Camino de Santiago Fun Facts


The history of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela stretches back more than 1000 years to the discovery of the body of Saint James during the reign of King Alfonso II (792-842). Saint James was already believed to have been the great evangelist of Spain and for many hundreds of years there had been a scholarly and literary tradition supporting this belief. The discovery of the relics of Saint James then became a focal point for pilgrims.

Though a few pilgrims to Santiago are recorded in the 10th century, and many more in the 11th, it was in the early 12th century, and particularly under the energetic promotion of Archbishop Diego Gelmírez (1100-1140), that Santiago came to rank with Rome and Jerusalem as one of the greatest destinations of medieval pilgrimage. The first cathedral was built over the site of the tomb, and gradually houses were established, for example by monks from Cluny in Burgundy and from Aurillac in Cantal, along the developing pilgrimage route. The 12th and 13th centuries are considered to have been the golden age of the pilgrimage to Santiago.

In the last 30 years in particular there has been a huge resurgence in interest and in the number of pilgrims travelling on foot, by bike or on horseback. Pilgrims were encouraged by the visits by Pope John Paul II in 1982; in 1989 when World Youth Day was held in Santiago and also by the first big Xacobeo year of 1993. The number of pilgrims continues to grow. In 1985 1,245 pilgrims arrived in Santiago. In the 2010 Holy Year (when July 25th fell on a Sunday) 272,703 pilgrims received the Compostela.


This Camino passport (Credencial del Peregrino) will be proof that you have walked the 100 km necessary to obtain your ‘Compostela’ or ‘Certificate’, the official documents testament to your journey. You will be given a ‘Pilgrim Passport’ that you will get stamped along the route and then we will take them to the Pilgrims Office in Santiago to get our Compostela or certificate of pilgrimage. If you start your Camino in Galicia you will need to collect at least two stamps per day from churches, town halls or other official establishments on your way to Santiago (at least for the last 100 km). If you start from outside Galicia you will only need one stamp per day. Once in Santiago de Compostela, you must show your stamped Pilgrim Passport at the Pilgrims Office to apply for your Compostela certificate and any other pilgrim certificate you might want to receive.

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The ‘Compostela’ is the original religious certificate written in Latin, expended by the Church when pilgrims prove they have either walked 100 km or cycled (or travelled by horse) 200 km to Santiago de Compostela. From the XIII Century, the Church introduced a more rigorous system based on letters, the origin of the ‘Compostela’. The ‘Compostela’ was a valuable document pilgrims used to travel to Santiago in pilgrimage, in many cases as a penance. For some, walking to Santiago and getting their ‘Compostela’ meant they had secured their reference letter or VIP ticket to heaven. The ‘Compostela’ was considered an important paper, one to show St Peter at the gates of heaven!


Today, many cycle or walk the Camino for leisure, as a cultural experience and other non-religious reasons but this doesn’t mean you can’t get a certificate of this very special journey. Pilgrims travelling for sport or cultural reasons can obtain a non-religious version of the Compostela, called Certificate of Welcome, also from the Pilgrims Office in Santiago (Rúa do Vilar). The same rule of 100 km for walkers and 200 km for cyclists and horse riders apply for this certificate. Both the Compostela and Certificate of Welcome were redesigned in May 2014 and both documents are now written in Latin. Compostelas and certificates are issued to pilgrims by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago.



The scallop shell is one of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago and today it is used, along with the yellow arrow, to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different routes. Painted on trees, sidewalks, tiles, etc. the scallop shell (or ‘vieira’ in Galician and Spanish) will help travellers find their way. There are many stories, legends and myths trying to explain the ancient link between the scallop shell and the Saint James Way. It is no coincidence that in French the scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques, while in German scallops are called ‘Jakobsmuscheln’ (James mussels). The scallop shell is said to be a metaphor, its lines representing the different routes pilgrims travel from all over the world, all walking trails leading to one point: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. However, it is open to interpretation. Which side points to Santiago? In some regions, the scallop’s longest line is considered the one pointing towards Santiago. This is the case in Asturias, for example if you are walking the Original Way or the Northern Way, and some parts of the Portuguese Way. But don’t let this fact confuse you, take the scallop shell as a symbol of the Camino, reassuring you that you are on the right path! The scallops are usually placed next to a yellow arrow so always follow the arrows (no confusion here!), as they are the most accurate ‘road signs’ to follow. Medieval pilgrims often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats during their journey to Santiago. More than being just a symbol or a pilgrim badge, the scallop shells also had a practical purpose: they were a handy and light replacement for a bowl so the pilgrims could use them to hold their food and drink on their long journey. Pilgrims would also be given food at churches and other establishments, and a scallop shell scoop was the measure for the food they would be donated.

Since the scallop is native to the coast of Galicia, the shell also became a memento, physical proof of having completed the pilgrimage to Santiago (and quite often walked to or via Fisterra, on the Costa da Morte). The shells could be picked up at the very end of the journey in Fisterra but also became a popular souvenir and source of business for the shops near the Cathedral in Santiago and other establishments along the way.


The name of Don Elías Valiña Sampedro might not ring any bells but you will certainly recognise his most ‘famous’ creation: the yellow arrow pointing the way along the Camino de Santiago. Don Elías (1929-1989) was the parish priest in O Cebreiro in Lugo and studied the history of the St James Way pilgrimage to Santiago in depth, writing many documents, articles and even a thesis on the Camino de Santiago for the University of Salamanca.

Don Elías was a bit of a visionary and a Camino ‘pioneer’: after years studying the St James Way, he was convinced of the importance of this ancient trail and set himself the challenge of reviving the route we call the French Way. In 1984, he put in motion his mission to rescue, clean and mark the trails along Camino, starting in Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees.

He also started painting the iconic yellow arrows to indicate the right way at the various tricky crossroads along the trail. Legend has it that Don Elías drove across the whole north of Spain in his Citroën GS packed with yellow paint, painting arrows leading to Santiago.

He also promoted the creation groups and associations to revive and maintain the different stretches of the Camino; and travelled to other European universities and conferences to explain the importance of the Camino de Santiago as a space of communication and understanding for people of many nationalities. So today’s walkers owe much more to Don Elías than just the yellow arrows helping them find their way, in fact. We probably owe him the fact that the Camino is still in existence at all!

Back in the 80s, when encountered by curious bystanders (and even the police!) Don Elías would explain he was ‘planning an invasion’.

Since he died in 1989, he didn’t get to see his vision for an ‘invasion’ fully accomplished but we are sure he would be pleased to see the Camino today and would rejoice at the view of thousands of pilgrims of all ages and nationalities following his yellow arrows to Santiago every year.


Camino de Santiago means Way of St James and refers to the routes leading to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.


Santiago de Compostela means St James of the field of stars.


There are many Camino de Santiago routes, starting in France, Portugal and Spain.


Pilgrims used to start their ‘Camino’ from their own homes.


The yellow scallop shell and yellow arrows mark the way to Santiago.


The Camino Primitivo from Oviedo is the oldest Camino route.


However, the most famous Camino route is the Camino Francés or French Way starting in St Jean Pied de Port.


The trail from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago is 800 km/497 miles long and takes approximately five weeks to complete.


You need to walk at least 100 km/62 miles into Santiago to receive your Compostela certificate.

FACT 10:

This makes Sarria (111 km/69 miles from Santiago) the most popular starting point for walkers.

FACT 11:

You will need to cycle at least 200 km/124 miles to Santiago to receive your Compostela certificate.

FACT 12:

Over 200,000 pilgrims arrive in Santiago each year and receive their Compostela certificate.

FACT 13:

The pilgrim passport (credencial) needs to be stamped at least once a day; or twice a day if you are starting your Camino in Galicia.

FACT 14:

The stamped pilgrim passport is required to stay in first-come first -served ‘albergues’ (public hostels).

FACT 15:

The 12th century Codex Calixtinus is the oldest Camino de Santiago ‘guidebook’.

FACT 16:

The Camino is a long-distance trail with thousands of km across Europe.

FACT 17:

KM 0 of the Camino is actually not in Santiago but in Cape Fisterra, considered to be the ‘end of the world’.

FACT 18:

25th July is St James Day, a holiday in Santiago and Galicia.

FACT 19:

Santiago de Compostela old town is a UNESCO listed heritage site since 1985 and its University dates back to 1495.


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