If you’re in the planning stages of your own Pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, these are fantastic terms to get acquainted with that will be reoccurring the more you read and research. As I began writing stories from my own Camino, I realized these are terms and phrases unique to this experience. I’ve included some and their common definitions below.
Camino de Santiago | The Way of Saint James
This is a religious Pilgrimmage dating back to the 9th century that leads to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of apostle Saint James the Great is believed to be laid to rest.
When someone mentions the Camino, they are often referring to the Camino Frances starting in St Jean Pied de Port. However, the Camino is a large network of routes spanning across Spain with origins in Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and so many other European countries.
The other popular routes include Camino del Norte (Irun), Camino Primitivo (The Original Way, Oviedo), Via de la Plata (Silver Way, Seville), Camino Ingles (Ferrol), and Camino Portugese (Lisbon).
Peregrino | Pilgrim
Anyone who chooses to walk the Camino, whether for religious, spiritual, or personal reasons and carries only what they need on their back.
Credencial | Pilgrim Passport
Often issued where you begin your Camino and is a requirement to stay in Albergues. This is where you will collect stamps along the way showing where you’ve stayed, what churches you’ve visited (if any), or places you’ve shared a meal. In order to obtain the Compostela, it is required to obtain two stamps (cellos) per day in the last 100km.
Sello | Stamp
The thing to fill your passport with. Each Albergue has a unique sello which will be issued when you register and are assigned a bed for the evening. Some cafes and restaurants also have a sello and almost every church along the Camino will have one available as well. Think of it as a catalog of your journey in ink!
Concha | Scalloped Shell
This is the sign of the Pilgrim. It is often purchased at the start of the journey or somewhere along the way. Often secured to the outside of your belongings, it’s a way for people to distinguish who is a Pilgrim (though the backpack and knee braces are also dead giveaways).
Yellow Arrows (or Yellow Shells) | This Direction! You’re not lost! Keep going!
The yellow brick road of the Camino, these arrows may be painted on rocks, trees, buildings, while yellow shells are often mounted on plaques, tiles, or in the cement as you walk. They are physical markers to let you know where the trail continues and feel like a long lost friend when you took a wrong turn but found the way again.
Etapas | Stages
These are synonymous with days. They are often sandwiched between two destinations and indicate the number of kilometers you plan to walk between them. Stages are suggestions, meaning there are plenty of places in between for you to make your own route. There are people who follow the stages on Gronze or in guidebooks to the letter. Others find less frequented corners to rest their tired bodies.
Albergues| Pilgrm Hostels
Accommodations designed specifically for Pilgrims (also referred to as refugios). These are often dormitories with 10-50 people per room and shared facilities like showers, bathrooms, and kitchens. As a general rule of thumb, beds are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis and only allow one night stays unless you require help due to illness or injury. Almost all Albergues are volunteer-run unless they are privately owned.
Donation-based Albergues. It’s important to note, donativo does not equate to free.
Rule of Thumb: I always start with a donation of 5 Euro when I arrive and donate more as I leave depending on additional services and facilities (were there meals provided, were there laundry facilities, did the hospitalero help you pop your blisters, ect.)
Municipal (5-10 Euros)
Owned by the local municipality, they are the least expensive of the options but can be the bare bones of the accommodations.
Parochial (5-10 Euros)
Run by religious institutions, these are often accommodations in monasteries, convents, or local churches.
Private (10-15 Euros)
Sometimes it’s a business that has converted their unused space for Pilgrims or an Albergue owned and run by an individual. These are usually a tad more comfortable and offer additional services above the baseline including, washing machines, internet or wifi. Some Private Albergues accept reservations a day in advance.
Other Types of Accommodations
Include Pensions, Hotels, Casa Rural, and Apartments.
Hospitalero | Inn Keeper
Volunteers, locals, nuns, or monks who help keep the Albergues running smoothly and aid in issues that may arise. The best Albergues I stayed in were always because of the kindness and caring nature of the hospitaleros.
Compostela | Certificate of Completion
You must have completed the last 100km to Santiago (or 200km if arriving by bicycle) to obtain the Compostela. After arriving in Santiago, there is a dedicated office that issues these. You must have an ID, your Pilgrim Passport, and two cellos per day for the last 100km.
The Compostela will include the date you began, where you started, the distance you covered, and the date you finished. Approximately 350,000 Compostela certificates were issued to Pilgrims in 2019.
People will shout this from their doorways, rooftops, windowsills. People will say it to you as you pass in the streets and after you’ve settled a bill. It can get annoying at times to hear it for the thousandth time that day, but people are wishing you well on your journey.