Since the pilgrimage to St. James Tomb, which spontaneously arose in the 9th and 10th centuries, was institutionalised under specific religious-social circumstances, it has been necessary to certify its completion. For this purpose pilgrims first made use of badges that could only be acquired in St. James, such as the scallop shell. Due to the number of fakes St. James prelates and even the Pope had to impose excommunication penalties against the falsifiers. From the 13th century onwards the so-called evidential letters have been used due to their well-proved efficiency. These are the direct roots of the Compostela. In the 16th century the Catholic Monarchs constituted the Foundation of the Royal Hospital and ordered to erect the building nowadays occupied by the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. In 1954 it was turned into a state-run parador. Pilgrims were allowed to stay free for three days by presenting the Compostela. Pilgrims sanitary needs with the necessary enlargements converted the institution into the most important hospital in Galicia and later into the central office of the famous medical school of St. James.
The appearance of motor vehicles and the popularisation of tourism in the 20th century brought about a crisis in terms of pilgrimage. The effort and sacrifice as a sin expiation involved in the traditional pilgrimage changed into a pleasant holiday activity. Civil authorities in other sanctuaries began to draw up visit certificates imitating the Compostela e.g. in the Holy Land the Israeli Ministry of Tourism draws up a certificate of that kind. Thank heaven the Chapter of the Metropolitan Church of St. James continued drawing up the Compostela and claiming almost unsuccessfully the fulfilment of the foundational engagement from the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. In recent times, the Compostela would be limited to those pilgrims who walk or go on horseback for at least the last 100 km or cycle for the last 200 km up to the Apostles Tomb in St. James.
The text is written in Latin. Here is the translation:
"The Chapter of this Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Cathedral of St. James, custodian of the seal of St. James' Altar, to all faithful and pilgrims who come from everywhere over the world as an act of devotion, under vow or promise to the Apostle's Tomb, our Patron and Protector of Spain, witnesses in the sight of all who read this document, that: Mr has visited devoutly this Sacred Church in a religious sense (pietatis causa).
Witness whereof I hand this document over to him, authenticated by the seal of this Sacred Church.
Given in St. James de Compostela on the (day) (month) A.D.
The pilgrim has to abide by the rules above mentioned if he/she wants to obtain the Compostela. The recent revival of the Way has caused the creation of an official model of the pilgrim's credential.
Printed in thin cardboard, it consists of 14 pages to be opened as an accordion. The first and the last ones are at the left side of this page. The second below is a form that functions as a recommendation letter and has to be filled in the pilgrim's parish, in a Christian association, abbey, confraternity, etc. At the bottom, there is a specific place for the last stamp with the corresponding date once you are in the Pilgrims Office, where you will also be given the Compostela.
In the following pages the pilgrim will find a place where to put on the stamps of the refuges, parishes, confraternities, etc. On the other side there is a series of maps with the different Ways to St. James. Finally, one of the pages contains the following directions for use:
XThis credential is destined for those who aim to walk, go on horseback or cycle to St. James as an act of religious devotion or at least as a spiritual search. It is intended to identify the pilgrim. Therefore, the presenting institution has to be a parish, a confraternity and the like. The credential does not generate any right to the pilgrim. It has two practical goals:
-The admittance to the refuges offered by Christian hospitality along the Way and
- To obtain the Compostela from the Cathedral of St. James, which is the official certificate of the pilgrimage. It is only awarded to those who have come in Christian terms: devotionis affectu, voti vel pietatis causa - being the motivation devotion, vow or piety. In order to get the "Compostela", you also have to walk or go on horseback up to the Apostle's Tomb for at least the last 100 Km or cycle for at least the last 200 Km.
XThus, the pilgrim credential can exclusively be drawn up by the Church through its institutions that is to say, Bishopric, Parish, Confraternity, etc. or institutions authorized by the Church. This is the only way to obtain the Compostela in the S.A.M.I. Cathedral of St. James (Jornadas sobre el Año Santo: noviembre 1993).
XRefuges do not receive any subsidy; therefore pilgrims should collaborate on their maintenance, keeping their austerity in mind cleaning, facility care, economic contributions
XOrganized groups on bicycle or with supporting car please look for alternative lodgings.
XThe bearer of this credential abides by these rules.
"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, receive this pouch, habit for your pilgrimage, so that, castigated and corrected, you hasten to prostrate at Saint James' feet, where you yearn to arrive and, after having completed your journey, you come to us delighted with the help of God, who rules over the world without end. Amen.
Receive this staff as support for the journey and your efforts during your pilgrimage so that you are able to defeat the throngs of enemies and thus arrive safely at Saint James' feet and, after having completed your journey, you come to us delighted with the consent of the same God, who lives in and rules over Heaven without end. Amen."