Why do people walk the Camino with a scallop shell?
The scallop shell is the most prolific and meaningful symbol of the Camino. Virtually all of those who walk the path carry a scallop shell tied to their backpack or their walking stick. It calls out to the world that you are walking the Camino and are a pilgrim on a journey.
And as importantly, scallop shells mark the path and point the way to Santiago de Compostella. It is hard to walk the Camino and not feel a very special connection to the scallop shell for the rest of your life.
There are mythical, practical, and metaphorical reasons it has come to symbolize the Way.
According to one ancient myth and legend, a prince on horseback was thrown into the sea after his horse was spooked by the arrival of mysterious, unmanned ship containing St. James’ corpse. The horse and rider were then rescued by miraculous intervention, emerging from the water alive and adorned with scallop shells. Another version of the story is that a storm struck the ship carrying St. James’ body, and the body was lost at sea only to be found washed ashore unharmed and covered in shells.
From a practical standpoint, some believe that the shell became a symbol of the Camino because pilgrims used it as a vessel to eat and drink from along their journey. In addition, pilgrims collected the shells, commonly found along Galician beaches near Santiago, at the end of their journey to bring home as proof that they completed the Camino.
As a metaphor, the lines and grooves in the scallop shell represent those travelling along all the different routes across Europe that converge in Spain and lead to one point — the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.
For all those reasons and more, today, cemented and painted scallop shells identify and guide pilgrims along the Way and serve as a piece of beautiful imagery in Spanish culture — from scallop shells that adorn new and old bridges to ancient monastery walls embedded with scallop sculpture. During your walk with Duperier’s Authentic Journeys, you will receive a scallop shell to walk with as part of the Pilgrim’s Tour Kit so you can take this special symbol of the Path, along with your memories, home with you.
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