The city of Santiago de Compostela was built around what tradition holds to be the sepulchre of James the Apostle. At the beginning of the IX century, bishop Teodomiro, from nearby Iria Flavia, came across a Roman mausoleum in a remote, forested area of his bishopric, which he believed to contain the remains of the Saint. This event is called “the Invention of the Apostle´s body…”, from the Latin word “invenire”, this is, “to come by”. A church was built around the mausoleum, which eventually would become a large cathedral (watch the awesome flight of the botafumeiro, its grandiose incenser), and a city grew around the church. Therefore, Santiago is a city built around a skeleton. Pilgrims from all over Europe started to flock to the city, attracted by the relic, and by the XII century Santiago de Compostela had become the third most important pilgrimage destination in the Christian wold, just behind Jerusalem and Rome.
A French traveller of the time, Aymeric Picaud, wrote in latin what might be considered the first travel guide ever, the Codex Calixtinus, advising travellers about what was to be encountered throughout the trail in terms of lodging, food, and local people. The city was then a cosmopolitan place, wealthy and bustling with trade and crafts. A small Jewish community flourished, although there is no record of a local synagogue. There also was a large French population, mostly masons and stonecutters working at the cathedral construction site; the Rua do Franco, or Street of the Franks, crosses the area in which they dwelt. Relations between the Bishop, feudal lord of the city, and the flourishing merchantile bourgeoisie eventually grew tense, leading to some of the earliest revolutionary freedom riots in medieval Europe. The Saint James trail became an artery of communication of ideas and artistic forms. Thus, trobadours coming from Provence introduced to the city and surroundings lyric poetry, which fourished in the form of the “cantigas” (listen to a cantiga here), beautiful simple love songs in the local Galician-Portuguese language. In 1499, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille commissioned a grand hospital to tend to the pilgrims (today converted to a luxurious hotel by the cathedral). However, times were a changing and the Renaissance, with new religious, intellectual and political habits, marked a decline of the pilgrimages. Bishop Alonso III de Fonseca, a man of his time, who corresponded with Erasmus of Rotterdam, cleverly realized of this and established the Santiago Alfeo college. Thus, from the first years of the XVI century onwards, Santiago slowly mutated from a holy city to a university city.
The Santiago Alfeo, San Jerónimo and San Clemente colleges are still part of the university, while San Patricio college, erected to tend to Irish catholic students fleeing their homeland, and to annoy the English, has disappeared. Within the university, the Medical School, started in 1649, has been particularly relevant. It is there, for example, that Darwin´s evolutionary theories, were first discussed and taught in Spain.
More recently, the city has undergone a third mutation, as it became the administrative regional capital of Galicia, a center of services and home of technological university spin-off companies. A recent revival of the pilgrimage trail, now attracting travellers from all over the world, has brought back the cosmopolitan character of the medieval city. Nowadays pilgrims and travellers, clergy, professors and students, and townies known as “picheleiros” (from the characteristic local tin pitchers or “picheis”) mingle together among the venerable stones, under the ever present Santiago rain.