The Credencial: The Pilgrim Passport

Learn the history of the credencial, its significance in the Middle Ages, and how it is used today.

By Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Cathedral of Santiago of Compostela (1075)Regional Government of Galicia

Join us on a journey through the history of the symbols and documents used to prove that pilgrims had successfully completed the pilgrimage to Compostela throughout the centuries.

12th century pilgrims (12th century)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Set clothing

In the 12th century, pilgrims wore a specific type of clothing: a tabard with a cape, a round wide-brimmed hat to protect from the sun and rain, sturdy shoes, a walking staff, and a leather basket or bag adorned with the shell or scallop.

Saint James as a Pilgrim (about 1466–1470) by Master of Jacques of LuxembourgThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Pilgrims used to wear badges sewn onto their clothes and hats, which they had collected from places visited along the way. They served the dual purpose of adorning their belongings, as well as proving that they had made the journey. They can be considered reproductions of the wax mark seals of religious establishments.

The scallop or venera, Jacobean attribute par excellence (2021)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The scallop is the classic Jacobean symbol. Pilgrims completing the Camino received it as a certificate of their pilgrimage, guaranteeing that they would receive help and other privileges. The perforations near the top confirm that they were used as a badge.

Gifts and accreditations (1498)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Pilgrimage accreditation

Accreditation has been performed in several different ways over the centuries. The image shows two examples of this: a knight gives his shield to the Apostle and a pilgrim shows his accreditation containing wax seals.

Evidence letters (1501)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Evidentiary letter to redeem convictions

Pilgrims doing the Camino to redeem themselves of sentences imposed by the authorities needed to return to their place of origin with a recognized document certifying that they had successfully completed the pilgrimage. This document was known as an evidentiary letter.

Safe conduct for the trip (18th century) by Pedro Francisco Suarez de GóngoraSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Safe passage to Santiago, the predecessor to the Credencial

In 1775, Pedro Francisco Suarez de Góngora, the Spanish Ambassador to Lisbon, asked the Galician authorities to facilitate the transit of José Antonio Martínez. He carried a passport signed and stamped by the Embassy in Lisbon.

Compostela makes its way (16th century) by Bonifacio de Almonacir, Cardenal Mayor, Santiago de CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The history of the Compostela

The Compostela is the document certifying successful completion of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It is issued by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It came about in the 16th century due to the need to provide pilgrims arriving in the city with a document allowing them to be admitted to places such as the Royal Hospital of Santiago.
>

La Compostela goes to press (16th Century) by the Cathedral of Santiago of CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Little by little, the Compostela began to be used to access all types of accommodation along the Way. At the same time, it became a meaningful and cherished certificate of the pilgrimage itself.

Compostela becomes widespread (17th century) by the Cathedral of Santiago of CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

With the decline of pilgrimages in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Compostela began to be used less and less, but it continued to be of great use along the Way, where those who showed it on their return from Santiago were looked after.

Despite the decline, compostela endures (1785-1797-1801) by The Cathedral of Santiago of CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Throughout the 19th century, the Compostela cemented its role as a certificate for the pilgrimage and lost its initial objective of providing safe passage to albergues and hospitals.

A new beginning (1976) by Manuel Troitiño, Chapter Secretary of the Cathedral of Santiago de CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The pilgrimage practically disappeared for a large part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. The more modest certification contrasted with the wealth displayed in previous centuries.

Jubilee announcement (17th century) by The Cathedral of Santiago of CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Holy Years

The announcement of the 1666 Jubilee makes two things clear: Santiago is the only patron saint of Spain and the graces granted are the same as if loyal, confessing, remorseful Christians visited the churches in Rome during the Jubilee Holy Year.

Jubilee Proclamation (18th century) by The Cathedral of Santiago of CompostelaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Although a decline in pilgrims was already evident, the announcement of the 1717 Jubilee in honor of St. James, sole patron saint and protector of Spain, meant there were similar numbers to the century before.

Credencial of the Ministry of Information and Tourism (1971) by Ministry of Information and Tourism of SpainSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Revival of the pilgrimage.

Due to the initiatives of pioneers, such as Elías Valiña and Francisco Beruete, the successive holy years and the joint work of religious and civil institutions, the pilgrimage experienced a kind of renaissance. The 1971 credencial attempts to capture the new spirit of the Way. Image shows the Credencial from the Information and Tourism Ministry.

Pilgrim's First Official Credencial (1989) by Association of Friends of the Camino de Santiago de PalenciaSpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The boom experienced by the pilgrimage in the last few decades has made stamping the credencial an almost essential requirement for pilgrimages, the vast amount of whom nowadays are walkers. Image shows the first official credencial of the Spanish Federation.

Credencial of a pilgrim (1985)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Although the first official credencial was issued by the Spanish Federation, in 1960 the Estella Friends of the Way Association (Asociación de Amigos del Camino de Estella) was the first to issue a credencial in Spain, similar to the one issued by the French Friends of the Way Association of Paris (Societé Française des Amis de Saint Jacques de Compostelle de París) in 1958.

Credits: Story

Federación Española de Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago
www.caminosantiago.org
Pilar de Luis Domínguez
caminodesantiagoestella@gmail.com
Román Felones, Carmen Jusué y Francisco Javier Villanueva

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
¡Buen Camino!
Join Europe's iconic pilgrimage routes along the Camino de Santiago.
View theme
Google apps