The Ultimate Indulgence


Camino Indulgence

No, I am not talking about a mid-Camino spa day! Rather, this post is about the granting of Indulgences, which is part of the overall salvation theology of the Catholic Church. Although often confused with “Tickets to Heaven” or “Get Out of Hell Free Cards,” indulgences really only have to do with the final purification necessary to enter Heaven.

Briefly: Indulgences are “a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins the guilt of which has already been forgiven.” Indulgences do not (and have never) gotten anyone out of Hell or into Heaven. In other words, everyone experiencing Purgatory is already on their way to Heaven when they die. Indulgences are either total (“plenary”) – returning one to a state of complete holiness, or partial – which just means less-than-total. (For additional theological details, see HERE).

VIDEO VERSION: Camino Indulgence_THUMB

Pilgrimage Indulgences

Throughout Church history, certain penances were applied to the sacrament of confession to help purify the person before death. Eventually these acts took on a sort of life of their own as they were attached to extra-sacramental actions. By the 11th century, these “indulgences” (under various titles) began to be more common.

It was in the time of the Crusades that indulgences came into full blossom. Muslim occupation of Spain and the Holy Land was causing severe danger to pilgrims who wished to visit holy sites. After centuries of Islamic invasion and occupation, the Church offered indulgences to those who would take up the cross and fight to free Jerusalem or expel Muslim invaders (the Moors) from Spain.

Later, pilgrimages to holy sites also came with an indulgence for the pilgrim willing to make the journey. As with Jerusalem and Rome, Santiago de Compostela became one of these destinations.

Attaining the Santiago Indulgence

In A.D. 1122, Pope Calixtus II granted a plenary indulgence to those who made a pilgrimage to the Santiago Cathedral when St. James’ feast day (July 25th) falls on a Sunday. Doing so in “Holy Years” is only possible 14 times a century!

Today the Pilgrim’s Office says that in order to gain a plenary indulgence one must:

  • Visit the Cathedral of Santiago / the Tomb of St. James.
  • Pray (at least) the Apostle’s Creed, the Our Father, and for the intentions of the Pope.
  • Receive Confession and Communion 15 days before or after visiting the Cathedral.*

*Standard requirements for any plenary indulgence always apply.

Notice that this list doesn’t include doing these things during a Holy Year – but I cannot find anything that rescinded that requirement. (I emailed the Pilgrim office about this.)

The next Holy Year is 2021, so it would appear that a 2020 pilgrimage would only grant a partial indulgence in 2020. However, I have also heard it said that a plenary indulgence is available on a few dates every year in Santiago. These include:

  • Easter Sunday
  • April 21st (the anniversary of the cathedral’s consecration)
  • July 25th (St. James’s feast day)
  • December 30th (commemorating the transfer of St. James’s relics to Santiago)
  • May 23rd (commemorating the appearance of St. James at the legendary Battle of Clavijo).

These are also dates when the impressive Botafumeiro is used during the Pilgrim’s Mass.

Camino Compostela Confusion

Notice that walking the Camino has nothing to do with attaining the indulgence!

Unless otherwise noted, a religious pilgrimage can be a journey of any length and on any route to a holy place. The Camino itself is not, at this time, a “privileged path.” This also means that the Santiago indulgence is not attached to getting one’s Compostela – although these two things are often confused.


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