Scallop shell - La Vieira concha de Santiago
The story of the scallop shell - la vieira concha de Santiago y un símbolo del peregrino. A souvenir of a special journey
(see SHOP for Conchas / Shells and other souvenir jewellery)
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.
The Shell of Saint James - La Vieira:
The scallop shell is the traditional emblem of St. James, and is popular (especially as jewellery) 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, 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 (completed . . or, about to be attempted).
The scallop shell concha as a symbol . . and the connection with the Cross of St. James:
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. 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. For many, the walk 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 pilgrims. 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 - believed to promote courage, strength and hope.
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.
Wish someone "good luck" and a "buen camino" (good walk) with one of our Vieira concha scallop shells. (Some are featured on our St James cross jewellery as well.)
SEARCH for some of our scallop shell jewellery in our SHOP or . . look for: