The pilgrim’s passport or credential (credencial del peregrino) is a small folded document which functions as a record of the places passed through on the way to Santiago and authenticates the progress. You can obtain your pilgrim credentials in the main village albergue at your starting point. For example, you can register as a pilgrim and get your credential passport at the albergues or churches in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Ponferrada or other places along the way. Sometimes there is a charge ranging from a few Euros to an unspecified donation.
You do not have to be catholic to walk the Camino or get your pilgrim credentials. When you register, you will be asked to designate the purpose of your pilgrimage as religious, spiritual or cultural. If you indicate any purpose other than religious (doing the pilgrimage with a Christian meaning –”devotionis affectu, voti vel pietatis causa”), you receive a different style and color completion document in Santiago.
If you want to have your credentials before you arrive at the Camino, several pilgrim societies, associations and fraternities of Friends of the Way of St. James, Amigos del Camino de Santiago will issue your pilgrim passport. The American Pilgrims on the Camino provide pilgrim credentials by mail or online. Their addresses are 1514 Channing Avenue, Palo Alto, California 94303 USA or www.americanpilgrims.com. They ask that you submit requests three months in advance of your travels so that they can issue and deliver the credentials to you at least one month before your departure.
Your pilgrim credential passport gets validated each night with a logo stamp (sello) by the person (hospitalero) who runs the albergue pilgrims hostel where you stay. Actually, in order to stay in a pilgrim only hostel albergue or refusio, you need to show your credential as you check in for the night. You can also get stamps in some churches, town halls, monasteries, museums, police stations and even some cafes or stores.
Some pilgrims really like to collect various stamps (sellos) as they go along, but be careful, you may run out of official credential stamping areas and have to staple extra pages into your credential passport. Generally one stamp per day is sufficient, however the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago recommends that all pilgrims get two per day during the final 100 km if on foot or the last 200 km if on bicycle to verify that you have really traversed the required distance to Santiago.
The reasons for required stamped pilgrim credential passports are three-fold.
1. Your stamped credentials are proof that you are a registered pilgrim authorized to stay in the albergues and that you are not cheating by traveling from town to town in a car or bus. There are many places along the Camino inaccessible by car. Therefore, only real pilgrims walking at least the last 100 km or cycling the last 200 km distance could get the stamps from those locations.
2. Credentials show that you have satisfied the requirements for the pilgrimage and are qualify to receive the compostela diploma or certificate of completion when you reach Santiago de Compestella. You must present your stamped credentials to the pilgrim office by the Santiago Cathedral. They will issue you the Latin certificate of completion or compestela with your name in Latin and date of issue.
3. The Compestela is a wonderful record of your pilgrimage journey. You will be proud of your Credentials del Peregrino, full of colorful stamps of all the places you visited, slept or ate.
It is very important to protect and safeguard your credentials as you walk the Camino, just as you do your regular international passport and valuables. Many pilgrims place their credentials into a plastic zip-lock bag and keep it in a pouch inside their clothes with their money, credit cards and official government issued passport.