About the Camino de Santiago Scallop Shell

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About The Camino De Santiago Scallop Shell

Planning on hiking the Camino Frances? Undoubtedly you will come across the countless Scallop Shell symbols along the way. They are on the walls, signs, and within churches and hostels. Some fellow hikers will also wear them on necklaces, t-shirts, bag patches and even as tattoos!

But what is the history of this iconic Camino Frances symbol and how does it link to Saint James and the pilgrims who walk this trail?

As you can probably guess, there are a variety of stories, myths and legends on the origin of the Scallop Shell found on the Way of St James the Great.

Here are some myths (in no particular order) which are most popular.

Scallop Shell Myths

01.

St James body covered in scallops

This is probably my favourite as it reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean.
A ship transporting St. James’ body was destroyed in a severe storm. St James body was later found washed ashore on a beach covered in scallop shells, protecting his body from damage.

02.

Scallop Shells as drinking containers

Pilgrims used the Scallop Shells as containers to drink water from spring and streams found on the route.

03.

souvenirs for pilgrims

It’s thought that during the Middle Ages, the merchants around the Cathedral of Santiago sold the Scallops, fished from the Galician sea as souvenirs to the pilgrims.

04.

The wedding

Upon the arrival to the Galcian Coast, St James disciples witnessed a wedding taking place on the shores edge. The bride was riding horseback, but the horse became frightened and dove into the water with its rider still strapped to the saddle.
Both the horse and bride emerged from the water safe and covered head to toe in scallop shells.

04.

The wedding

Upon the arrival to the Galcian Coast, St James disciples witnessed a wedding taking place on the shores edge. The bride was riding horseback, but the horse became frightened and dove into the water with its rider still strapped to the saddle.
Both the horse and bride emerged from the water safe and covered head to toe in scallop shells.

05.

The wedding

Perhaps the most symbolic myth is the association of the scallop shell with Venus – the goddess of love. The symbol of Venus signifies resurrection, rebirth and moving towards a true self. Moreover it indicates beginnings, endings and transformation. These concepts are shared by pilgrims who through the journey in itself often come to discover a true self.

Of course we don’t know the reason for the Scallop Shells found on the Camino but here is a theory which is likely to be closest to the truth.

Now consider this, in times before comfortable bags, great hiking shoes, and a fantastic community of hikers, pilgrimages were difficult affairs. THey were often walked in one go, as hopping on a flight home half way wasn’t a possibility (getting home was equally as hard!).

The recognition and accreditation for completing the Camino was a badge in the shape of a scallop shell. Why? Well because the scallop is native to Galicia.

Humans, as entrepreneurial as they are, took advantage of this trend and started selling the shells in Santiago to pilgrims who would typically have to journey an extra 70Km to the coast to collect them.

 

Scallop Shells as a healing tool

More than a token of completion of the Camino Frances, the scallop also bore significance as a healing tool.

THe shell is associated with one of the 23 miracles performed by St James. One story goes, St James cured a knight who was suffering from throat disease by putting a scallop on the area. Word spread of this miracle and people started to hang scallops outside their doors, putting them in their houses, and by their beds.

The cross of st james

In addition to the scallop, there are other examples of symbols seen on the Camino. The Cross of St James goes back to the times of the Crusades. Crusaders carried small crosses with them. The crosses had a sharp edge on the bottom, enabling them to be pushed into the ground for prayer. It’s common to this day to see pilgrims carrying St James cross as a pin worn on a top, bag or hat – or even a tattoo.

The cross of st james

Pilgrims of the 21st Century can get a Pilgrims Passport as a way of proving (or reminding themselves) that they have accomplished their pilgrimage. Like many long distance trails, stamps can be collected at different stages of the journey.

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