If there is one thing that you can never forget at the hostel and carry with you when you walk the Way to Santiago, that is the Pilgrim’s Credential. This rectangular booklet folded like an accordion is almost essential on the Jacobean route. Packed with stamps, it also makes up one of the favourite souvenirs of lonely walkers or groups, cyclists, sailors and horsemen who do the Way to Santiago. A document as important as the Compostela, to which it gives access once you arrive in Santiago.
The current Pilgrim’s Credential is not too old. In fact, it dates back to 1987, when a Jacobean congress was held in Jaca, led by the main associations of the Way to Santiago. They decided to unify criteria and create a document that represented the traveller throughout his journey. The format chosen was that of a folded sheet of paper. In cardboard, it allows both to put stamps and to show basic information about the route. It has evolved over time, as will be seen below.
Its immediate predecessor were the accreditations issued by different associations, such as the one in Estella, since the 1950s. In any case, the increase in popularity of the Way to Santiago de Compostela and the pressure on the infrastructure caused by the Xacobeo forced them to make the move at the end of the 1980s.
However, before that, there were documents that allowed pilgrims to recognize themselves as such before the authorities. In the early years, after the pilgrimage of Alfonso II, and the rest of the Middle Ages, they were not common, as royal decrees and different laws granted rights to those who went on pilgrimage. In this way, their word prevailed over the rest as long as it was sworn. A question that soon generated abuses. Criminals and merchants made it seem as if they were going to a holy place and took advantage of it. Moreover, since almsgiving was almost immediate, people without resources also resorted to Jacobean fiction. Protection was provided by Knights Templar and Santiaguists.
The laissez-passer can be considered the first predecessors of the Pilgrim’s Credential. They allowed free passage through kingdoms, counties, etc. This was key in a Europe whose states were continually at war with each other. They were also for criminals who had to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to redeem their sins. From the 17th and 18th centuries, letters began to appear certifying the privileges of the pilgrims. Issued by the competent authorities, generally the Church, they made it possible to obtain asylum and food in congregations and hospitals.
Nowadays it is very simple to obtain this document. If you are in Spain, there are associations of friends of the Way to Santiago in many cities and towns. Likewise, the Spanish Correos (Post Office) and the brotherhoods of the Apostle Saint James issue them. Another point of obtaining the Pilgrim’s Credential is the local dioceses. Finally, the hostels usually have them, although it is advisable to confirm this in advance. In this way, you can buy the card the same day you arrive at the departure point.
In the case of wanting to obtain it abroad, the alternatives are very similar. On the one hand, there is the option of looking for an association of friends of the Way to Santiago. It should be noted that their number is much more limited than on Spanish territory, although they are relatively common in European countries. On the other hand, you can choose to get one when you arrive in Spain, especially if you start out on one of the busiest routes such as the French, Northern or Portuguese Way.
In any case, there is an official model of the card, which must be purchased. Its price varies from 50 cents to two euros. There are also alternative designs approved by the cathedral of Compostela. In any case, you must be careful to avoid cheating and paying more than you have to. Jacobean popularity has led to the emergence of alternative credentials, such as the university one promoted by the University of Navarre or a canine for the dogs that make the Way.
The document has a triple function: identification, information and registration. Thus, as an inheritance of the medieval passes, it is the “passport” of the pilgrim. This function allows the data to be easily collected, so that the work of the hosts is made easier. With the increase of security measures, such as the obligation of the hostels to send their records to the Guardia Civil, today the ID card or another element that shows who the traveler is is also required. The data is written on the first page, where the last stamp will also be placed.
Meanwhile, the informative part of the Pilgrim’s Credential is perhaps the most overlooked. On the second page there are the basic rules of conduct, beyond the unwritten ones. These set the minimums for obtaining the Compostela. Thus, you have to walk or ride the last 100 kilometers, cycle the final 200 or sail 100 miles and walk 100 kilometers.
It also certifies access to “Christian hospitality” for the bearer and recalls the religious significance of the Way to Santiago. The credential points out that pilgrims on bicycles or with external support should, in theory, seek alternatives to the Jacobean hostels. It also reminds us of the need to collaborate with sponsors.
It also shows maps of the main routes to Santiago in Spain and abroad. It also contains both prayer and the blessing of the pilgrim. The latter comes from the Codex Calixtinus, the first guide of the Way.
As for its registry function, it is undoubtedly the most colourful. The booklet has many pages intended to be used for stamps. These must be double from the last 100 kilometers. The aim is to show that the Way to Santiago has been done from where it is claimed and to have reliable statistics. In this way the Compostela is obtained with its Latin text. On long routes it is usually enough with a daily one. If you miss a day due to camping in the air or sleeping in a private house is also normally admitted. If you want the certificate of distance, it is advisable to carry a more severe seal. In addition, it is a first-class souvenir.
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