The meaning of Scallop shell jewellery – originating from the Way of St James (El Camino) and based on the Camino de Santiago shell
What is the Camino de Santiago shell and seashell jewellery from Santiago de Compostela in Spain? And where can you get it?
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Examples of Camino de Santiago shell jewellery:
The Scallop shell of Saint James (Concha de Santiago) is said to promote courage, strength and hope – and many people possess one as a souvenir of their experience on one of the greatest walks in the world . . the Camino de Santiago.
This is because, for centuries, the scallop shell, which is typically found on the sea coast in Galicia, northern Spain, 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 over their habit or hat, as a souvenir (or ‘recuerdo’) to demonstrate that they had reached Santiago and its famous gothic cathedral.
So, this shell of Saint James or La Vieira is the traditional emblem of Santiago, and is popular 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. Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to the shrine often wore a scallop shell symbol on their hat or clothes. The pilgrims 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 of the shell. Probably they would be given oats, barley, and perhaps beer or wine.
The use of the scallop shell as a means of protection (or as a protective charm) for travellers, dates back to the period of the Crusades (a series of Christian expeditionary wars against the Moorish invaders). The scallop shell had been chosen because, according to tradition, when the remains of St James were originally unearthed, it was said to be covered in scallop shells.
So – this famous Concha vieira or Concha de Santiago is often gifted to friends and loved-ones who are about to embark on a special (or difficult) journey . . or indeed, to attempt the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James) itself, to encourage them, to inspire them, and to offer them protection and the knowledge that someone special is thinking of them.
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 to them on their 18th birthdays). 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 pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.