with cherubs at their feet in a carved grey and gilt frame. On the south wall is a small carillon of bells.
The reredos has a host box with pillars supporting a cupola above it. On the left is a carving of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus floating above a church supported by cherubs. To the side is a figure holding a staff and above him are two cherubs holding a large beam of wood. To the right of the host box is a panel with two soldiers about to behead a kneeling figure.
Above the host box is a statue of St James . On either side of him are St Sebastian pierced by arrows and St Roche with his dog. Above is a carving of Christ on the cross with a skull at his feet and MAry and St John on either side. All are surrounded by massive carved pillars, cherubs and decorative carvings, all gilded.
To the left of the chancel is the processional stand with the figure of St James. This has cherubs at the corners.
At the ends of the transepts and at the ends of the nave are more altars with huge gilded reredos. On the back side of the wall pillars are smaller altars and reredos. Carving on the reredos is very detailed but in the poor light it was often difficult to make out the details and see the figures carved on them.
On the north wall is a polychrome carving of St James as a pilgrim with staff and hat. Above is an elaborate gilt canopy with cherubs. On the wall on either side are small scallop shells, the traditional symbol of a pilgrim. To the left is a crucifix. In front is the usual bank of electric candles priced at €20cents. On the south wall is a carved figure of St Bartholomew holding a knife and a book with a similar gilt canopy above him.
The reredos in the north transept and end of the north aisle both have crowned Virgin and child in the centre. A smaller reredos on the a pillar on the north wall has St Anthony of Padua with the Christ Child.
The reredos at the south end of the nave has a small crowned and clothed statue of the Virgin holding a crowned baby Jesus. She is under a heavily carved canopy with a cupola. Above Archangel Michael is killing Satan, represented by a serpent, again under a canopy. On either side are massive carved pillars with cherubs on the top. There are other carved figures standing on gilt bases which include a pilgrim and a bishop.
The reredos at the end of the south transept has a statue of the Virgin MAry with a decorative silver halo under a dove with a sunburst behind it. Above is a statue of St Lawrence holding the gridiron he was martyred on. According to the legend after some time he announced “It is well done. Turn me over!”
It is a very attractive church and is open daily 10.30-2. It is a popular break for walkers on the pilgrim route.