Once we have taken the trouble to travel the long route to Santiago, it’s only logical wanting to prove that we have accomplished such a feat, and claim the document that demonstrates it: the Compostela. It will be useful also in order to claim a place in the albergues that still offer Christian hospitality. The established way to prove it is the Credencial, a document that we should use to collect the rubber stamps of albergues, bars, restaurants, churches, post offices… even banks or police stations; any rubber stamp is valid, provided it identifies a known place along the Camino.
You must get your Credencial before you start the pilgrimage. You can get it in almost any catholic church nearby, or other places that you will easily find out once there: albergues, pilgrim’s offices, tourism offices… You can also get it through the Confraternities devoted to St. James, or through Associations of Friends of the Camino worldwide.
The official Credencial is printed on pasteboard and it’s accordion-folded in sixteen pages. The first page functions as a cover letter, and should be filled in the distributing place with the pilgrim’s data. There’s a space in the top to be filled with the delivering entity stamp; in the bottom is a space to be filled with the date and the Cathedral stamp once the pilgrimage is accomplished.
The second page contains instructions for the use of the Credencial:
• This Credencial is for the sole use of pilgrims by foot, bicycle or horseback, who wish to make the pilgrimage with a Christian sense, if only in an attitude of spiritual quest. The Credencial has the goal of identifying the pilgrim; that’s why the institutions that represents the pilgrim shall be a parish, a catholic guild, a diocese, a Friends of the Camino association, or any other Christian institution related to the pilgrimage. This Credencial does not give the pilgrim any entitlement. It has two practical finalities: 1) to give access to the albergues that offer Christian hospitality on the Camino, 2) to serve as a pass certificate for requesting the Compostela in the Cathedral of Santiago, the certification of having accomplished the pilgrimage.
• The Compostela is granted only to those who have made the pilgrimage with a Christian sense: devotionis affectu, voti vel pietatis causa (motivated by devotion, vow or piety). Moreover, it’s only granted to those who make the pilgrimage to the Apostle’s tomb for the entire last 100 km by foot or on horseback, the last 200 km on bicycle, or 100 nautical miles and the rest by foot.
• The pilgrim’s Credencial, therefore, can only be issued by the Church through its own institutions (bishopric, parish, guild, etc.) or, in any case, through institutions authorized by the Church. The Compostela shall be granted only by the S.A.M.I. (Saint Apostolic Metropolitan Church) Cathedral of Santiago (as stated in the Seminars on Holy Year, november 1993)
• The albergues that lack any official subsidy should be supported, albeit in their austerity, with the collaboration of the pilgrims (cleaning, facilities maintenance, promote rest, economic help…)
• The organized pilgrimage groups with a support car or by bicycle are requested to search for an alternative lodge other than pilgrim’s shelters.
• The bearer of this Credencial accepts these terms.
The remaining pages contain boxes for putting the rubber stamps along the pilgrimage route. The stamps are usually obtained in the places where the pilgrims are housed, like the albergues, but also in parishes, monasteries, cathedrals, hostels, municipal chambers, and many other places.
Finally, the back of the Credencial shows a series of maps of the Ways to Santiago, and another page with a blessing taken from the Codex Calixtinus, written in the 12th century.
Different Credencial have been issued during years by different entities, always with the license or the Archdiocese of Santiago. More than 25 models of Credencial issued by Friends of the Camino association in Spain and other countries have been considered valid for decades and handed to the pilgrim for free or for a small fee or contribution. But this has, as it seems, come to an end. The Cathedral’s authorities have long wanted to unify the Credencial system, and the Cathedral’s Chapter took a definitive step on November 2015 through the following note:
“After a long dialogue with many of the entities that issue a Credencial, and at the request of several of them, it has been found necessary to address this matter, that is seriously harming the image of the Camino and the pilgrimage.
Currently, we receive more than 25 different models of Credencial, with prices from zero to twenty euros, in some cases. Attempts have been made to even sell them through the internet. The pastoral embracement, the careful attention and the gratuity must be the fundamental aims of our presence in the Camino and in the goal of pilgrimage.
The Cathedral of Santiago’s own registered Credencial must be considered the only valid, with a price for pilgrims that shouldn’t exceed 2 euros. The management of the Credencial must not be done with commercial or venal criteria; the profits that could result from it, necessarily limited for the current model, should always redund in a better service and attention to the pilgrims.
With the aim of avoiding harm to all those entities that are currently issuing Credencial, a moratorium will be granted so that it will be possible to use them until April 1, 2016. From that date on, only the official Credencial issued by the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office will be admitted to grant the Compostela.”
So, be warned: starting from April 1, 2016, the only accepted model of Credencial to claim the Compostela from will be the one issued by the Cathedral of Santiago itself.