Four stages can be described here, archaeologically recognizable, in a sequence in which a pagan mausoleum becomes a paleo-Christian necropolis, according to a dynamic process that is established over two centuries.
The first is the phase of pre-Christian Roman Mausoleum, between the beginning and the middle of the first century. It is the funerary pantheon of the Hispanic-Roman noblewoman “Atia Moeta” and her family, as the sepulchral title of the mausoleum writes (which we will see in more detail later). From a certain chronological moment, it accepts the burial of an emblematic person compatible with the Apostle Santiago.
The second is the Christianization phase and the beginning of the sepulchral cult, in the beginning and middle of the second century. The tombs of the characters identified as the apostle James the Greater and his disciples Athanasius and Theodore, come to occupy the priority of the mausoleum and is placed in the preferred place of the edículo, and in its upper part of it an altar is installed where They are worshiped, altar that conforms from which was the initial sepulchral title mentioned. That is, what was a private mausoleum, becomes a Christian temple of collective worship.
It follows a phase of Concealment between the middle and end of the second century. As a measure of security, protection and defense, the edícule is covered by a vaulted wall of masonry, and even by the construction of a retaining wall of the land aligned with the mausoleum, it causes the concealment underground part or all The building, which generates the proliferation, spontaneous or provoked, of abundant vegetation that leaves buried the whole.
Finally a phase of paleo-Christian necropolis. At the end of the second century the first tombs emerge and from the third century Christian burials continue until the seventh century, when they are suspended due to depopulation (famine, diseases), which undermines local activity and immerses the place within A thick vegetation and consequent “oblivion” where it remained hidden for centuries until the moment of its discovery and popularization. Roman burials follow first, then sueva and medieval after, where it surprises the existence of common elements that speak of a common cult that is transmitted:
1º all the graves are oriented with the headwaters to the west and the feet to the east.
2º all are of burial, without vestige of cinerary deposits (common in other old funerary modes).
3º absence of pagan symbols and utensils: useful metallic ornamental pieces, coins or funeral gear.
4º the corpses lie stretched in the supine position, crossing hands over the abdomen.
The convergence of these data, systematic throughout the centuries, suggests a Christian origin of the necropolis, since the oldest graves.
The convergence of the data of the edícule and its surroundings, now under the floor of the cathedral, converge in a paleo-Christian cult centered on the veneration of an emblematic personage from the century I. How can we explain a Christian cemetery in the ancient Galicia?.
As Kirchsbaum pointed out in Rome, it is strange that despite the duration of the critical work and the growth of the opposition, no one has succeeded in giving a satisfactory explanation of the compostelan phenomenon, other than that of the essential nucleus of the Tradition.