Tips for pilgrims: getting “la Compostela”

Almost all pilgrims who make their tour – Camino de Santiago with Pambretours return with unforgettable memories of their experience, but also all of them treasure something very special that attests to having achieved their goal. We refer to “the Compostela”, a credential that identifies us as pilgrims and allows us access to some places of worship or hostels for this purpose.

The Compostela does not grant any kind of special privilege to the pilgrim although it is something very valuable for all of them since it certifies the successful completion of our Camino and our achievements. It can be obtained by doing any of the Jacobean routes, but it is necessary to complete at least 100 km. on foot or on horseback or 200 km. by bicycle.

But why did the ecclesiastical authorities decide to create a credential that would identify authentic pilgrims?

From the moment that pilgrimages to the tomb of the Apostle St. James began to be institutionalized, the need was felt to accredit in some way the completion of the Way of St. James. The first pilgrims used to acquire badges in the shape of scallop shells upon their arrival at the Cathedral; but they were easily forged and for this reason they were replaced by the so-called “letters of proof”, the origin of the current certification.

In the 16th century, the Catholic Monarchs ordered the foundation of the Royal Hospital, which provided free lodging for three days to accredited pilgrims. The main function of the Hospital was to provide health care to pilgrims arriving to Compostela. It soon became the most important hospital in Galicia. In 1954 it was converted into a tourist parador and its name was changed to “Hostal de los Reyes Católicos” but preserving part of the tradition, it continues to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner to the first ten pilgrims who identify themselves by carrying “la Compostela”.

As the Camino de Santiago became more popular, the Archbishopric established certain requirements to obtain the Compostela.

The first of these is, as mentioned above, to accredit having traveled 100 km. on foot or on horseback or 200 km. by bicycle. This accreditation is obtained by showing the Pilgrim’s Credential, where the stamps confirming the completion of the successive stages will be included, and which will be minted in the parishes and hostels of the different municipalities that we will find on our way. For those of us who do the routes on foot, the minimum mileage to obtain it would start in Sarria or Barbadelo in the case of the French Way.

The other condition established by the Church to obtain the Compostela is to go to the tomb of the Apostle for religious reasons. People who complete the Camino de Santiago for reasons other than spiritual ones are given a pilgrim’s certificate.

The Compostela document that accredits us as pilgrims is processed at the Pilgrim’s Office located in Rúa do Vilar, near the Plaza del Obradoiro. It is decorated as a border with oak leaves and vines. In it is written the name of the pilgrim in Latin accompanied by a writing that reads as follows: “The chapter of this Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Metropolitan Church Cathedral of Compostela, custodian of the seal of the altar of Santiago Apostle, so that all the faithful and pilgrims who come from anywhere on earth with an attitude of devotion or because of a vow or promise to the tomb of Santiago, Our Patron and Protector of the Spains, certifies to all who observe this document that: (the name of the pilgrim) has devoutly visited this most sacred Temple with a Christian sense (pietatis causa). In witness whereof I give you the present document countersigned with the seal of this same Holy Church”.

Finally, the document will be signed by the Chapter Secretary of the Church of Compostela.

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