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Medieval "credencials"

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SabineP

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some and then more. see my signature.
I have often read that modern credencials descend from letters that medieval pilgrims sometimes carried that basically said they were a pilgrim and asked for safe passage. Does anyone know of any documentation of this? Have any survived?

I remember that the Flemish Confraternity of St James had a " modern " version of this letter issued together with the credencial. Well, was the case in 2011 with my first Camino.
Shall take a look if they still use it. Did not take the letter with me but I found it special to be part of a very old tradition.
 
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letters that medieval pilgrims sometimes carried that basically said they were a pilgrim and asked for safe passage. Does anyone know of any documentation of this? Have any survived?
I would think than any major pilgrimage museum worth its salt would have a copy or two. Don't they have any in the museums in Santiago?

The archive of the former kingdom of Aragon (Archivo de la Corona de Aragon) has a collection and there are a few photos online, for example one issued for a Polish pilgrim and another one issued for an Abyssinian pilgrim. I don't know what the text says.

You probably know this anyway: such documents were issued by religious and by secular authorities. The religious ones were more like recommendation letters destined for monasteries and other religious institutions and they obviously were of some global value. The secular ones, issued on behalf of a king, queen or other feudal lord, were obviously more useful within their jurisdictions than abroad - hence the Chancellery of Aragon who issued 'credencials' for foreign pilgrims passing through their area.
 
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Come to think of it, is there even any "safe conduct" text in Camino credentials, for example in the Spanish one and the American one? I vaguely remember that my French credential had some text in this sense but right now I can't check.
 

David Tallan

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1989
The archive of the former kingdom of Aragon (Archivo de la Corona de Aragon) has a collection and there are a few photos online, for example one issued for a Polish pilgrim and another one issued for an Abyssinian pilgrim. I don't know what the text says.
I've gone to the Archive's website looking for those online photos you mention above but been unable to find them. Where in the website should I be looking?
 
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Here is an example I found of the modern " geloofsbrief " issued by the Flemish Confraternity.
Love this. I have a similar text from the Association where I am a member but it is not a separate letter, it is indeed incorporated in the Carnet de Pèlerin, as text in both French and Spanish. The English translation of the French text would say:

The President of the Association has the honour to recommend to all the religious and civil authorities as well as to the military authorities and police authorities this pilgrim who is undertaking the pilgrimage to Compostela in the traditional manner of the pilgrims of old, and asks them to kindly lend this pilgrim help and assistance in case of need.

Carnet.JPG
 
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I have often read that modern credencials descend from letters that medieval pilgrims sometimes carried that basically said they were a pilgrim and asked for safe passage. Does anyone know of any documentation of this? Have any survived?
Hi David
On my first Camino I had a letter from my parish priest explaining that I was a pilgrim and I think it is this sort of thing that you are referring to. Although this is no longer necessary it is a nod back to this tradition and if you show it in parishes along your Camino it is generally recognised and welcomed.
Buen Camino.
Vince
 
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sillydoll

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I did some research on credenciales and compostelas a few years ago.
 
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@David Tallan, below is a screenshot from a video about credentials of medieval pilgrims. It is done by a living history group but I think that they know what they are doing and talking about. The person is giving explanations in the video so it is difficult to get a shot where the facial expression does not look odd. She is holding up such a document; it is modelled after a genuine medieval document (note the red wax seal that makes it an official document).

Medieval pilgrims had a lot less freedom than we have. For example, they were bound to their home parish, and confession, communion and absolution was only possible at their home parish. With these documents, they were given permission to take communion and receive absolution in other parishes, including at the destination of their pilgrimage. It was a different world from ours.

Credencial.jpg
 
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they were given permission to take communion and receive absolution in other parishes, including at the destination of their pilgrimage
This is also the reason why Compostelas, from the Middle Ages until well into the 19th century and perhaps even into the early 20th century confirmed that the pilgrim had visited the Cathedral and had made confession and received communion and absolution there. This text is gone from contemporary Compostelas; our Compostelas confirm that the pilgrim has visited the Cathedral, after having walked (or biked etc etc) 100 km.

Compostela.jpg
 
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I am curious now. I found a few photos of medieval credentials for pilgrims but without translation and in a script that I cannot decipher. I did find a translation of such a credential issued in 1509 on behalf of Joanna of Castile and other territories. Interestingly, it is for two monks from South America ("India") who went on pilgrimage to Santiago. Below is the text translated into English. As mentioned, I don't think that such text is even contained in our modern credentials. They really don't have that much in common with the medieval ones.

I, Doña Juana [long list of her titles] to all the councillors, mayors, governors, municipal officials, knights, squires, officers and men of quality of all the cities, towns and boroughs of my kingdoms and lordships and to each and every one of you to whom this letter is shown, greetings and thanks.
Know that Brother Micael and Brother Juan, natives of India, have come on pilgrimage to visit Monsignor Santiago de Galicia, with the consent of their superior, and wish to return home. I therefore ask you, if they should happen to pass through your cities, towns and villages, to treat them well and with love, and that you grant them the right to ask for alms on their way, from the good people, and that you neither accept nor tolerate any harm to them, for I hereby take them under my defence and receive them into my custody and safety and under my royal protection. The said assurance I grant them for seven months. These shall run and be counted from the date of this letter .... Given in the noble city of Valladolid, on the 30th day of October 1509. ...
Present: Sub-Lieutenant Doctor Caravajal, Doctor Palacio Ramires, Licenciado Polanco, Licenciado Aguirre, Licenciado de Sosa and myself, Luys del Castillo.
 

JabbaPapa

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These ad hoc letters of recommendation towards individual pilgrims and a particular pilgrimage are highly variable in form and focus.

And yes that's are present tense, not were past. I have no idea why some might suppose these letters to be things lost in the mist of a distant mediaeval history.

The letter that I have in my credencial for my current and ongoing Camino states :

Je soussigné Mgr René Giuliano, vicaire général émérite du Diocèse de Monaco Pté certifie que Mr JULIAN LORD fait un vrai chemin chrétien vers le Seigneur Jésus.

fait à Monaco
le 5 décembre 2018
(signed)


The first such letter that was given me, at the Cathedral parish of Notre Dame in Paris, states :

CATHÉDRALE NOTRE DAME
6, place du Parvis
75004 PARIS

M Julian Lord commence ce soir pèlerinage à Saint Jacques de Compostela, et il le fait à partir de Notre Dame de Paris. Il a besoin de votre accueil pour pouvoir en vrai continuer sa route comme pèlerin.

J'en donne foi.

<signed>
chapelain de Notre Dame

fait le 19 Juillet 1994


Interesting that the en vrai is so concurrent with my conversion to the Christian Faith on that 1994 Camino ; and eventually so many telling me that I'm a "True Pilgrim" that the most honest became to just accept it.
 
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JabbaPapa

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I'll add that whilst these letters do have some administrative and sometimes even legal purposes, the generalisation of the mass printed credenciales as certification documents during the 1990s and later has made them less important than they were.

But on my 1994 to Santiago and my 2000 to Rome, they were quite necessary !!

And I'll add that despite administrative purposes and devices, these letters first and foremost are : Prayers.
 
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David Tallan

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1989
@David Tallan, below is a screenshot from a video about credentials of medieval pilgrims. It is done by a living history group but I think that they know what they are doing and talking about. The person is giving explanations in the video so it is difficult to get a shot where the facial expression does not look odd. She is holding up such a document; it is modelled after a genuine medieval document (note the red wax seal that makes it an official document).

Medieval pilgrims had a lot less freedom than we have. For example, they were bound to their home parish, and confession, communion and absolution was only possible at their home parish. With these documents, they were given permission to take communion and receive absolution in other parishes, including at the destination of their pilgrimage. It was a different world from ours.

View attachment 125260
It is on behalf of someone from just such a living history group that I was asking this question. :)
He was going to scribe one for a talk he is giving on medieval pilgrimage, and wondered where he could find a period example to work from. I figured my best bet to help him would be to ask the question here.
 
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David Tallan

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1989
I am curious now. I found a few photos of medieval credentials for pilgrims but without translation and in a script that I cannot decipher. I did find a translation of such a credential issued in 1509 on behalf of Joanna of Castile and other territories. Interestingly, it is for two monks from South America ("India") who went on pilgrimage to Santiago. Below is the text translated into English. As mentioned, I don't think that such text is even contained in our modern credentials. They really don't have that much in common with the medieval ones.

I, Doña Juana [long list of her titles] to all the councillors, mayors, governors, municipal officials, knights, squires, officers and men of quality of all the cities, towns and boroughs of my kingdoms and lordships and to each and every one of you to whom this letter is shown, greetings and thanks.
Know that Brother Micael and Brother Juan, natives of India, have come on pilgrimage to visit Monsignor Santiago de Galicia, with the consent of their superior, and wish to return home. I therefore ask you, if they should happen to pass through your cities, towns and villages, to treat them well and with love, and that you grant them the right to ask for alms on their way, from the good people, and that you neither accept nor tolerate any harm to them, for I hereby take them under my defence and receive them into my custody and safety and under my royal protection. The said assurance I grant them for seven months. These shall run and be counted from the date of this letter .... Given in the noble city of Valladolid, on the 30th day of October 1509. ...
Present: Sub-Lieutenant Doctor Caravajal, Doctor Palacio Ramires, Licenciado Polanco, Licenciado Aguirre, Licenciado de Sosa and myself, Luys del Castillo.
Any links to such photos, even without translations, would be deeply appreciated.
 

David Tallan

Veteran Member
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1989
These ad hoc letters of recommendation towards individual pilgrims and a particular pilgrimage are highly variable in form and focus.

And yes that's are present tense, not were past. I have no idea why some might suppose these letters to be things lost in the mist of a distant mediaeval history.

The letter that I have in my credencial for my current and ongoing Camino states :

Je soussigné Mgr René Giuliano, vicaire général émérite du Diocèse de Monaco Pté certifie que Mr JULIAN LORD fait un vrai chemin chrétien vers le Seigneur Jésus.

fait à Monaco
le 5 décembre 2018
(signed)


The first such letter that was given me, at the Cathedral parish of Notre Dame in Paris, states :

CATHÉDRALE NOTRE DAME
6, place du Parvis
75004 PARIS

M Julian Lord commence ce soir pèlerinage à Saint Jacques de Compostela, et il le fait à partir de Notre Dame de Paris. Il a besoin de votre accueil pour pouvoir en vrai continuer sa route comme pèlerin.

J'en donne foi.

<signed>
chapelain de Notre Dame

fait le 19 Juillet 1994


Interesting that the en vrai is so concurrent with my conversion to the Christian Faith on that 1994 Camino ; and eventually so many telling me that I'm a "True Pilgrim" that the most honest became to just accept it.
I wasn't assuming that these are only of the past. It's just that I was asking in order to help out a medievalist whose specific interest was in how they looked in the Middle Ages.
 
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It is on behalf of someone from just such a living history group that I was asking this question. :)
He was going to scribe one for a talk he is giving on medieval pilgrimage, and wondered where he could find a period example to work from.
Looks like you have come to the right place 😇. Photos and transcriptions of medieval originals appear to be rarely accessible online because they are hiding in scholarly works that I cannot get to or only against paying more than just a handful of €'s.

Here are thumbnails of a few. I cannot decipher the text. The last one, labelled Imitation.jpg, is based on an original but it is contemporary. Despite being contemporary, it is written in some old version of German; maybe I or someone else can figure out the words, given enough time. The second one dates from 1409 (this is a photo of the original - a facsimile is held up in the video screenshot posted earlier) and the second but last one dates from 1754. The other three are issued by the Crown of Aragon.

Lubeck 1409.jpeg Corona Aragon 1.jpg
Corona Aragon 2.jpg Corona Aragon 3.jpg
Narbonne 1754.jpg Imitation.jpg
 
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JabbaPapa

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PS: I've learnt a bit more about these credentials / recommendation letters / safe conducts for pilgrims specifically. They were not known or used before the late Middle Ages. One purpose: to distinguish pilgrims from vagabonds, criminals, beggars.
... and distinguish real pilgrims from fake ones.

The modern credenciales serve similar purposes.
 
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figure out the words, given enough time
It was easier than expected. I'm not always 100% certain but here is the gist of the text:

We are sending our Henrikus Pepersack from the parish of St George in the town of Hildesheim on a pious pilgrimage and release him from his bond (?) to his parish for (?) ten days following the Feast of Ascension of our dear Lord to Heaven. He is a faithful Christian person [rechtgläubiger Christenmensch; it means "True Catholic"] and not excommunicated and he is allowed to receive the holy Sacraments in all places. All who read this letter, whether they belong to Christendom or not and in all lands, should therefore encounter him always with good intentions and grant him accommodation and bread as well as a jug of beer.
Everyone who does not do this sins not only against the Lord but also against the whole of Christendom.
Done at the parish of St George in the town of Hildesheim by Pater Severinus on the day of the Ascension of the Lord to Heaven in the iota (? year ?) of our dear Lord one thousand three hundred and sixteen.
From what I understand, the validity of these letters was often limited in time. In the context of long pilgrimages, the expression "for a year and a day" can be found - it is a medieval legal expression. The letter served also to maintain the pilgrim's civic rights upon his return to his hometown. The mention of beer in this example is amusing. Contrary to the myth, medieval people did drink water; beer tasted not only better, it was also considered as more nutritious. The name Pepersack is a proper family name; the family is documented in Hildesheim since 1257.
 
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I looked at bit closer at this Living History project and the two people behind it. Both have studied Medieval and Renaissance history at university level and are scholars/researchers. So this sample of a medieval "credential" text in the previous post is pretty close to the real thing. I also learnt a new word: alterity. Alterity is what fascinates me about this distant world that was the medieval world and medieval mind. This is probably why I must have tried to look at each and every Romanesque portal between SJPP and Santiago and tried to figure out what these people long ago saw when they looked at it 😇.

From an interview:

Question: With [medieval] pilgrimage, you could hardly have chosen a theme in which religious ideas and religious feelings play a greater role. How would you describe your approach to the subject matter and what importance do you personally attach to alterity (= the otherness of an era that can fascinate) when dealing with the Middle Ages?

Answer: Indeed, the pilgrimage depiction [in the form of 'living history'] takes us practically right into the heart of the late medieval mentality. Church and faith were much more omnipresent back then, and actively lived piety was part of everyday life. Hardly any area of life is more difficult for us modern people to comprehend. But of course that is precisely what makes it particularly exciting!
 
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Rebekah Scott

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Many, various, and continuing.
I am working on a book right now that includes a deep dive into the history of the credential and "Compostela" documents, written several years ago by historian/author/camino pioneer Laurie Dennett. "Waybread," a collection of these fascinating historical details, will (hopefully!) be available July 25.
 
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It's just that I was asking in order to help out a medievalist whose specific interest was in how they looked in the Middle Ages.
Below are images of another two but I guess we know by now what they looked like: nothing fancy, no pretty design or colours or drawings, just plain handwritten text, and, in most cases, a transcription, let alone a translation, is very hard to find. And no empty cases for sellos ...😇

The first one is a facsimile of a late medieval 'credential' for a pilgrim, and the second one is later, it is a painting by G.C. Cipper or Il Todeschini (1664-1736), where a wife and mother holds the credential of her soon to depart pilgrim husband. Also, it appears that common names for such documents were licencia, littera testimonialis, carta de mundeburde ...

Credencials.jpg
 
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I admit that I am a bit pleased with my efforts to find an answer to the OP's question. Probably not what was expected because it appears that the contemporary credencial does not have as much in common with those in the Middle Ages as we are made to believe. I learnt a few new things.

Samples of medieval 'pilgrim letters' or 'pilgrim passports' are much harder to retrieve online than I had thought. In fact, as one scholar with specific expertise in the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago writes, the origin of today's pilgrim passport/credencial is not well known. It probably goes back to the safe-conducts and recommendation letters of old, and it is similar to passports that prove the nationality of the bearer. National passports are a fairly new invention and did not exist as such in the Middle Ages.

Thanks to a forum post by the eminent @Peter Robins from 2007, thanks to the website of the eminent Denise Péricard-Méa, and thanks to the equally eminent Wayback Machine I found two more immediate predecessors of our credencial, one from 1976 and one from 1829, see following posts.
 
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This was issued by the Prior of Roncesvalles in 1976 for Fernando Lalanda when he embarked on his first pilgrimage to Santiago. He later wrote two booklets, one about the history of the Compostela and one about the history of the credencial. However, the later starts more or less in the second half of the 20th century. Credencials as we know them had not yet been invented.

Click to enlarge
Lalanda 1976.jpg
 
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This dates from 1829. I have not tried to decipher it but I can make out the words allant en pélérinage à St Jacques de Compostelle [who is going on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela].

It is issued in the name of the [French] king and signed by the administration of one of the regions of France. It is addressed to the civil and military authorities of the Kingdom of France and to those in the befriended or allied countries and asks them to grant passage to the pilgrim and to assist him in case of need.

Click to enlarge
Passport Pelerin 1829.jpg
 
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