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A Little Pilgrim's Encyclopedia

What's missing? Drop me a line and I'll gladly add anything of interest.

Año Santo

Año Santo means Holy Year. It is celebrated during the years in which July 25, the day of St. James, is a Sunday. This occurs in a rhythm of 11,6,5,6 and again 11 years. So after 1993, 1999 and 2004 the next Holy Years will be 2010 and 2021. Only during Holy Years can one enter the cathedral of Santiago through the Holy Door which is opened in a special ceremony by Santiago's bishop in the night of December 31. The question, when the first Holy Year was celebrated is controversial. The Papal bull "Regis Aeterni" by Pope Alexander III. seems to be written in 1179. It refers to privileges granted by Pope Calixtus II. in 1122 for full remission of temporal punishment due for sins to those pilgrims who visit the Apostle's sepulcher during a Holy Year. However, the genuineness of the document is denied by some. They argue that it refers to an event from the year 1300 - and thus to the future - which is impossible. From the rise of the number of pilgrims to Santiago in the rhythm of the holy years it could be concluded that the custom of the Holy Year was introduced in the 15th century.

Codex Calixtinus

This medieval collection of handwritings is also referred to as the "Liber Sancti Iacobi" or book of St. James. As the name "Codex Calixtinus" indicates, the autorship of this collection was originally attributed to Pope Calixtus II. whose name is written at the end of the forword. However, since the origins of the Codex are dated to the years between 1130 and 1140, while Calixtus II. already died in 1124, the forword is considered to be a falsification and the French monk Aymeric Picaud is generally seen as the one who combined the five writings into a single book. The oldest existing copy today goes back to the year 1150 and is stored in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The fifth book of the "Liber Sancti Iacobi" which is also known as the "Liber peregrinationis" was written by Picaud himself has been of special relevance to the development of the Way of St. James. It is considered to be the world's oldest pilgrim's guide and contains, among other topics, descriptions of the landscapes, the nature and customs of the inhabitants and the available foods on the various sections of the Way.


The "Compostela" is the the name of the certificate which is handed to pilgrims who arrive in Santiago de Compostela after having completed either at least the last 100 km of the Way of St. James by foot or on horseback or the last 200 km by bike and who can prove it by presenting the "Credencial". The pilgrim's name and the issue date are included in the document with its Latin text which can be translated as follows: "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 all 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 (insert name) has visited devoutly this Sacred Church for religious reason (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, year).


In 2014 the Franciscans of Santiago de Compostela celebrate the pilgrimmage of St. Francis of Assisi to the tomb of the Apostle St. James 800 years ago in the year 1214. To commemorate this special occasion they decided to issue the "Cotolaya" as a document in the style of the Compostela to pilgrims who reach Santiago. The "Cotolaya" is named after Cotolay who played a decisive role in the construction of the Franciscan monastary in the 13th century. Pilgrims may pick up their Cotolayas in the church's sacristy from 10-11 a.m. and from 6-7 p.m.


"Credencial" is the Spanish word for the Pilgrim Record or Pilgrim's Passport, a document that pilgrims present for stamping each day in refugios, ayuntamientos (town halls), churches or similar. The duly stamped document is a precondition for access to the refugios as well as for receiving the Compostela upon arrival in Santiago - and it's also a nice souvenir. Since the year 2009 only the official credencial will be recognised in order to prevent the sale of unauthorized similar documents. Contrary to unofficial papers which are occasionally offered for higher prices the official Pilgrim Record is sold for €1,50 at the pilgrim's office and contains among other things a clear referral to the conditions for obtaining a Compostela: It will be issued to those who - for spiritual reasons - completed either the last 100 km to the Apostle's tomb on foot or horseback or the last 200 km on bicycle. The Cofraternity of Saint James explains how to obtain your credencial.

Pilgerpass Credencial Pilgerpass Credencial

Goethe quote

The following quote referring to the importance of pilgrimage and christendom in the forming of Europe is occasionally attributed to the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832): "Europa ist aus der Pilgerschaft geboren, und das Christentum ist seine Muttersprache." However, even the research done by the Geothe-Institut in Spain's capital Madrid, including a full scan of Goethe's complete works could not come up with the source. Therefore it can be said that the quote cannot be attributed to Goethe. Do you know the source?

Holy Year

Año Santo

Liber Peregrinationis

Codex Calixtinus

Liber Sancti Jacobi

Codex Calixtinus

Valiña Sampedro, Elías

The parish priest of O Cebreiro is considered the inventor of the yellow arrows that guide pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The Galician village that owes it's profile to the appearance of a consecrated wafer was ministered by him from 1959 to 1989. Valiña was especially active in the revival of the Way of St. James. In his book "Elias Valiña, valedor do Camiño", Lois Celeiro describes how the priest seized the opportunity and used the brushes and yellow paint from workers working on a new road to paint the first yellow arrows and to make sure pilgrims found their way.

What's missing? Drop me a line and I'll gladly add anything of interest.

updated: 28.6.2014