Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol concern the death of Saint James, who was killed in
for his convictions about his brother, John. James had spent some time preaching on the Jerusalem Iberian Peninsula.
Version 1: After James' death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now
. Off the coast of Santiago a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops. Spain
Version 2: After James' death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now
. As James' ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells. Santiago
The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of
, God's hand also guided the pilgrims to Santiago. Galicia
The scallop design symbolizes the many European starting points from which medieval pilgrims began their journey, all drawn to a single point at the base of the shell, Santiago de Compostela. Today in
cement scallop shell markers along the Camino reassure participants that they have not taken a wrong turn and local residents decorate their gardens and houses with shells in solidarity with the pilgrims. A recent pilgrim recalled that the shells “came in various forms: ceramic shells fitted onto road markers, government-issue traffic signs marked with an abstract shell, shining brass shells embedded in sidewalks. Some were broken, some had been stolen as souvenirs leaving only a trace of their presence, some were beautiful, some so simply sketched as to provide the mere suggestion of a shell. In all their variations, they marked the route for hundreds of miles. They reminded all of us pilgrims that in the midst of a world both beautiful and broken there are signs to help lead us forward, sometimes right under our feet.” Spain
Practical observers argue that the shell was adopted merely as a device for sipping water from streams along the way. If this is so, it quickly took on greater meaning even to the earliest pilgrims.
The scallop shell has thus become the main symbol of the Camino. Another explanation is that scallops are native to the Galician coast, and pilgrims would bring back a scallop shell to prove that they had been there, and completed their pilgrimage. Pilgrims could have their sins forgiven, and criminals were able to get out of prison if they completed the Camino. Many people did it in hopes of miraculous recovery from disease.
A scallop (pronounced /ˈskɒləp/ or /ˈskæləp/) is a marine bivalve mollusc of the family Pectinidae. Scallops are a cosmopolitan family, found in all of the world's oceans. Many scallops are highly prized as a food source. The brightly colored, fan-shaped shells of some scallops, with their radiating fluted pattern, are valued by shell collectors.
The name "scallop" is derived from the Old French escalope, which means "shell".
And...did you know?
Winston Churchill's family coat of arms includes a scallop, as does John Wesley's (and as a result the scallop shell is used as an emblem of Methodism!).
If that hasn't wet your appetite for more knowledge - maybe this will!
Scallops taste divine and if you've never tried it, here's a link with an easy to prepare recipe!
Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope's true gage)
And then I'll take my pilgrimage.
- Sir Walter Raleigh