Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Getting your Compostela in Santiago

While not necessarily the goal of walking any of the Camino routes, the Compostela - or the official attestation given to any individual or pilgrim who has (as of 2019) walked, hiked, or trekked more than 100 km to the cathedral in Santiago (There are different rules for cyclists). In addition to travelling at least the minimum distance to Santiago, pilgrims must also ensure that they have had their Pilgrim Credential (Credencial del Peregrino) or Passport stamped once per day prior to the last 100 km and twice per day in the final 100 km. Traditionally these stamps are the official seals of Churches, Cathedrals, Monasteries, Convents, and Albergues/Gites/Hostels along the Camino, however they often include stamps from cafes, bars, and hotels along the various Camino Routes. 

The Credential is a small booklet carried by pilgrims on any Camino route, that identifies them as pilgrims on the Way of St. James, gives them access to alburges and which is later inspected to ascertain the distance they have traveled. In St. Jean Pied Port it is picked up at the pilgrim office, however on other routes such as the GR65 you can purchase on in the Cathedral in Le Puy, or in Lisbon you can go to the Se Cathedral to buy yours and get your first stamp. Similarly these passports can obtained in advance by pilgrim organizations such as the Canadian Company of Pilgrims and American Pilgrims on the Camino as well as in many of the churches and cathedrals along the various routes to Santiago. 

Upon arrival to Santiago pilgrims, along with their stamped Pilgrim Credential can visit the Pilgrim Office (found a short distance away from the Cathedral at #33 on Rua Das Carretas) and receive a Compostela which affirms that they have undertaken a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James and which documents the details of your journey including the date, the starting point, and distance completed.

Pilgrim office in Santiago

In our experiences at the Pilgrim Office it has been staffed with wonderfully patient and multilingual individuals who are very helpful. Given the potential for large numbers of people waiting in line, you should expect the wait to take some time. In 2016 we waited for about an hour in line, and in 2019 we waited about two hours. While this might seem a bit cumbersome, we have found that the joy of catching up with those you have met on the Camino and having finished your trek while being surrounded by others who have undertaken similar adventures makes it rather fun. You get to watch people reunite, hear great stories, listen as people recount memories and reminisce, and watch as people begin planning their next Camino. Makes this one of the few line ups in the world that people seem genuinely happy to be and wait in. 

As you get closer to the front of the line, there are screens mounted indicating which tellers are available and detailing what languages they speak. 

Once in the office you approach a volunteer at the main desk, introduce yourself, provide them with your stamped Credential (passport) and answer any questions asked of you. In both 2016 at the conclusion of our trek on the Camino Frances and in 2019 when we completed the Caminho Portuguese we received our Compostela and paid for our Declaration of Distance and tube to carry them home in.

The Compostela

The Compostela itself is a beautiful document, whose appearance has changed over the years.

This document is granted to pilgrims after arriving in Santiago and asserts that they have trekked at least 100 km on foot to the Cathedral. To receive your Compostela, pilgrims must present their personalized Credential with at least 2 stamps per day for the last 100 km hiked, and at least 1 stamp per day for all kilometers trekked before that. Note however that in recent years this distance has come under reconsideration and is likely to soon be increased. 

In addition you can purchase a Certificate of Distance (2 Euros in both 2016 and 2019) and a travel tube for your documents (2 Euro in 2016 and 2 Euros in 2019). 

The Compostela is a wonderful document which we both have treasured since 2016 and our completion of the Camino Frances and will similarly be love our new attestations from the Caminho Portuguese

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