Here's the order of things when a pilgrim finally enters the cathedral: you place your hand on the central column of the 'Door of Glory'; then walk around to the back of the column and touch your forehead to that of the statue of the master sculptor - he shares a bit of his genius; next walk to the altar and enter a special door which allows you to climb a few stairs to get right up behind the statue of St. James the Apostle and whisper in his ear the reason you came all this way, or thank him for your safe delivery, or say whatever you think appropriate. You can climb up on one step and put your arms around him, or lay your head on his shoulder. Finally, you climb down and go into the crypt and venerate the relics.
You can no longer place your hand in the handprint or butt heads with the sculpture. We were a little disappointed by that, but I have to say that hugging the Apostle is a very cool and fun thing to do. It can also be a powerful thing.
As for the relics, you don't see the actual relics, just a lovely altar with a silver casket. Whether it's truly James the Apostle cannot be certain. The bones were lost and found in the 900's by a farmer. But the Bishop declared them St. James, and a church was built, and the pilgrimage began.
But visiting the relics was important for me whether I believed or not because without them, there never would have been a Camino.
Hugging the Apostle sure was a lot like idol worship, and I enjoyed looking out over his shoulder at the church and people and whispering in his ear - just like I did to the Nandi statue in India.