Scallop Shell on the Camino de Santiago: The Symbolism

No matter which route you are on, you are sure to find countless Scallop Shell symbols along the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

One of the most iconic symbols of the Camino to Santiago is the Scallop Shell. Over the years, many myths have attempted to source its association with St. James. One of those myths says it became an iconic symbol because the medieval pilgrims carried it during their journey to Santiago de Compostela, using it as a replacement for a bowl to hold their food and water.

Another legend says that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in Scallop Shells and, a similar version of this story claims that while the remains of St. James were being carried from Jerusalem to Galicia, a knight’s horse fell into the water and emerged covered in these shells. It is also no coincidence that in German the Scallop Shell is referred to as “Jakobsmuscheln” (James mussels) and in French, it is called “Coquille de Saint Jacques”.

Nowadays, the Scallop Shell, along with the yellow arrow, is used to guide pilgrims along the many different routes heading to Santiago. But besides this, why is the Shell so important to pilgrims? It is said that this symbol is a metaphor, in that its lines represent the different routes traveled by pilgrims from around the World, which all lead to one point, the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. The Scallop Shell can be found on the milestone markers, guiding pilgrims in the right direction. Just like in the medieval era, many pilgrims wear the Scallop Shell around their necks or attached to their back to make it easier to be identified as a pilgrim and provide reassurance that they are still on the right path.

Along the way to Santiago de Compostela, you can find a huge variety of souvenirs with the Scallop Shell on them. Once you return home, these souvenirs are a great conversation starter about the Camino, since those who are interested in making pilgrimages or those who have done it before will definitively recognize this symbol.

Other than the Scallop Shell, there are four more symbols that can be found along the Camino:

“Wally”: He is the mascot and much-valued team member. “Wally” is the leader of the famous Yellow-Arrow-Team that guides you along the way;

“Cross”: This is the symbol of Christianity and of God’s protection. The white represents purity and the red symbolizes the blood of Christ;

“Calabaza”: Refers to the drinking system used by ancient pilgrims to carry their water supply;

“Botafumeiro”: This is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Incense is burned in this swinging metal container. In Galician, the word “Botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller”.

Scallop Shell on the Camino de Santiago: The Sysmbolism