What is the Compostela?

La Compostela

Since the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James, emerged spontaneously throughout the centuries IX and X, was institutionalized becoming certain social and religious considerations, it was necessary to prove having completed it. To do this, first, they used an insignia which were acquired only in Santiago consisting in a scallop shell.

It is easy to deduce the facility of falsifying this rudimentary certification. Forgery that actually occurred, forcing the prelates of Compostela and the Pope to decree penalties of excommunion against the counterfeiters. More effective, because it was more difficult to falsify, were the called “evidential letters”, which were already issued in the thirteenth century. These letters are the direct origin of the Compostela. In the 16th century the Catholic Monarchs constituted the Foundation of the Royal Hospital and ordered the construction of a hospital for pilgrims in Santiago. This was housed in the building now occupied by the Hotel Hostal de los Reyes Católicos (In 1954 it was converted to a state run Parador hotel). On presentation of their Compostela pilgrims were allowed to stay in the hospital for three days. The hospital looked after pilgrims’ health needs and it became the most important hospital in Galicia. Later in its history it became the centre of the faculty of Medicine of the University of Santiago de Compostela

The appearance of motor vehicles and, in our century, the popularization of tourism meant a certain crisis for the pilgrimage. The effort and sacrifice in expiation of the sins which until that moment meant the pilgrimage, gave way to a pleasant and enjoyable activity to use the holidays. It was also the case that there was a growth in certificates issued by other bodies which sought to imitate the traditional Compostela. (Such is the case of the Holy Land, where the Ministry of Israeli Tourism issues a certificate). Thanks God the Chapter of the Metropolitan Church of Santiago continued to issue the certificate and claiming, but with little success, the fulfillment of founding duty by the today Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. Nevertheless, the Cathedral currently limited the "Compostela" to those who come to the tomb of the Apostle by religious motives and on foot, bicycle or horse. This requires having covered at least the last 100 kilometers on foot or horseback or even the last 200 by bicycle are excluded, therefore, other forms of travel to obtain the Compostela, except in the case of disabled people who can come in non-motorized wheelchair.

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