Getting a Testimonium at the Vatican is Fun (but not easy)

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.” IMG_2461

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.


We did it! Jacqueline and I succeed in securing our Testimonia, proof that we walked the walk! The Vatican office is just behind us.

Testimonium from the Vatican following our 2013 Cammino di San Francesco

Testimonium from the Vatican following our 2013 Cammino di San Francesco.

Dancing to the Tomb of St Peter

May 28, 2013 — Monte Sacro to Vatican City

I was trying to describe to Sebastian this morning how I feel when I near a pilgrimage destination on foot. It’s happened all four times on the way to Santiago. I feel like I’m walking downhill and the forces of momentum and gravity are carrying me forward beyond my ability to control. When the end goal is less than a day away — even perhaps 40+ kilometres (25+ miles) — I can’t seem to stop. I have to go until I get there, no matter the cost.

I was trying to explain that this morning as Sebastian was trying to tell me in his kind way that I was stupid for wanting to walk all the way to Rome yesterday. We’d just finished a 28 km day. Why would I want to walk another 30 km right after?

When I woke up this morning, 15 km shy of Rome, there it was — that pull. I’d managed to subdue it yesterday, and wait with my friends to walk the remaining 15 km, but it expressed itself today in an almost manic happiness at breakfast, followed by a blistering pace with me in the lead for our first kilometers.

20130528-145521.jpgJacqueline found this, our first waymark of the day

We set out at 9:00 from our B&B in Monte Sacro and found our first waymark, a pitifully worn yellow marker on the sidewalk of the street corner a few blocks away. These painted waymarks usually are two squares, side by side, one with the image of St Peter’s keys, the other with the image of San Francesco’s hands lifted to the stars and birds. This pitiful waymark had definitely seen better days, but finding it was one of many little victories today that ended up leading us directly to the Vatican.
20130528-145945.jpgOur path followed the river through glades of bamboo

Whoever planned the pilgrim track into Rome clearly had a specific idea in mind — keep pilgrims near the parks and away from the traffic. That is precisely what they accomplished. Our path from Monte Sacro all the way to the Vatican was like a surgeon slicing through flesh but missing every vital organ. The very first Roman monument we would see, after walking all the way through the Eternal City, was St Peter’s Basilica. No Victor Emmanuel, no Pantheon, no Coliseum, no Spanish Steps. This neat task was accomplished by keeping us on a bike path past two huge Roman parks, then hugging the river as it winds its way through the city. We marked our progress by counting parks and bridges, and then in one surprising moment we looked across a riverbend and behold!, the Vatican. Gravity won, the inevitable, irresistible pull had tugged us to the goal. We had arrived — a day later than I might have if I’d been walking alone, but we had arrived, and together which is really the best way of all.
20130528-150025.jpgFollowing the bike paths by Rome’s big parks

The huge and diverse crowds around the entry to St Peter’s Square could not delay us as we elbowed our way toward our goal. As we stood in awe before the immense building we heard the sounds of English being spoken and asked for our photos to be taken before the church facade. Then we dropped our backpacks off at our nearby housing and returned to secure our final credential stamps and inspect the site.
20130528-150043.jpgAh, there it is!

After 30 minutes in the security line we were inside the Basilica, looking at our amazing surroundings then looking for the Sacristy where we would get our credential stamps. We were led back to a grand and ornate room where a man behind a desk stamped our pilgrim passports, then we headed out of the church to find where to get our “Testimonium,” the official completion certificate. We finally discovered the “afternoon location” of the office and, after our credentials were inspected, were assured our certificates would soon be in the mail.
20130528-150055.jpgPilgrims arrive at the tomb of St Peter

That left us an afternoon to relax and then our first of three evenings to enjoy the cuisine of this great city.

Tomorrow we will go to the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Coliseum, to my friend AJ’s community of scholars, and most importantly we will visit the Church of St John at the Lateran. This is where Francis of Assisi concluded his original Roman pilgrimage with his audience with the Pope and it is where we will pray and give our thanks and meditate on this amazing two weeks of walking in the footsteps of the simple man of Assisi.
20130528-181639.jpgThis beautiful church was always on my list to see.

20130528-235133.jpgMy pilgrim credential, with today’s stamp, final for this walk, in the lower right