Pilgrims Certificate, the Compostela

pilgrimscertificate-compostela-caminowaysFrom the earliest days of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage there was a desire for the completion of the journey to be recognised in some way. Pilgrims used the scallop shell as a symbol of their arrival at the Tomb of St James. However this simple practice was easily debased. Vendors started to sell shells to pilgrims as they entered the city. Due to the prevalence of fraudulent practices the Church had to impose the penalty of excommunication on the perpetrators. From the 13th century onwards documents called “evidential letters” were used as a more effective way of recording a completed pilgrimage. These are the direct roots of the Compostela.

The Compostela was an important and useful document for pilgrims. In the 16th century the Catholic Monarchs constituted the Foundation of the Royal Hospital and ordered the construction of a hospital for pilgrims in Santiago. This was housed in the building now occupied by the Hotel Hostal de los Reyes Católicos . On presentation of their Compostela pilgrims were allowed to stay in the hospital for three days. The hospital looked after pilgrims’ health needs and it became the most important hospital in Galicia. Later in its history it became the centre of the faculty of Medicine of the University of Santiago de Compostela. In 1954 it was converted to a state run Parador hotel. However the hotel continues the tradition of pilgrim hospitality by providing free meals for three days to 10 pilgrims on production of the Compostela.

In the 20th century the growth of pilgrims arriving in Santiago by vehicular transport gave rise to a concern that the aspects of effort and sacrifice previously characteristic of the pilgrimage may be lost or diminished. It was also the case that there was a growth in certificates issued by other bodies which sought to imitate the traditional Compostela. Therefore the Cathedral of Santiago decided that to gain a Compostela a pilgrim had to provide evidence on a credencial that they had walked or travelled on horseback at least the last 100kms of their journey to Santiago and, if travelling by bicycle, the last 200kms. That rule still stands today.

pilgrimscertificate-compostela-passport-caminowaysTo be awarded the Compostela:

  • You need to have made the pilgrimage for religious reasons or for a similar motivation such as a vow.
  • You need to have walked or traveled on horseback at least the last 100kms, or cycled the last 200kms, to arrive at the tomb of the Apostle in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
  • You should collect at least two sellos (stamps) each day on your credencial. This will usually be where you sleep and one other place such as a Church, ayuntamiento, café etc. You must ensure that you do this at least in the last 100 kms from the Cathedral of Santiago if you are walking or on horseback and 200 kms if you are travelling by bicycle.

You may walk the Camino in stages: however if you are walking the last 100kms, or cycling the last 200kms, in stages you must obtain a sello with the date in the place you stopped and obtain another sello with the date from the same place on the day you start again.

Children walking the Camino: Children who have made the pilgrimage with parents, or in a group, and who have an understanding of the religious and spiritual nature of the Camino may also receive a Compostela. However if they are not yet old enough a certificate can be provided which bears the child’s name. In the case of very young children their names can be inscribed on the Compostela of the accompanying adult. If you have any questions about this please ask in the Pilgrims’ Office.

The text of the Compostela
The text of the Compostela is written in Latin and it is the tradition of the Pilgrims’ Office to write the pilgrim’s name in Latin. The translated text is as follows:

“The Chapter of this Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint James, custodian of the seal of Saint James’ Altar, to all faithful and pilgrims who come from everywhere over the world as an act of devotion, under vow or promise to the Apostle’s Tomb, our Patron and Protector of Spain, witnesses in the sight of all who read this document, that: Mr/Mrs/Ms…………………has visited devoutly this Sacred Church in a religious sense (pietatis causa).

Witness whereof I hand this document over to him, authenticated by the seal of this Sacred Church.
Given in Saint James of Compostela on the (day) …… (month) …… A.D. ……”

When is the Pilgrims’ Office open?

Monday to Sunday 9.00 – 21.00 (In summer: from Easter Monday to 31 October).
Monday to Sunday 10.00 – 20.00 (In winter: from 1 November to Easter Sunday). Please note that in winter on Sundays and Festivals the office is closed from 2 – 4pm.
The Pilgrims’ Office is open during these hours every day of the year with the EXCEPTION of Christmas Day – 25 December, and New Year’s Day – 1 January. If you complete your pilgrimage on these days your Compostela can be obtained in the Cathedral.

For more information on any of the Camino de Santiago walking routes please contact one of Travel Specialists.



  1. By Maria

    Hi Carole, we are surprised and disappointed to hear about your experience at the Pilgrims Office in Santiago, it was hopefully just a case of ‘lost in translation’ and we are glad to hear it got sorted in the end and you all got your Compostelas, well done! Although it is no excuse for rudeness, some of the staff at the Pilgrims Office are volunteers and might be under pressure this time of the year. Again, that is no excuse for her behaviour, we recommend you send them an email to let them know about your experience. I hope this helps and congratulations to you and your two daughters!

  2. By Carole Thimidis

    I had a very unsettling happening at the pilgrims office in Santiago. My 2 daughters and I started the Camino in St.Jean de Port, June 12, 2016. Together the 3 of us walked to Santiago, arriving on July 22, 2016. Due to extreme heat it took us longer than expected and in spite of a badly damaged knee, we made it! We went to the Pilgrims office to get our Compestelas. My girls had no problems and were treated well. I drew the dumbest woman alive I think, actually she was barely a girl and could hardly read. I had so many stamps as did my daughters that our original passports issued at the registry office in SJD were full, so at a church we purchased a second one. We had a minimum of 3-4 stamps for each stop. This really stupid woman could not read and refused to even look at my original passport and tried to refuse me my scroll as the second one started in Palais de Rey. All 3 of us tried to explain this to her but she was unable to understand, kept showing me my second passport, saying not enough stamps. My daughter told her we were not leaving until she gave me my scroll, which she grudgingly did but it left a really bad taste in my mouth. Why would they hire a bimbo with the reading ability, the intelligence lower than can be measured? It was a unpleasant ending to a gruelling and otherwise rewarding trek.

  3. By Barry Johnston

    OOPS – correction
    (specifically will NOT recognise those issued by “commercial” bodies)

  4. By Barry Johnston

    Hi – I am walking Leon to Santiago De Compostella next May. I have just read that since about 2007, the Pilgrims Office will only recognise credencial issued by religious authorities (specifically will recognise those issued by “commercial” bodies) to grant a Cmpostela. Are there any issues with the Camino Ways credencial – or should I get one from a church authority?

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