They told me it couldn’t be done, so, I want to share with you how I figured out how to get a pilgrim stamp at St Peter Cathedral, Rome. Here’s how it all went down in Italy last week…
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They told me I couldn't get my pilgrim credential stamped at the Vatican
They said it couldn’t be done. What I mean is, people told me I could not get my pilgrim credential stamped at the Vatican’s St. Peter Cathedral. One of the pilgrim’s honored possessions is their credential or pilgrim passport that allows them into special accommodations. The passport is also way to store memories. Each stamp is a lightweight, mini-souvenir—a symbol that recalls stories after the wayfarer returns home.
A stamp to inaugurate my 350-mile walk across southern Italy
A stamp from the Vatican’s St. Peter Basilica seemed the perfect way to inaugurate my 350-mile walk. Years have passed since I climbed its stairs to the top of the dome, or descended to the crypt of Paul, the Christ convert executed in Rome.
I procured my pilgrim passport at a hostel run by pilgrims of Confraternita di San Jacopo di Compostella in Trastevere. These folks learned about Christian fraternity from the hospitality they received while walking Spain’s Camino de Santiago, so they want to offer it to pilgrims who walk in Italy. The week before I left home, someone suggested that I might find “experienced” hiking poles left behind by wanderers who finish their Via Francigena in Rome. The Via Francigena starts at Canterbury, England, and proceeds through France, Switzerland and Italy, an ancient way for pilgrims traveling to Rome. Pilgrims making the way to Jerusalem would continue south from Rome on the Vie Francigene del Sud.
I was still jet lagging when I rang the bell at the albergue pilgrim accommodations. Sandro, a veteran Camino pilgrim, welcomed me into the space. “Yes, there are plenty of hiking poles,” he said. “Come with me.” He led me up a flight of stairs and into room decorated with a huge mural and map of how the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena connect. Both were traveled by pilgrims in the Middle Ages to get to the three most important Christian pilgrimage sites of the times: Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem.
In the same room, a barrel filled with hiking poles left behind by people who could not take them back home in their carry-on luggage.
'Experienced' Hiking Poles
“These are for you,” Sandro said choosing the best of the ‘experienced’ hiking poles for me.
“Do you have a credential that I could buy?” I said hoping to save myself a walk to another pilgrim association.
“No, we don’t sell credentials here,” he frowned. Then his face brightened, remembering that he had one in his car.
Sandro was from Perugia, and traveled to Rome to volunteer at this albergue. His Perugia association supports and staffs Ermita de San Nicolas on the Camino Frances in Spain that is known for its antiquity and Christian foot-washing rites. His association offers credentials and I was blessed to receive one in Rome since Ermita de San Nicolas is one of my favorite spiritual hotspots in Spain.
Do you know where I get my stamp at St. Peter?
“I would like to get my first sello (Spanish for stamp) at St. Peter. Do you know where I get my stamp there?” I asked.
“Oh, no. You cannot get a stamp at St. Peter. You have to get your first stamp at the place you spend your first night,” he said.
“Well, that is not true, I got stamps at other cathedrals as my first stamp,” I smiled diplomatically.
“No, no!” You CANNOT get a stamp until your first night of sleep,” Sandro said emphatically. OK, I could tell that I was not going to get anywhere with this old codger, so I thanked him profusely, took his photo by the iconic Camino arrow and left. I’ve received “first” stamps at some of the best-loved cathedrals around the world: Notre Dame de Paris, Lourdes, Chartres and Sacre Coeur. I was pretty darn sure that I could get one at St. Peter in Rome, I was just not sure how.
Get your stamp at the Offices of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi?
Earlier, I’d messaged Giuseppe, another Vie Francigene del Sud association volunteer, on WhatsApp. “Get your stamp at the Offices of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi,” said my mentor for the southern way. So I entered the offices in Google Maps on my phone and followed the directions. Turns out the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi offices are a few blocks from St. Peter Cathedral. As an office of the Diocese of Rome, they accompany pilgrims along spiritual paths while offering both spiritual assistance and practical organization. Wow! That sounds like the same mission as my Spiritual and Walking Guidebooks!
When I arrived, a fashionista Roman in bowtie and Tweed suit spoke enthusiastically to a French couple. As far as I could tell, his French was parfait—perfect! I waited patiently, knowing this wasn’t the place I wanted to be. I wanted to get my stamp inside St. Peter Cathedral.
“Excusez moi,” he said to the couple and asked me how he might help.
“Ciao! I am a pilgrim of Vie Francigene del Sud,” I said. “I wish to have my pilgrim credential stamped at St. Peter Cathedral. Do you know where I can do that?”
“You do not want a certificate of completion, no?”
“No, I am just beginning. I will complete my spiritual journey in Bari.”
“Get a timbro (the Italian word for stamp) at St. Peter? If there is such a place, I do not know it,” said the Vatican expert. “But if you follow me, I can have your credential stamped here.”
He took me to what looked like a police desk in the next building, and I got the first stamp of my pilgrimage from an officer. Still unable to take “no,” for an answer, I continued to St. Peter Basilica. I was determined to get my stamp.
WAndering the chapels of this sacred place
I took the famous Ponte Sant’Angelo across the Tiber, stood in line for over an hour to have my handbag x-rayed by Vatican security, and finally entered the church. The first thing that catches your eye as you enter the world’s largest cathedral, is Pieta, the infamous statue by Michelangelo. After praying in front of the statue—yes, you can actually get in front of Rome’s famous monuments without fighting the hordes of tourists experienced in pre-COVID times—I decide to simply wander the chapels of this sacred space, and not worry about the stamp for time being.
St Peter's Gift Shop
After about two hours of exploring and meditating, the natural progression of wandering the great Basilica took me to the gift shop. One thing I’ve learned over time is that if you haven’t found what you’re looking for, ask the gift shop attendant. After shopping, I showed the cashier my credential and asked, “Where can I get this stamped?” offering a little Camino sign language by holding an invisible stamp in my right hand and pressing it down on the passport.
The young gentleman in the blue suit briefly looked up and said in English, “Follow him.” He tilted his head towards another man in a navy blazer carrying what looked like a cashier’s drawer. I had to leave the gift shop, dodging happy families buying keepsakes, and walk around to the secure door where I hoped the second man would be exiting. Sure enough, after waiting a few moments that seemed like an eternity, out came the man with the cash.
He led me down a narrow hallway, then turned to the right to an antechamber that led to the sacristy. He called out to a man inside, telling the official what I needed. The administrator unclipped the velvet stanchion rope and allowed me into the room where priests garb up for the Eucharist.
I was reminded that in Spanish cathedrals I was often invited into the sacristy to receive my pilgrim stamp. Special access always made me feel like an honored guest. I was more than humbled to be invited into the sacristy of St. Peter Basilica, the home of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican Stamp
The official took my credential, put it on a large oak table, and pressed down his timbro with a flourish. He handed my credential back to me with a smile. I could hardly believe it! They said it couldn’t be done.
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