Pilgrims prepared Thursday to kick off a Holy Year in the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. A pilgrimage there is believed to be granted remission for their sins.
A Holy Year is held whenever July 25, the name day of St. James the Apostle whose remains are believed to lie in the northern city's imposing cathedral, falls on a Sunday, as it does in 2010.
The chime of the city's over one thousand bells rang out to mark the start of the Holy Year, followed by the reading of a message from Pope Benedict XVI by Apostolic Nuncio to Spain, Archbishop Renzo Fratini, at a ceremony held at the cathedral.
"With this solemn act, a special period of grace and forgiveness opens, a personal opportunity for the faithful to reflect on their genuine dedication to the sanctity of life," the pontiff said in his message.
At midnight a fireworks and light show will be held at the Praza do Obradoiro, the majestic square in front of the cathedral which is the focal point for the tens of thousand of pilgrims who arrive in the city each year.
Pilgrims who have travelled at least 100 kilometres (62 miles) on foot or 200 kilometres by bicycle or horseback obtain the "compostela", the Latin certificate confirming they have completed a pilgrimage to the cathedral.
Indulgences, or remission of sins, are granted to those who complete the "Camino de Santiago", or "The Way", as the pilgrim route is known.
Many who make the journey still wear the traditional garb of cape, long staff and carling felt cap adorned with scallop shells, the symbol of the saint which can be found all over the city.
Special festivities are held throughout a Holy Year and the number of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela increases sharply. The Spanish government has invited the pope to visit the city in 2010.
The last Holy Year was in 2004 and it attracted six million visitors to Santiago de Compostela, which during the Middle Ages was Christendom's third most important place of pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome.
Officials predict around 10 million people will visit the city in 2010. The next Holy Year will be in 2021.
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the northeastern autonomous community of Galicia, a coastal region of coves, caves and inlets that is one of Spain's poorest. It is a a UNESCO World Heritage Site.