A major pilgrimage center and bishopric (later archbishopric) in Galicia (northwestern Spain). The church of Compostela was built over the relics of the apostle St. James (Sp. Santiago), which were discovered at the beginning of the reign of King Alfonso II of Leôn (791-842).
Compostela became the site of a bishopric and, from 1124 onward, an archbishopric, ranking alongside the other Iberian provinces of Toledo, Tarragona, and Braga. The reputation of the sanctuary soon drew a growing number of pilgrims, and by the twelfth century Compostela was one of the three major places of pilgrimage in Latin Christendom, alongside Rome and Jerusalem.
Santiago de Compostela is linked to the European crusading movement in four ways. First, St. James became an active agent of the Spanish Reconquista (reconquest of the peninsula from the Muslims) in the shape of Santiago Mata- moros (St. James, slayer of Muslims), an iconographic model that associated the apostle directly with the war against the Muslims on the Iberian Peninsula. A series of extant paintings and sculptures show the saint as an armed and mounted pilgrim, trampling beaten Muslims underfoot. Consequently, Santiago also became the patron saint of the His- pano-American conquest, as illustrated in a number of place-names, such as Santiago de Chile and Santiago de Cuba. However, one must bear in mind that the figure of Santiago Matamoros only came into appearance at the middle of the twelfth century. During the High Middle Ages—the heyday of crusading—St. James was depicted as a pilgrim, not a fighter. Second, St. James was the patron saint of one of the major military religious orders of the Middle Ages, the Order of Santiago. This was, however, due to the personal relations between Pedro Gudesteiz, archbishop of Santiago deCompostela, and the first members of the confraternity from which the order originated. Nevertheless, the Order of Santiago remained closely tied to its saintly protector in iconography, liturgy, and the like. Third, Santiago de Compostela played an important role in the diffusion of the idea of crusading in the Iberian Peninsula. In the famous Historia Compostelana, Diego Gelmirez, archbishop of Santiago, transcribed a letter he wrote in 1125, in the days of his legation in the metropolitan provinces of Mérida and Braga, in order to convince fighters from the entire Iberian Peninsula to take arms in the name of Christ in order to open a road through al-Andalus that would lead to Jerusalem. The prelate clearly intended to associate the struggles of his compatriots with the crusade, and judging from the careful spreading of the letter, it seems the speech, however new it might have sounded in the kingdom of Castile, soon became familiar to most. Finally, one can discern direct contacts between the see of Santiago de Compostela and that of Jerusalem in the first decades of the twelfth century, which led to the establishment of confraternal ties between the two communities and mutual visits.