The Pilgrim’s Credential
The original Pilgrim’s Credential was a safe-conduct document. It consisted of a letter written by the Priest of the Pilgrim’s local parish that granted him protection, food, and shelter in Churches along the way. Today it serves as a Passport that allows a Pilgrim to ask for a bed in a public Albergue (hostel) and also documents the path he has traveled. It can be stamped in churches, police stations, bakeries, and restaurants and other places where Pilgrims stop to rest and refresh themselves, but it must be stamped at least twice a day. This stamped Credential is the prerequisite for obtaining the cherished final document, the Compostelana, that certifies a Pilgrim has completed his pilgrimage.
Since the 13th century, the Compostela has been a certificate distributed by the Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral Council to all of those who have completed a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle, St. James.
Today, to be eligible, you must have completed the last 100 km on foot or the last 200 km on horseback or bicycle. The Compostelana grants 16 years of indulgence for each pilgrimage and a Plenary Indulgence or Jubilee when the journey is made in a Jacobean or Holy Year. The Jacobean Year occurs when the day of Saint James, the 25th of July, falls on a Sunday during which the Holy Door of the Cathedral is opened. 2016 was declared a Holy Year of Mercy by Pope Francis and is only the third time the Holy Door has been open in Santiago in a non-Jacobean Year.
The Scallop Shell
La Concha de Santiago or La Vieira is the iconic symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In the pilgrimage’s early years, a Galician scallop shell, with the Cross of the Order of St. James painted on it, was the physical proof of having completed the pilgrimage. It served as the original Compostela. On their return home, Pilgrims could proudly wear it on a hat, cloak, cap, or as a necklace where it could serve as a drinking bowl, a scoop for eating, or a measure of the size of a donation.
The Stone Markers
When the Romans built their vaunted system of roads, the Calzada Romana, they used big stones, Miliarios, to mark every thousand paces. Today’s stone markers, Mojones, show the distance to Santiago in kilometers and usually have a tile or other representation of the iconic scallop shell attached. They are not placed at regular intervals but generally they are close enough together to assure you that you are on right path and give you a sense of progress.
More than 10,000 tall wayside stone crosses, called Cruceiros, can be found throughout Galicia at crossroads, city squares and church courts. Each is different in composition and intent.
Among other things, they have been variously erected to give directions, designate dangerous conditions, bless a route, ward off danger, mark the place of a significant event, or give thanks for a blessing.
These peculiar structures, seen all along the Camino, are granaries. To some historians, they are another legacy of the Roman presence in the south of Europe. As they advanced their empire, the Romans used huge wooden carts to carry their weapons and goods. Those that were damaged beyond repair were abandoned by the roadside. The locals confiscated them and turned them into storage bins for grain and other foods. Raised on pillars, they kept the food safe from animals. In Asturias, they are called Paneras.
The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible (censer) at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. It is suspended from the dome of the Cathedral and when put in motion, flies at over 68km/hr between the Azabachería and Parterias doorway over the amazed faces of the congregation. It is made of brass and bronze coated with a thin layer of silver. It has been in use since the early 11th Century. The burning of incense is an important part of the Catholic liturgy as a form of prayer and “oration to God”. A more secular use of the incense at the time was to overcome the aroma of the tired and unwashed Pilgrims who slept and worshiped in the Cathedral.
The Codex Calixtinus (Calixtinus Code)
The Calixtinus Code is a 12th century illuminated manuscript formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II, though it is now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. The Code was intended as an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The collection includes sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and an interesting set of polyphonic musical pieces. In it are also found descriptions of the route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people.
Ultreia y Suseia
“Ultreia y Suseia” is an expression mentioned in the Calixtin Code. Translated loosely it means “forward and upward” and serves to encourage and motivate the pilgrim.
It is believed that in ancient times when pilgrims passed each other on the Camino one pilgrim would call, “Ultreia” and the other would answer with “Suseia”. There is much speculation about the origins of these words. They are possibly Latin and Galician. Utreia is an adverb that comes from “ultra” meaning further and “eia” means beyond. In turn, “sus” means up to the top followed by motivating “eia”. Pilgrims also called, “Ultreia, Suseia, Santiago!” meaning, “Go further, go upward! Ahead is Santiago!”