since the first experience I detailed when starting blogging our Camino de Santiago was our arrival at the Cathedral, I’ll move on from that to what we did immediately after our giddy “I can’t believe we made its!” and celebratory pictures — standing in line at the oficina de peregrino to obtain our Compostelas, or certificates of completion. it is weird experience to happily stand in such a long line (about 40 minutes) with so many people who have endured similar experiences and are just as happy to stand in that same long line with you. some people wait to get their Compostelas after resting or attending the mass, but it seemed most of the people we stood in line with hadn’t made any stops or left any luggage behind before arriving at the oficina de peregrino.
the Compostela stems from the same idea as Jubilee years and plenary indulgences, wherein the faithful are given a degree of absolution from sin for completing a good work or act on behalf of the faith (such as making a trip to the Holy Land and/or dying on the journey). in early years, peregrinos would mark the completion of their trek by carrying a scallop shell as evidence they visited the tomb of Santiago in the cathedral. of course, merchants took to selling shells to peregrinos as they entered the city and the Church had to take steps to crack down on these practices, going so far as to threaten excommunication of anyone caught selling shells fraudulently.
during the 11th century, the Church began issuing particularly generous indulgences for those willing to participate in the reconquest of Spain; many claim that Pope Calixtus II (he of the Codex Calixtinus) granted Santiago de Compostela the authority to grant plenary indulgences to those who visited Santiago’s tomb in a Holy Year (when the Saint’s day falls on a Sunday), made a donation his shrine, gave confession, attended mass, and pledged to perform good works. the document that subsequently made that offer perpetual is now considered a forgery dating from the 15th century; the earliest documentation of indulgences granted for the Camino dates from the mid-13th century and the first Holy Year in which it would have applied stems from 1395.
the earliest documents to illustrate completion of the Camino were “evidential letters,” sealed and handwritten documents with confirmation of communion and confession pasted on, initially known as la autentica. it was handy in that it granted peregrinos access to the royal hospital established by the Catholic Monarchs in the 16th century; a Compostela entitled them to three nights lodging and attention for their various Camino-related ailments. (the building was converted into a Parador in 1954, but they still serve meals to the first 10 peregrinos to present their Comopostela every day.)
the Compstela became a printed documents in the 17th century and the communion and confession requirements were dropped sometime in the 18th century. the changes wrought by modern transportation innovation in the 20th century prompted the Church to require further evidence, by way of the stamped credencial, that peregrinos receiving the Compostela completed the last 100 kilometers by foot. after standing in line, you are directed to a counter where an official takes your name, (and inquires after your reason for undertaking the Camino — religious, cultural, spiritual, sport — to determine which version of the Compostela you’ll receive), translates it into Latin, and writes it on the form, the text of which has remained relatively unchanged for the last two centuries. though it’s technically free to obtain, donations are encouraged (and can get you a handy tube for storing your completed and irreplaceable memento, if you ask the nice volunteer line attendant politely).
I discovered today that the office keeps and publishes statistics about the numbers of peregrinos who arrive everyday. I couldn’t find a record of how many peregrinos received their Compostelas the day we arrived in Santiago, June 8, 2012, but they do have a break-down of all the people who did in the course of the year (over 192,000, about half of which came from Spain and just over half of which were male. for more details, check out this PDF.). or you can just find out how many people have completed their Camino today…
we got Compostelas framed, along with our credencials and a map detailing the Camino Frances as we hiked it. they look spectacular.