This last week I received an essential item for my pilgrimage – the “Credencial del Peregrino,” or Pilgrim Passport. This small, accordian-folded document is the record that pilgrims carry to authenticate that they are bona fide peregrinos (pilgrims) and that they have walked (or cycled) the required distance on the Camino to qualify for issuance of a Compostela (more on this, below).
Progress along the Camino is authenticated in the Credencial by small, colorful, rubber stamps (sellos) that pilgrims collect as they progress along. The stamps are issued by any number of sources including albergues (pilgrim hostels), churches, hotels, town halls, bars, restaurants, etc. and pilgrims are instructed to have their Credencial stamped at least once a day (twice a day during the final 100 km of the Camino).
While not required for walking on the Camino, the Credencial does serve two significant and important purposes. First of all, it verifies your status as a pilgrim. This is important since only pilgrims possessing a Credencial are eligible to access the large network of albergues found along the entire route and to purchase inexpensive dinners from local restaurants and bars offering special pilgrim’s menus. These albergues provide cut-rate, but very basic, overnight accommodations for pilgrims.
Secondly, the Credencial serves as the necessary documentation proving to the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office in Santiago that you have actually walked the Camino and are authorized to receive the official document of completion (in Latin and suitable for framing) – the Compostela. The Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, run by the Cathedral church in Santiago, will issue a Compostela to any pilgrim who has a valid, stamped Credential showing that he/she has walked at least 100 km (or cycled at least 200 km) to reach Santiago. The rubber stamps collected in your Credencial document this fact for them.
And finally, the Credencial becomes a wonderful souvenir record, colorfully documenting your time on the Camino. So, delivery of my official (though still blank) Credencial is a big deal for me. I hope, one day soon, to have it completed, framed, and on display in my home office in San Diego.