Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Manifesto of Villafranca De Bierzo - Part One

By now most people interested in the Camino de Santiago will have a copy – or will have read – the Manifesto of Villafranca De Bierzo which came out of the December conference in Villafranca organized by the newly formed FICS (International Fraternity of the Camino de Santiago.  [a]

The manifesto reflects the concerns those involved in the protection of the Camino as a whole, have for the future of this European Cultural Itinerary, particularly in Spain.

For the past 28 years, the main custodians of the Camino routes in Spain was the AMIGOS – the Spanish Federation of Friends on the Camino - formed at a congress of national and international Jacobean organisations in Jaca in 1987.  [b]

I was told by a member of FICS that the new organization is ‘outside’ the AMIGOS but some members of AMIGOS are also members of FICS.  Anybody connected to the Camino whether they are past, present or future pilgrims, walkers, hikers, tourists or tourogrinos, service providers, historians, archaeologists, artists, restorers and so on should be infinitely grateful to the founding members of the AMIGOS for their passion and involvement in all things related to the Camino de Santiago. 

There has been a small army of volunteers who work, unseen by most peregrinos, on the preservation of the art, architecture, literature, music and history, and also the trails and paths that lead to Santiago.  Many of the same committed people attended the FICS conference so it would seem that the Camino is in good hands!

Our friend Rebekah Scott – well known in Camino circles and who lives on the Camino in Spain - was asked to be the North American representative on the on the board of the new action group.  She reported on her blog about those who were at the meeting:

These were not young firebrands out to change the world. These were old hands of the trail: Tomas the Templar of Manjarin, Jesus Jato from Ave Fenix (looking very frail); The original old bearded dude who walks the trail dressed in a brown robe; The little saint who runs the bare-bones albergue in Tosantos; Don Blas, the high-energy priest of Fuenterroble who brought the Via de la Plata to the fore; Jose Antonio de la Reira, a bagpipe-blowing Gallego who helped paint the first yellow arrows, and Luis, the TV reporter who broadcast the renewal to the rest of Spain.  They are heavy hitters, these guys. I have a lot of respect for most of them. “  (

In the Manifesto conclusions and proposals on 4 main topics were agreed upon.

Section 1: Credentials & Compostelas
Section 2: Defense of Camino Heritage, Defining and Way-marking Camino Trails
Section 3:  Tourism and Pilgrimage
Section 4: Hospitality and Welcoming the Pilgrims
Its taken me a couple of weeks to read and digest the Manifesto, which essentially isn't too different from the annual AMIGOS congress reports in that it raises the same concerns about degrading of Camino paths, deterioration and decay of monuments and historic landmarks, and the rising numbers of pilgrims and tourists on the Camino Frances in particular. 
In this blog post I comment on the first topic.  Posts on the other topics will follow.  The comments and views on these posts are mostly mine: the translations are by Google.






"The credential is not a personal souvenir it is a passport to the Camino
Besides being a passport to staying in albergues, many pilgrims who do not stay in albergues also carry a credencial, either to keep as a souvenir of their walk or in order to earn a Compostela or other certificate when they arrive in Santiago. 
According to Javier Martin (AMIGOS), the modern version of the 'Credencial del Peregrino' was not connected to the church or the Compostela, and according to the founding members of AMIGOS it was a 'memento' to the pilgrim's walk.

"The credencial del peregrinos had nothing to do with the cathedral or the church, it was the idea of the congress, of Elias Valina at the congress, for the pilgrims and the albergues, not for the church.”

AMIGOS CONGRESS 1987:  "The credencial would serve to identify a pilgrim, and when he has reached Santiago, to be a memento of the sacrifice and effort put into the pilgrimage."   

Los dias y semanas hechos de esfuerzo y sacrifi cio tendrán para el peregrine el recuerdo imborrable de la vivencia de la fe o la tradición. El recuerdo personal e íntimo de su deambular por unas tierras que seguramente no conoció antes y algunos no volverán a recorrer. La credencial, cuando la peregrinación concluya, será el recuerdo tangible de todas esas vivencias."

The days and weeks made of effort and sacrifice will provide for the pilgrim the indelible memory of the experience of faith or tradition. The personal memory and intimate of his wandering in a land that certainly did not know before and some will no longer go. The credential, when the pilgrimage concludes, will be the tangible memory of all those experiences."
In 1999 when I was planning to walk the Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk in England, (3 years before I walked the Camino for the first time) I printed a "Coast to Coast passport", similar to a Spanish Credencial, which we had stamped at the B&B's along the way.  It is a wonderful memento of that walk - more so than the certificate which we received at the end of it.
In my opinion the credencial is both a card for pilgrims and a souvenir. Whether the pilgrim makes use of the albergues or not, many carry it and it is a wonderful memento of the many places and people who stamp it whilst they walk the Caminos.   It was even described as a 'memento' at the congress in Jaca in 1987.
REBEKAH SCOTT - on her blog: 
But when the pilgrimage started picking up steam again a couple of decades ago, the cathedral came up with a plan meant to filter out the bus-tours and shameless cheaters. They created the 100 kilometer rule. Instead of an identifying letter each pilgrim once carried from their priest or bishop, the cathedral issued its own “credential,” a fold-out booklet issued at the start of the trip to each pilgrim.”

As I've shown, the credencial as we know it, was not a product of the cathedral even though they print and distribute it.  So how did it come about?

In the late 1950's and early 1960's five road routes leading tourists and tourist-pilgrims to Santiago were developed closely following what would become the 'Camino de Santiago' roads 30 years later.  A road map of these routes for pilgrims and tourists was published for the 1954 Holy Year with information on churches, monuments, hotels and restaurants along the way.

A concertina style credential was issued, with blank squares, so that travelers could obtain a stamp at the places they stopped at along the road including Jaca, Valcarlos, Pamplona, ​​Estella, Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Frómista, Leon, Astorga, Ponferrada and Monastery of Samos. 

On arrival in Santiago they could ask for the pilgrim diploma which was funded by the Ministry of Information and Tourism and signed by the Archbishop of Compostela. This was issued in the Holy Years of 1954, 1965, 1971 and 1976.   428 credenciales were issued to both car and walking pilgrims in 1965 :  451 in 1971 and only 240 in 1976.  


amaWalker BlogSpot - November 2013:

In 1963, Antonio Roa Irisarri, Jaime Eguaras Echávarri and José María Jimeno Jurío, members of the newly formed association of "Los Amigos de Camino de Santiago" in Estella, made a pilgrimage to Santiago dressed in Capuchin habits leading a mule with a wagon.
They designed a Pilgrim's Credential (probably based on the earlier Holy Years credencial) which was approved and blessed by Cardinal-Archbishop of Santiago Archbishop Fernando Quiroga Palacios.  The cover design of this credencial with a walking cane, gourd and scallop shell was adopted at the first AMIGOS conference held in Jaca in 1987.
The decision was taken to make the credencial available to all organsiations and nations for disbursement to anyone wanting to make the pilgrimage.
 “.. ello proponemos ante este Congreso que las credenciales no sean expedidas solo en Roncesvalles o Jaca, sino que ellas obren en poder de todas las Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago extendidas por Espana y otras naciones para su entrega a los que han de hacer la peregrinación. Pensamos que ello sería un buen motivo para que las credenciales tuviesen una difusión más extendida.”
(we propose to this Congress that credentials are not issued only in Roncesvalles or Jaca, but they are held by all Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago extended by Spain and other nations for delivery to those who want to make the pilgrimage. We think that this would be a good reason for the credentials to be spread more extensively.)
By the year 2000 when dozens of people and tour operators were designing their own credenciales, which were being presented to the Pilgrim Office for a Compostela, the Archdiocese stepped in.
14 September 2000 - at a meeting of the Santiago Archdiocese, the Archconfraternity, and the Federation of Friends of Santiago Associations, an accord was reached regarding future Pilgrimage-related measures. Because of the large growth in pilgrim numbers and the increase in commercial credentials, the need for one uniform pilgrim’s credential was recognized, and agreed upon.  A message was sent from the Pilgrim's Office:
"Commencing on January 1, 2009, the Pilgrims’ Office will only accept the credential issued by the Santiago Cathedral, which has a space for the seal of the authorized institution, church or Santiago Friends’ Association that issued it.   Friends Associations that are not part of the Federation of Associations that may wish to issue credentials must contact its parish to obtain the information that must be imparted to those who wish to make the pilgrimage. Through their parish they may obtain a sufficient number of blank credential forms.
For the purposes of granting the Compostela at the Pilgrims’ Office only the credential issued by the Cathedral, or by those that are issued by Friends of Santiago Associations that clearly contain information about the religious character of the Santiago pilgrimage, will be accepted



"It is clear that the final 100 kilometer hike required by the See of St. James to obtain the Compostela document, abetted by the Autonomous Community of Galicia, is the principal cause of the overcrowding, devaluation, vulgarity and confusion that reigns in these stretches of the Jacobean trails.  Disingenuous promotions identifying only these last (Galician) kilometers as “The Camino de Santiago” means that now more than 35% of pilgrims walk the least number of kilometers required, while the thousands of pilgrims who have come much longer distances are disenchanted and disheartened when given the same recognition."  
Ah .....  la Compostela!  The certificate that has, in the modern era of the Camino, resulted in anxiety, desperation, tears and duplicity!  What a pity it was ever revived.  Its had a stop-start history from the 14th century and perhaps it would've been better if it was allowed to rest following its centuries hiatus from the 16th century. 

Año Santo: 1993
The only reason that I have been able to find for the 100 km requirement, which was imposed by the church for the earning a Compostela (not by Galician tourism), was to ensure ".. effort and sacrifice in expiation of sins.."  (El esfuerzo y sacrificio en expiación de los pecados...")
This has resulted in many people confusing the Compostela with a remission of sins, or the Catholic indulgence.  Over the past 15 years I've read hundreds of articles describing the Compostela as a 'get-out-of-jail' card.   The Compostela is not the 'get-out-of jail-card', it is a certificate of completion awarded to pilgrims who walk or horseback ride the last 100km to Santiago de Compostela, or cycle the last 200km.

The Indulgence (for the remission of sins and time spent in purgatory) is given to Catholic pilgrims only.  They must comply with the requirements of visiting the cathedral, reciting a prayer, such as the Creed or Lord's prayer, praying for His Holiness the Pope; attend mass and receiving the Sacraments of confession.  Millions of Catholic pilgrims to the tomb of St James in Santiago still earn the indulgence, especially in holy years, but they don't have to walk there. 

Indulgences for specific lengths of time - days or years - were abolished shortly after Vatican 11 and there are now only two types of indulgences -  plenary (full remission of sins) and partial.
Printed or written indulgences issued by churches and sold by wandering 'Pardoners' were one of the main gripes of Luther, Erasmus et al and a leading cause of the Reformation and the split in the church.  

"I would never have thought that such a storm would rise from Rome over one simple scrap of paper..." (Martin Luther)
In the last "Year of the Faith' (2012-2013) the Vatican announced that Plenary Indulgences for the faithful would be valid from October 2012 to November 2013.  (Converts would have to go to '...the church where they were received into the embrace of the Holy Mother.')
"Vatican City, 5 October 2012 (VIS) – According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro and Bishop Krzysztof Nykiel, respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the Year of Faith. The indulgence will be valid from the opening of the Year on 11 October 2012 until its end on 24 November 2013."
Perhaps the church should have stuck to handing out indulgences to all Catholic pilgrims and offering a certificate of welcome to all other pilgrims, tourists and tourist-pilgrims - as they now give to any pilgrim that visits Jerusalem. 

Or this one offered by the Franciscans
“If I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.....” (Ps. 136:5)
This quotation is a preface to the following declaration:
In the name of God. Amen
To whomsoever this letter is consigned, we attest that:
(here the pilgrim’s name is inserted)
as happily reached Jerusalem and devotedly visited the Holy Places.
(date and signature)

In an age when walking is no longer a requirement for visiting the great pilgrimage centres of the world, the Compostela, the church's stipulation of a 100km walk, more than anything else, has caused overcrowding on the last section of the Camino, deceitful claims of religiosity in order to earn it, a scramble to get two stamps per day and long queues at the pilgrims' centre in order to obtain it. 

I don't think we can lay the blame at the Galician tourist board.  Not all the Camino walks in Galicia start in Sarria (although that is the most popular and the one that is being alluded to by the Manifesto).  Some trails in Galicia are well over 100km long and all seem to be advertised equally. 
Whilst the reanimation of the 'walking pilgrim' to Santiago is accredited to Don Elias Valiña Sampedro of O Cebreiro parish, the first push for establishing a Spanish Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela must be accredited to Don Manuel Fraga who was Minister of Tourism and the first promoter of the Jacobean pilgrimage during the 1965 Holy Year. 

When the cathedral authorities introduced the Compostela the criterion for gaining one was that you have to walk a minimum distance, the reasoning being that pilgrimage should involve some physical exertion. The intention is no doubt good, but it has led to the idea that pilgrimage involves some sort of long walk. This idea is however unique to Compostela, and in reality, pilgrimage has nothing to do with long walks - few of the many thousands of pilgrims to, say, Guadelupe or Montserrat, Lourdes or Fátima walk there.  
What's more, the minimum distance is completely arbitrary, and means that most Galicians do not qualify if they start from their front door. Galicians are the largest component of those claiming a compostela, but if they want one they must start somewhere that is more than the minimum distance from Santiago. A majority of pilgrims start from within Galicia, so it seems logical to assume that many of these are Galicians from elsewhere in Galicia - a decidedly odd arrangement."
The Compostela - amaWalker blog - November 2013: 
The 'La Autentica' (as it was first called) was originally an 18" X 20" parchment, hand-written in Latin with a small wooden Santiago pilgrim attached to its upper left corner. A requirement for earning this document was confession and communion (but this requirement seems to have been stopped from the 18th century). The oldest copy available is dated 1321 and can be found in the archives of the Pas-de-Calais in northern France.

When the name changed to the 'Compostelana' during the transition between the handwritten document and the advent of printing (which only reached Galicia in 17th century), there were two documents issued - one handwritten, carrying a 'Bula' or seal, and a printed one.

After the decline in pilgrimages from the 15th century, it seems that the issue of a certificate stopped for a few centuries, was revived in the 18th century and then stopped again at the end of the 19th century 
In the early 20th century, Cardinal José María Martín Herrera encouraged the return of organized pilgrim groups to Santiago. A medal replaced the Compostela in Holy Years (which saved printing costs and earned them some money). These were only issued in the Holy Years of 1909, 1915, 1920 and 1926.

 When the three members of the "Los Amigos de Camino de Santiago" in Estella made their pilgrimage to Santiago they were warmly received and were issued with the new Compostelana certificates. The wording was different from the previous certificates:
"Certifying pilgrims will be true pilgrims, not thugs or homeless" received wide acceptance in the Hospital of Reyes Católicos.

Some stats claim that in 1974 only 6 Compostelas were issued. Records prior to the 1970's were lost.
a.  Download a copy of the FICS manifesto here -
b.  1987 AMIGOS congress papers 
Information on credentials and Compostelas from the website of Fernando Lalanda  - with permission.   and -  The 'Historia-Descripción Arqueológica de la basílica Compostelana , published in 1870,


  1. Wow, Sil, I love history and this is a great read. Looking forward to the rest.

    Happy New Year and maybe, see you on the Camino this year? Ingrid

  2. Thanks, Sil, for this very clear and bright account of the history of these two strange documents.
    Please be assured that FICS is not out to diss Amigos.. and if there are historical errors in my manifesto-ing thay are all mine. One of the documents that opened the Villafranca discussion was the printed grafs from the minutes of the Jaca convention, with Valina describing the "carnet" that morphed into the credential, among the crowd that became the Amigos.

    One other point of clarity: in my experience, the indulgence given to pilgrims undertaking the religious pilgrimage involves no physical document whatsoever. Only God knows!