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Credenciales' Background



2000 Years of the Camino de Santiago: Where Did It Come From? Where Is It Going?

The following paper by the Confraternity's former Chairman, Laurie Dennett, was given at a Gathering of Pilgrims in Toronto on 14 May 2005. You may quote reasonable extracts without permission, though we would appreciate an acknowledgement. For more substantial use, please contact the Secretary.


Don Elias Valiña Sampedro

...Galician priest D Elias Valiña Sampedro, having restored the church and village of O Cebreiro, now turned his attention to the pilgrimage route ...In the Holy Year 1971 he produced a simple handbook called Caminos a Compostela, small enough to fit into a pocket and containing only the information useful to a pilgrim on foot. This was the forerunner of the more extensive guide commissioned from D Elias by the Spanish Ministry of Tourism in 1982 - another Holy Year - and reprinted in 1985. All of these had the effect of increasing the number of pilgrims from Spain and other countries. Meanwhile, also in 1982, D Elias undertook what was probably the single most essential project to revive the Camino Francés - he waymarked it along its entire length from the Pyrenees to the cathedral in Santiago.

Thus there came into being the ubiquitous yellow arrow, a symbol he devised and painted on trees, rocks and buildings using surplus paint begged from the Galician highway authority.

The crucial few years in this long renaissance were those between 1982 and 1987, during which D Elias built up a network of contacts along the Camino who became the founders of new associations of Amigos. He also persuaded municipal authorities that reclaiming the route, preserving its ancient buildings, and providing shelter for pilgrims were tasks they should properly assume. And so both conscience and consciousness were awakened. As a priest D Elias could emphasise the Christian obligation inherent in the figure of the pilgrim, while making understood the value of a heritage hitherto taken for granted. It was slow work, but ultimately successful. It all helped to create the minimal, but promising network of practical support that I and nearly 1000 other pilgrims found when we made our respective journeys during 1986.

The Spanish Federation

The fledgling associations of Amigos came together in 1985 to form what I will call for short, since it has a very long name, “the Spanish Federation”.

D Elias was elected its first co-ordinator, and quickly set in motion two far-reaching projects.

The first was a modest periodical - the Boletín del Camino - which was to be the forerunner of the present-day Peregrino magazine.

The second was an international conference to address issues of common concern such as route maintenance, refugios, the pilgrim passport or credencial, and collaboration between the associations and the Federation.

This conference was held in Jaca in September 1987 and was the first of a series of triennial conferences that continues today...You would perhaps be surprised at how lengthy and convoluted were the debates on some of these matters, and how difficult it sometimes was to achieve a concerted approach as opposed to a variety of local ones. None the less, such discussion laid the necessary groundwork for the comprehensive support structure that pilgrims enjoy today.

Jaca Conference, 1987

The Jaca conference was also a milestone in that it was the first forum to which the associations from outside Spain were invited. There were by now a number of them, in Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and Holland, all founded between 1982 and 1987. In October 1987, a month after Jaca and with Spain a recent member of the EEC, the Camino de Santiago was designated the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. This implied protection and promotion on a concerted basis, in partnership with the governments of the regions through which the route passed. This began gently but soon had a major impact, not least visually: the bright blue-and-yellow signs and waymarks erected by the Council of Europe were harbingers of change, initiating the era of the Camino-centred coach tour and the guided walking holiday.

Following the Jaca conference, when D Angel Luis Barreda Ferrer took over as President of the Federation, and into the 1990’s, there was a growing tension between the assocations of Amigos and the various interest groups seeking to make economic capital out of the Camino. This was not at all an easy balance to maintain, and by 1991, the year in which the statistical barrier of 10,000 pilgrims was broken, there were many who believed that both the physical integrity of the route and what I will call, for want of a better term, “the pilgrim experience” were being compromised by excessive promotion, especially in Galicia.

There were complaints about sections of the route being gravelled or paved over, or even eradicated altogether as roads were widened to take more traffic. There was praise for the waymarking of secondary routes that in places provided safe alternatives to the roads, for the creation of new refugios and the planting of trees. Since the Holy Year 1993, when nearly 100,000 pilgrims on foot, bicycle and horseback received the compostela, the Federation has taken a more proactive role in working with regional governments and, especially, since 1998 under its current President, Fernando Imaz, with the cathedral in Santiago. ...
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And another response

Our opinion in Spain about is the next:

The credential was born from the associations, from Elias Valiña in Jaca (1987), just to open the albergues to the pilgrims. Nothing about with the Cathedral, nor the Compostela. It wasn´t matter.

Warm regards,

Javier Martin
Madrid, Spain


Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2006)
Maybe this is a crazy idea, and I haven't put a lot of thought into this, but perhaps if the Catholic Church wants to filter the real Catholic/Christian pilgrim from the rest, maybe it should be required that these 'real'
(?) pilgrims get a sello from the priest from every Mass they attend. It's a bit sad to see that less than 10% of the pilgrims staying in a village actually attended Mass when there is one. This is my observation.

Then the Compostela can be issued to these 'real' pilgrims. The other type of certificate to the rest. Or perhaps the Associations can issue their own certification that the pilgrim has completed the journey.

If the pilgrim was after the spiritual journey and not the Catholic one (there's a difference), then a piece of paper wouldn't matter. I'm inclined to believe the Cathedral is giving out too many Compostelas to those who don't need it or (I could get crucified for this) don't deserve it.

Whatcha think?

I'm sure the Associations will be able to iron out this issue eventually. This latest move by the Cathedral could change the Camino in a fundamental way.

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