For many people who choose to follow the Portuguese Camino de Santiago de Compostela, it’s important to qualify for the official certificate issued by the cathedral authorities to prove and recognise their accomplishment. This is called a Compostela and to get one, you will need a pilgrim passport, also known as a credencial, as evidence of your journey.
What is the pilgrim passport?
Simply put, the pilgrim passport in its current form is a folded card with your personal details written in the front, which you use to record your journey to Santiago de Compostela. In order to qualify for the Compostela certificate, you need to show that you have walked at least the final 100 km, or cycled the last 200 km.
If you are staying in pilgrim hostels (albergues), you may be asked to show your pilgrim passport to qualify for a bed. This practice dates back hundreds of years, when pilgrims carried scallop shells to identify their status and purpose and were dependent on the charity and hospitality of others on the Camino. Of course, the scallop shell system was open to abuse and was soon replaced by more sophisticated documentation which evolved into the credencial we use today.
How does the pilgrim passport work?
Once you have obtained your credencial document – we supply these to our clients – you can ask for a stamp, or selo/sello, from various establishments along your Portuguese Camino de Santiago. Typically, these will be your accommodations, churches and cathedrals you pass as well as pilgrim-friendly cafés and restaurants.
Many of these stamps have attractive and unique designs so that by the time you reach Santiago de Compostela, your pilgrim passport will be filled with colourful stamps that not only prove to the authorities where you were but also serve as a very personal souvenir of your experience.
To prove that you didn’t just hop on a bus or grab a taxi between accommodations, you need to collect at least 2 stamps per day for the last 100 kms on foot or 200 kms by bike, ideally not just at the start and end point of the stage.
For earlier days on the Camino, it’s only necessary to collect one stamp per day, although there’s nothing to stop you asking for others.
What to do with your pilgrim passport when you reach Santiago
Assuming you have gathered enough stamps to meet the requirements, once you’ve recovered from whatever emotions you experience upon your arrival at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, it’s time to make your achievement official.
Make your way to the Pilgrim’s Reception Office on Rúa das Carretas, which is accessed from Praza do Obradorio via Rúa Costa do Cristo, and present your completed credencial. Be sure to list your reason for undertaking the Camino as either religious or spiritual otherwise you will not get the full Compostela certificate.
The official will do their best to find a Latin version of your name to write on this beautiful and precious document.
The Pilgrim’s Reception office is open from Monday to Sunday from 8.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m from 1st April to 30th October. In winter, i.e. November to the end of March (except Easter), the hours are 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
Note that it is closed on Christmas Day, 25th December, and New Year’s Day, 1st January so if you need to claim your Compostela on these days, you can do so in the cathedral.
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