Colorful stamps decorate a pilgrim passport
Before setting out on the first day of serious walking, our guide took us to a different kind of passport office. There we each collected a personal passport to present for stamping at officially designated locations along our historic route – sometimes a church, monastery or town hall, sometimes a café, a rustic bar, an inn or a small shop where snacks and drinks could be purchased.
Our guide explained that it was entirely up to each of us how many stamps or sellos we collected – no one would be adding up the total at the end of the journey – but we all entered into the challenge in our own way.
Upon arrival in the stunning medieval core of Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrim has two tasks to perform. One is to enter the cathedral, climb the deeply worn steps behind the main alter to the head and shoulder height of St. James’ massive statue and, from the back, give him a heartfelt hug around the neck. Yes, you have made it!
A roadside snack bar and patio café clearly declares that a stamp or sello lies within. Alison Gardner
Then you make your way along narrow cobbled streets to the passport office with your colorfully stamped passport in hand. To be verified as a true pilgrim and receive a signed certificate declaring your new status, you must have clocked a minimum of 100 km on foot, or 200 km by bicycle or on horseback. Car or bus pilgrims are out of luck on this one.
Our relatively brief nine-day sample of the Camino between Leon and Santiago de Compostela brought us in close to the minimum for qualification as true pilgrims, but we were all proud of our efforts and our Compostela certificates nonetheless. We each celebrated the certificate’s expressed wish [in Spanish, of course] that St. James would abundantly bless our pilgrimage.
Found in abundance along northern Spanish beaches, the scallop shell has become closely intertwined with the Camino de Santiago. Practical observers argue that the shell was adopted merely as a device for sipping water from streams along the way. If this is so, it quickly took on greater meaning even to the earliest pilgrims.
The scallop design symbolizes the many European starting points from which medieval pilgrims began their journey, all drawn to a single point at the base of the shell, Santiago de Compostela. Today cement scallop shell markers along the Camino reassure participants that they have not taken a wrong turn (which is easy to do if you are not paying attention at each crossroad), and local residents decorate their gardens and houses with shells in solidarity with the pilgrims.
In Leon, at the beginning of our tour, we each received our own full size scallop shell with a string to hang it around our necks or attach it to our day packs. Most “pilgrims” we met over the next seven days proudly displayed a similar statement of intent, at least during their traveling hours. By doing so, we all declared our fellowship with past and present pilgrims. However, the days of drinking from streams are long gone, replaced by widely available plastic water bottles of a most sanitary and exclusive nature.
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Viajes Mundiplus is a Spanish travel agency specialized in Camino de Santiago tours, on foot or by bicycle. We provide Quality lodgings, Van support, Assistance en route, Luggage transfer, Travel assistance insurance, and Pilgrims’ Passport. www.mundiplus.com.
Spain is More knows Northern Spain intimately. We are local experts on traveling all parts of the Camino de Santiago on foot or by bicycle, offering personalized itineraries tailored to individual travelers. Visit our website, www.spainismore.com, for creative sample itineraries.
Since 2006, leading Camino de Santiago tour operator, Follow the Camino, has specialized in organizing walking, cycling and horse riding holidays along both familiar and lesser-known routes. Our approach to this ancestral pilgrimage respects its spirit and enhances its values, making it more accessible, enjoyable and achievable for all. www.followthecamino.com.
Marly Camino offers several fully-supported options for your pilgrimage walk including the French Way, the Portuguese Way, the North Way and the Catalonian Way from Barcelona. www.marlycamino.com.
Click on the picture below to experience a small-group walking tour from Leon to Santiago de Compostela.
Click on the picture below to experience an independent pilgrimage walk 751 km across northern Spain.
Click on the picture below to share an American pilgrim’s thoughts on the journey.
Click on the picture below for an inspiring essay capturing the rhythms of walking the Camino.