The Scallop Shell and its meaning for the Camino de Santiago

Posted on April 29, 2019

The Scallop Shell is the most iconic symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Along with the yellow arrow, used as a guide for Pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela on its different routes.

But this shell has become much more than that. It has an extraordinary meaning for Pilgrims that undertake the Camino. That’s why you will see them on churches, backpacks, signposts, and find even souvenirs like necklaces, tattoos, and bracelets.

Saint James and the Scallop Shell

The stories and myths surrounding the scallop shell are numerous.

One story has it that the ship that was transporting Saint James body to Galicia wrecked on a storm and his body was found completely intact right after and covered by scallop shells.

Another myth tells us that this ship happened to sail near a beach and that it scared the horse ridden by the bride. The horse went inside the water with the bride, but by some Divine intervention, both the bride and the horse came out safe and covered in scallop shells.

According to the locals, there is a more metaphorical meaning to the scallop shell. The lines are a representation of the routes taken by pilgrims to access Saint James’ tomb at Santiago de Compostela. For some, the longest line points towards Santiago. When pilgrims see the scallop shells, they know they are on the right path and follow the yellow arrows painted next to them.

The Scallop Shells in Europe

The Scallop Shells is a famous symbol found in many other places and countries in Europe.

Churches all over the world who are dedicated to Saint James display this particular icon to show their connection with the Saint.

Pilgrims that have been able to complete the Camino tend to have their graves carved with a symbol of the scallop shell. A lot of religious communities that you find in Europe have this symbol too. An example is Ireland where you see a lot of graves which have the scallop shell symbol.

The Scallop Shell Today

Pilgrims used to gather drinks and food on Scallop Shells. Today, if you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago surely, you won’t need it for this purpose. But you will be amazed by how many times you will encounter this symbol during your pilgrimage. This symbol will guide your way in the direction of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, and it will also serve as a memento to prove you have completed your journey.

If you wish to recognize fellow Pilgrims be sure to check their necks or backpack during your walk as they are most likely to wear it during their pilgrimage.

And of course, if you plan to bring some souvenirs to your loved ones, this is undoubtedly one that everyone will appreciate. You can buy them everywhere in Santiago and in other locations along the way.

Make sure you have yours when starting your Buen Camino!


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