The story of the scallop shell – the Camino de Santiago and the Way of St James. A souvenir of a special journey
(Please see our central SHOP for Camino bracelets, necklaces and other Camino jewellery featuring the conchas / shells and souvenir jewellery from the Camino walk that we ship as gifts all over the world particularly the United States of America (USA), Canada, United Kingdom – UK England, Britain, Ireland, Germany / Deutschland, France, Australia)
SEE scallop shell Camino jewellery in our central STORE online
Amigos del Camino – we are friends of the Camino
For centuries the scallop shell, which is typically found on the sea coast in Galicia, has been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, and its pilgrims – los peregrinos. Pilgrims returned to their countries of origin wearing the scallop concha shell as a souvenir over their habit or hat, to demonstrate that they had reached Santiago. Nowadays, it is more common to acquire a piece of Camino jewellery such as a necklace or a simple Camino bracelet that features the scallop shell, or to gift Camino jewelry to someone walking the Camino. But why?
The Shell of Saint James – La Vieira:
The scallop shell is the traditional emblem of St. James (James the Greater (one of the Twelve Apostles) and the patron saint of Spain and Portugal) and is popular (especially as jewellery such as Camino bracelets and Camino necklaces) with pilgrims on the Way of St James (El Camino de Santiago . . or simply, El Camino) travelling to the apostle’s shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Northern Spain). Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to the shrine often wore a scallop shell symbol on their hat or clothes. The pilgrim also carried a scallop shell, and would present themselves at churches, castles, abbeys and so on, where they could expect to be given as much sustenance as they could pick up with one scoop. Probably they would be given oats, barley, and perhaps beer or wine. To some extent, this happens nowadays too, and people carry the concha scallop shell (particularly as a piece of jewellery) as a souvenir of their journey for years to come.
The scallop shell was renamed ‘Concha de Santiago’ because when the pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after walking their Camino, they were given a scroll that confirmed them as pilgrims. They would then put ‘La Vieira’ symbol on their hat and coat and return to their home villages with this badge of achievement and merit. Nowadays it has become a symbol of pilgrimage in general – a mark of achievement, as well as a souvenir of a great journey (usually walked or cycled . . or about to be undertaken by foot or bike). For this reason, it is often gifted to pass on blessings to someone travelling (moving abroad, for example, or even moving house), or for other occurrences such as a get well gift for an ill friend (a cancer patient for example), an elderly relative in retirement or even a friend bereaved. It can say Best wishes for your trip / adventure, and also makes a lovely christening or communion gift – or as a Christmas or Easter present.
The scallop shell concha as a symbol . . and the connection with the Cross of St. James:
All our scallop shell jewelry is sent GIFT-WRAPPED
Because of it’s association with Santiago de Compostela on the Way of St James (the ‘Camino’), the concha scallop shell is closely connected to the Cross of Saint James – and much of our Camino jewellery (like Camino bracelets, necklaces and earrings, for example) feature both symbols together. The St James cross or Cruz de Santiago (de Compostela) is a symbol of Christian faith and inspiration that can be traced back to the 12th Century (and some say even earlier). Millions of people wear St James Cross jewelry to help promote strength, courage and hope. But likewise, scallop shell jewellery is worn as a symbol of faith and achievement. Symbolically, the scallop shell is believed to signify the rebirth of a person, their resurrection, and so the overcoming of ego (selfishness and egocentricity) to make way for a more simple and humble self, supposedly one of the great lessons of the pilgrimage of life (and el Camino).
In 2010, over 272,000 pilgrims completed the final 100 km walk to Santiago and qualified for the coveted ‘Compostela’ or certificate as a souvenir – and many bore a symbol or representation of the famous scallop shell. The Way of St. James criss-crosses Western Europe, arriving at Santiago through Northern Spain. It is generally regarded as a journey of the body, mind and spirit. More than just a simple walk, the Camino is special because of the fellow pilgrims, the stories they share and the challenges people overcome. Modern pilgrims choose to do the Camino for personal, spiritual and/or religious reasons – or simply to take time out from their busy, modern lives. Their compostela bears a symbol of the Cross of St James – and the concha scallop shell. Not all ‘pilgrims’ (whether walkers on foot, or cyclists) are Christian, Catholic, or even religious: For many, the walk / journey is to find inspiration – improving their outlook on life, bringing them into closer contact with nature and expanding their cultural horizons through contact with other travellers along the way. Everyone experiences the journey in a different way.
Symbols and gifts for the Camino:
Some pilgrims identify themselves by carrying a heavy cape, long stave, sandals and/or a felt hat turned up at front and bearing the scallop-shell emblem. (The use of the scallop shell dates back to the Crusades against the Moorish invaders because, when the remains of St James were originally unearthed, it was said to be covered in scallop shells.) Many also carry with them a St James’s Cross – said to promote courage, strength and hope. But Camino jewellery such as Camino bracelets, necklaces and rings is also popular – often being gifted to friends and loved-ones who are about to set off on their journey or indeed, their actual Camino walk in Spain.
The scallop shell symbol in heraldry:
In Britain, the Spencer family (which includes Winston Churchill and Diana, the late Princess of Wales) includes a scallop in the family coat of arms and consequently, both of Diana’s sons, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (and future heir to the throne of England) and Prince Harry, also feature the scallop shell on their personal coats of arms which was granted on their 18th birthdays.
In an article in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper in July 2008, it was noted that both William and Harry requested the simple symbol of a scallop shell to feature on both their crests and coat of arms because the scallop is the symbol of the Spencer family and Princess Diana – their mother. Three ‘escallops’ were added to the ancient Despencer arms when they were adopted by the Spencer family, in the latter part of 16th century in reference to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.
Walking pilgrimages from the USA
Each year, we have thousands of customers from the United States of America – usually buying scallop shell jewellery (and Saint James crosses) for a friend or loved-one who is about to walk (or who has walked / cycled) the Camino in Europe – starting in France or northern Spain, although sometimes in Portugal. We truly welcome these people to our shop and try to provide as much information as we can about El Camino. When customers buy a jewlry gift for someone walking the Camino, we offer the facility for them to write a small personal message on the enclosed card in the gift-wrapped item. And from these messages, we can see that they provide heart-felt encouragement to friends and loved-ones from all walks of life.
So, welcome to our friends in Virginia, New England, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Texas, Arizona, Minnesota, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Montana . . . and all other American pilgrims. We hope you find what you want in our shop. But if not, please feel free to contact us and ask (we are in Spain but speak English) or see this excellent website: Americanpilgrims.org and the superb La Concha newsletter.
But whether you are American, Canadian, English from the United Kingdom / Britain, Irish, German, Francais, Australian, etc, we would love to offer you a small memoir / souvenir / token / etc for the quarter or so million pilgrims that pass along the Camino each year.
Wish someone “good luck” and a ” buen camino ” (good walk) with one of our vieira concha scallop shell jewellery pieces. (Some feature a St James cross symbol in the jewellery as well.)
or . . look for:
SEE Camino bracelets in our shop
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