How it Works:
Documenting Your Camino
This page covers what you need to know about documenting your Camino journey. You will want to know about two important pilgrim items:
The Compostela is the certificate issued by the Catholic Church that acknowledges that a pilgrim has completed the Church’s requirement for making the pilgrimage to Santiago. Specifically, to qualify to receive the Compostela, a pilgrim must walk at least the last 100 kilometers into Santiago, or cycle at least the last 200 kilometers into Santiago.
The 100 kilometers can be on any of the several Camino routes, but they must be the last 100 kilometers of the route that bring a pilgrim to the Cathedral in Santiago.
The other requirement to receive the Compostela is that when asked the purpose of one’s pilgrimage, the answer must be for religious or spiritual reasons. Someone completing the journey for cultural or recreational reasons will receive a different certificate which acknowledges their journey, just not as a pilgrimage.
In order to receive the Compostela, the pilgrim presents the Credencial, or Pilgrim’s Passport, to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago. There is no cost for the Compostela, although donations are gladly accepted. You can get a document tube to protect your Compostela for €1, available at the Pilgrim’s Office and shops in the area.
When you begin your Camino journey, and each day when you check-in to your albergue or other accommodations, you will present your Credencial as evidence that you are a pilgrim on the road to Santiago. Your host, or Hospitalero, will stamp your Credencial with a rubber stamp, or sello, unique to that property, and write in the date.
Sellos are also available along the trail at churches and Cathedrals, bars and cafes, and sometimes at roadside stands. Nearly every establishment that serves pilgrims along the Camino has its own unique stamp.
To properly document your journey by the Church’s requirements, you will need to collect one stamp per day in your Credencial. Usually that will be received from the place you sleep. You can, of course, collect as many stamps as you like, and fill up as many Credenciales as you like. See below for where to get your Credencial.
Once you reach the point on the trail that is 100 kilometers from Santiago, you will need to collect two stamps per day in your Credencial. For the Camino Francés, that means that from Sarria to Santiago, you need to collect two stamps per day.
The specific instructions from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago state that for the last 100 kilometers into Santiago you need one stamp from where you start walking each day, and one stamp from where you finish walking each day. This is especially important if you are walking just the last 100 kilometers to meet just the minimum requirement for the Compostela.
Some people will argue that if you have started farther away from Santiago, then you don’t need two stamps per day from Sarria onwards. In practice, that is likely to be true, as the person issuing your Compostela may not take the time to look at every stamp in your Credencial. Nonetheless, taking the words from the Pilgrim’s Office verbatim, you need two stamps per day for the final 100 kilometers into Santiago.
There is one more important requirement if you intend to receive the Compostela when you reach Santiago: You need to be sure that your Credencial is an ‘official’ one. The official Credenciales are issued by specific organizations and associations, such as your country’s official pilgrim association or confraternity.
The official Credenciales are also available along the Camino trail in the following places:
- The Pilgrim’s Office in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France
- Most municipal-run albergues, including the one in Roncesvalles, Spain
- Cathedrals in the major cities of Pamplona, Burgos, and León
- The shop ‘Caminoteca’ in Pamplona (run by former pilgrims and the source of everything a pilgrim might need)
Some Tips for Getting Your Credencial
If you order your Credencial from the American Pilgrims on the Camino, it will come with your name pre-printed on the inside! (Possibly the case with other associations, too; I just don’t have any personal knowledge of that.)
Be sure to allow enough time between ordering your Credencial and your departure date. Six weeks is a safe bet.
If your county’s association offers the Credencial for free, consider making a donation to contribute to the extensive work they do to support pilgrims and the infrastructure of the Camino.
As soon as you get your Credencial, the next step is to write in it your name, starting place and date, and your email address and/or phone number. With this information, if your Credencial is lost or left behind, the kind person who finds it will be able to return it to you. Heartbreak, prevented.