El Camino de Santiago is a very special and ambitious journey that many, many people embark on each year. Every individual traveler comes with their own specific reasons for setting out on the famous Spanish pilgrimage.
What you get out of this adventure will be completely up to you, but if you adopt the attitude of a true pilgrim and try to find the positive in all situations for the duration of your chosen route, you’re sure to accomplish your goals and maybe even find something within that you didn’t realize you were looking for.
However, no matter what continent, country or city you come from, there are a few traditions and symbols that you will notice and have the opportunity to take part in along the way that are universal to everyone who makes the trek.
Obtaining your pilgrim’s passport should be one of the first things you take care of when you decide you’re making the El Camino voyage.
There are several places that offer a way for people to pick up a passport in their own countries before heading over to Spain. Of course, if you forget to get it right away it won’t be as detrimental as forgetting your real passport, but it’s definitely something you want to make sure you have as it is part of the whole experience of walking the world-renowned trail.
A pilgrim’s passport is also made available at numerous places along the different routes, but you’ll want to have it for the beginning of your trip since the stamps you will receive are proof that you’re an authentic traveling pilgrim and give you the advantage of finding a bed in the albergues at night.
Furthermore, this will be your official credential for receiving the compostela at the end of your journey and serve as one of your most significant souvenirs since it documents each place you stopped en route to Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell has been a historic symbol of El Camino for a long time, with its original meaning deriving from legendary tales concerning the death of St. James.
The shell has adopted a metaphorical meaning as well and is said to illustrate the various routes of the Spanish pilgrimage through its grooves, which eventually come together at a single point, as do all the routes that lead to Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela and St. James’s final resting place.
The scallop shell was also often used in a practical manner to serve as a tool for eating and drinking since it is a common find on the way to Santiago once pilgrims reach the shores of Galicia on their journey. On today’s pilgrimages, many use the shells that are painted on trees, sidewalks, buildings, etc. as guides along their path.
Cruz de Ferro
Over time, pilgrims have adopted the tradition of bringing a stone from home with them on their travels to leave at the Cruz de Ferro, which is an iron cross that has been erected on the way to Santiago. For some, it is symbolic of leaving behind a piece of their homeland, and for others, it represents leaving behind their sins at the foot of the cross.
The compostela is the final token you will receive on your journey. All those who have walked the last 100km or cycled the last 200km of the trail into Santiago with the required stamps on their passport will be given a certificate of accomplishment.
Upon completion of the pilgrimage, you will be asked your reason for taking on the El Camino challenge and if your answer is anything other than for religious purposes, be prepared to receive a slightly different certificate of achievement.
This Spanish pilgrimage isn’t like any other journey, no two experiences will be the same, and even if you’re traveling alone, embracing all the traditions will make you feel like you’re a part of one big beautiful and spiritual picture.