The Pilgrimage

The Scallop Shell

Every shrine of renown has an insignia which pilgrims receive on arrival and take home with them when they go. The shell, linked with the Apostle’s arrival in Galicia, is the emblem of the pilgrim to Santiago and a symbol of virtue and good works.

The emblem par excellence of this Pilgrimage cult is the shell of vieira or scallop. This insignia for the Pilgrimage identified the devotees of the Cult of St. James who were going to Santiago or returning to their place of origin. It is well known that the vieira scallop is a bivalve mollusk characteristic to the Galician coast, opposite which was the end of the world to the medieval psyche.

The Scallop Shell

Being light and small in size, the scallop shell was ideal for gathering water from a spring or improvising tableware at the side of the path.

The pilgrims returning to their homes, which were often far inland, carried the small object back with them as a momento of their long journey to Santiago de Compostela, home of the remains of St. James the apostle. The scallop, symbol of Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, was used as an amulet against curses by these Mediterranean peoples. The scallop was attributed miraculous and curative powers by the culture of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

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