The Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago came to life around a thousand years ago when pilgrims from all over Europe came to the Apostle’s tomb for spiritual and religious reasons. Nowadays people travel the route for religious, academic, artistic and sporting reasons, or simply to enjoy the great monumental, landscape and cultural wealth. Walking the Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago for religious reasons enables you to obtain the Compostela, the official certificate issued by the Cathedral of Santiago to those people who not only declare that they are travelling the Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago for religious reasons but also meet a series of requirements, which include travelling at least 100 kilometres on foot or on horseback or at least 200 kilometres on a bicycle and can prove this on arrival. The way to prove the route you have covered and thus get the Compostela is by presenting the Credencial do Peregrino (Pilgrim’s Credentials). This is a paper issued by the Archbishopric of Santiago de Compostela and which can be obtained at official outlets, such as pilgrims’ hostels, friends of the way associations, tourist information offices or parish churches along the route. The Credentials are stamped once or twice a day with the date at hostels, parish churches or other establishments with a stamp in order to certify the days of pilgrimage completed. This paper is essential to get into hostels or special accommodation for pilgrims, provided there is room. If for whatever reason you cannot get a Credential you can use a route diary with signatures and stamps at each stage along the way. You can obtain further information about these papers at pilgrim hostels and tourist information offices you find along the Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago.
Pilgrims have historically been protected by the highest powers, both religious and Regal. Safe conduct, letters of recommendation and certificates issued by royal houses and religious orders of various nations have allowed the pilgrims to travel in relative safety on their Jacobean journey, severe punishment is issued to all those who cause discomfort or extortion to pilgrims, this was even the case at a time when wars continued to break out on the European continent. The favours towards the religious penitent went beyond just safety, and pilgrims were exempted from tolls and certain taxes, while being provided shelter and accommodation.
From Jacobean marches an entire body of law to encourage the flow of pilgrims came about, in the religious fervour of Catholicism. But the laws and ordinances issued during the middle Ages are, obviously, may not applicable now. However, the lasting impact during centuries of Jubilee has created a halo around the traveller, they are still treated with deference, as a rule, and the pilgrim paths are respected. Many still have the unfounded belief that the pilgrims receive priority health care in a medical emergency. This is not the case. In fact, there are no specific protocols for action on urgent health care for pilgrims in any of municipalities through which the Camino passes. It is true however, that for reasons of functionality pilgrims tend to be seen before other patients to allow them to continue on their journey.
Network of hostels
Whatever the route chosen to complete the Camino to Compostela, pilgrims should take into account that the access to these public shelters functions on a first come, first serve basis, and pilgrims on foot are given priority over those travelling by bike or on horseback. In the case of accommodation being complete the latter two should give up their place to a walker and continue to a different hostel.
This is particularly the case on the Portuguese Camino, on arrival to Tui, the border between Galicia and Portugal. Those pilgrims arriving from Portugal have priority to a bed.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner in Santiago de Compostela
Hospitality is one of the few rights still preserved for pilgrims. Although those previously staffed by religious members are now old ruins or have disappeared completely. The tradition lives on in the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos, situated next to the Cathedral. As a former hospital institution, it offers ten breakfasts, lunches and dinners, totally free of charge to the first pilgrims to arrive, once they have shown the credential to prove having completed the Camino.
The agency for Galician Tourism has authorized the company Europ Assistance to market a distinctive Jacobean insurance. It is an innovative product that provides coverage for pilgrims from all over the world who do the Camino of Santiago, both on foot and by bicycle.
The assistance can be arranged in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese. It includes sections such as bike transfer in case of illness or accident, bike replacement and guarantees any loss or damage of sports equipment. The policy provides all its customers travel insurance and assistance, including the transfer to Santiago in the case of illness or accident, interpreter services, extended hotel stays, information services, health insurance and guarantees against the loss or theft of credit cards.
Buen Camino, amigos!