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Walking the Camino: passports, certificates and Compostelas

Pilgrim-Passport-CaminoWays-300x159Most people have a clear idea of why they want to walk the Camino de Santiago: for religious reasons, as a personal spiritual journey, for a healthy challenge or just the social aspect. Whatever your motivation for walking the Camino, make sure you get your ‘Pilgrim Passport’ to get it stamped along the way, documenting your progress.

The Pilgrim Passport

This Camino passport (Credencial del Peregrino) will be proof that you have walked the 100km necessary to obtain your ‘Compostela’ or ‘Certificate’, the official documents testament to your journey. You can get your Pilgrim Passport at the start of your route and you can buy it in many establishments, shops, churches, etc… along the Camino; you can also buy if from your local St James Society. CaminoWays.com has its own ‘Pilgrim Passport’ that walkers can get stamped and take to the Pilgrims Office in Santiago to get their Compostela or certificate of pilgrimage. * From April 2016, we will be providing pilgrims with the credencial issued by Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

If you start your Camino in Galicia you will need to collect at least two stamps per day from churches, town halls or other official establishments on your way to Santiago (at least for the last 100km). If you start from outside Galicia you will only need one stamp per day. Once in Santiago de Compostela, you must show your stamped Pilgrim Passport at the Pilgrims Office to apply for your Compostela certificate and any other pilgrim certificate you might want to receive.

The ‘Compostela’ 

new-compostela-certificate-camino-santiago-caminowaysThe ‘Compostela’ is the original religious certificate written in Latin, expended by the Church when pilgrims prove they have either walked 100km or cycled (or travelled on horseback) 200km to Santiago de Compostela.

Originally, pilgrims used the scallop shell as proof of their pilgrimage but this quickly became a fraudulent practice with many people buying and selling shells. From the 13thI century, the Church introduced a more rigorous system based on letters, the origin of the ‘Compostela’. The ‘Compostela’ was a valuable document: pilgrims used to travel to Santiago in pilgrimage, in many cases as a penance. By getting a certificate showing they had walked to Santiago they could get back home and show they had paid their penance; repented for their sins. Apparently, a roaring trade of forged ‘Compostelas’ also boomed in Santiago in the Middle Ages. The way to Santiago seemed to be paved with good intentions!

For some, walking to Santiago and getting their ‘Compostela’ meant they had secured their reference letter or VIP ticket to heaven: the ‘Compostela’ was considered an important paper, one to show St Peter at the gates of heaven.

In the 16th century, the Catholic Queen and King Fernando and Isabel, created the Foundation of the Royal Hospital and started the construction of a pilgrims Royal Hospital in Santiago, in the building that hosts today the luxurious Hostal dos Reis Católicos Parador hotel. By showing their ‘Compostela’ pilgrims could stay for up to three days. Today, the hotel still provides free meals for three days to 10 pilgrims with their ‘Compostela’.

-Certificate of Welcome

new-welcome-certificate-caminowaysMany things have changed since the Middle Ages. Today, many cycle or walk the Camino for leisure, as a cultural experience and other non-religious reasons but this doesn’t mean you can’t get a certificate as a souvenir of this very special journey. Pilgrims travelling for sport or cultural reasons can obtain a non-religious version of the Compostela, called Certificate of Welcome, also from the Pilgrims Office in Santiago (Rúa do Vilar). The same rule of 100km for walkers and 200km for cyclists and horse riders apply for this certificate.

Both the Compostela and Certificate of Welcome were redesigned in May 2014 and both documents are now written in Latin. Compostelas and certificates are issued to pilgrims, on a donation basis, by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago.

If travelling as part of an organised group, the Pilgrims Office also has a special service, where the names of the group can be submitted by email a few days in advance by the group leader (a special form from the Pilgrims Office must be filled in). Once the group has reached Santiago, the leader can bring the group’s pilgrim passports to the office avoiding queues and receive all the ‘Compostelas’ for the group.

Certificate of Distance – NEW

Another certificate is also available since March 2014: a certificate of distance stating the starting point and distance walked/cycled of each pilgrim, available in many different languages. This can be obtained in addition to the ‘Compostela’ and it costs €3. If you walked the Camino before that date, you can request this certificate by emailing the Pilgrims Office in Santiago.

It might not get you a fast track to heaven but it will be a nice memento of your trip to Santiago!

*Please note in order to receive any of the certificates issued by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago your finishing point must be Santiago de Compostela.

*Take your pilgrim certificate if you are planning on attending pilgrim mass at the cathedral as some pews are reserved exclusively for pilgrims.

*You might also like to read about the pilgrim certificate for those finishing in Fisterra and Muxía: What is the Finisterrana?

*If you need more information or to book your Camino de Santiago holiday, please contact our travel specialists on info@caminoways.com.

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