At the beginning of the pilgrimages, in the ninth and tenth centuries, the demonstration that someone had been in Santiago was to take with him a badge with the shell of a vieira (scallop), with which many pilgrims were even buried. The importance at that time of the Compostela was huge, since it came to be a kind of safe conduct that avoided paying tolls, authorized passage through places and carried many other benefits. When coming to the city, the pilgrims used to bring letters of introduction from their original parish priests and, as they left, they left with the badge that justified their pilgrimage to Compostela.
However, very soon it was shown that the badges were easy to falsify, to the extent that the Church even had to decree sentences of excommunication for those who manufactured or wore false scallops.
For this reason already in the thirteenth century they began to deliver the Probatory Letters, true predecessors of the current Compostela. The Canonry of Compostela continued for centuries to give this certification to the pilgrims. Nowadays the delivery of the Compostela takes place if the pilgrims show that they arrive in Santiago for religious reasons and that they have travelled at least the last 100 km. on foot or on horseback; 200 km. by bicycle; or 100 nautical miles and the last kilometers on foot.
The text of the current Compostela continues to be in Latin. Its translation is:
The Chapter of this Holy Apostolic and Metropolitan Cathedral Church of Compostela, custodian of the seal of the Altar of St. James the Apostle, to all the Faithful and pilgrims who come from any part of the Earth with attitude of devotion or because of vote or promise to the Tomb of the Apostle, Our Patron and Protector of Spain, accredits to all those who observe this document that: Mr. …………… has devoutly visited this most sacred Temple with Christian meaning (pietatis causa).
In faith of which I give you the present document endorsed with the seal of this same Holy Church.
Given in Santiago de Compostela on the day ……… month …………… year of the Lord ……….
The Deputy Canon for the Pilgrims
All those who wish to do so will be provided with the request and collection of their Compostela, which is done in the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office.
The Cathedral also offers the possibility of requesting the Certificate of Distance, a document that shows the kilometres travelled on the pilgrimage.