When a person arrives in Santiago de Compostela there’s not much confusion about how to get the “Compostela,” the completion certificate issued by the Cathedral Office. Pilgrims go to the special building near the cathedral, stand in line, present their credential, are asked a few questions, and then are issued their certificate. Presto!
At the Vatican, it’s not quite so easy.
When we four pilgrims arrived at St. Peter’s Square our first question was, “where do we get our Testimonium?” We asked various police officers, who told us to stand in line at the metal detectors and then go inside to the Sacristy for our certificates. So, we dutifully stood in a line of several hundred people, inquired as to where the Sacristy is (it’s off the West Transept of the basilica). When we arrived in this ornate room, complete with a beautiful, stone dome of its own, we met a man behind a desk who asked for our credentials and then stamped them with the Vatican’s “tinbro” (stamp). When we asked about our Testimonia, he at first didn’t know what we were talking about, then told us the Testimonium office is only open 9-Noon. Since it was after 4:00 we let it go to the next day.
Our little group divided in two, with Jacqueline and I heading to shopping and Andreas and Sebastian wanting to get to their rooms for a shower and comfy rest. As Jacqueline and I walked, we asked a few folks who looked like they knew what they were doing about how we would get our Testimonia. They directed us to the pilgrim desk at the Tourist Office just off St. Peter’s Square. Sure enough, when we arrived there the kind woman seemed to know what we were talking about. She copied our credentials and promised she would mail us our Testimonia.
The next day, unbeknownst to Jacqueline and me, our colleagues went to the official pilgrim office inside the Vatican and secured their Testimonia! “Go around the metal detectors,” they said, “then go to the police station, then through the Swiss Guards, then to another police station, then through security, then walk down the road, turn left and then right and go into the building. They’ll give you your certificates right there.”
So the next day, Jacqueline and I did just that. After four security checks, including one with the guys in the flashy pantsuits, we arrived at the official pilgrim office. We were asked to have a seat behind a desk and surrender our credentials. In a few moments the kind man returned with stamped Testimonia, tucked into an official Vatican envelope. On our way out we asked how many pilgrims come for their Testimonia each day. Only five to ten, we were told. No wonder no one seemed to know where to direct us.
In spite of the difficulty in finding our way to the right office, it was still fun to see “behind the scenes” at the Vatican during our little foray into this tiny city-state. It’s been a month and no sign of any duplicate Testimonia in the mail, so I’m glad we took the extra time and asked around a little more so we did finally get our certificates.