Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Thursday, September 11, 2014

St. James Scallop

Last night, I was asked to attend the 
"Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago" Documentary 
which was showing in Portland, Oregon and to do a short Q&A afterwards.
I took Annette along and we watched the movie,
then passed out some cards
and answered a few questions.
I was surprised at the number of people in the audience 
who had already WALKED the Camino!

I'm going again tonight,
taking Joe.
People really didn't have too many questions,
but I was actually stumped by one question,
which I'm embarrassed to say
I did not know the answer to.
That is, "What is the symbolism of the Scallop Shell?"

I knew it was a symbol for St. James
but I didn't know why.
I knew you can pick up those scallops 
on many of the beaches.
I also know they're VERY good eating!

But there's much, much more to the story.

(I did know the scallop was a metaphor for the Camino,
but just had a brain-fart when the lady asked the question
and felt pretty stupid 5 minutes later.
You know… 
the moment when you slap your forehead and say,
"Oh, DUH!"
The grooves in the shell all represent the various roads to Santiago,
arriving at the Tomb of St. James. )

There are two versions of story about the origin of the shell. 
According to Spanish legends, 
St. James had spent time preaching the gospel in Spain, 
but returned to Judaea upon seeing a vision 
of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River. 

Version 1:
 After James's death, 
his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula
 to be buried in what is now Santiago. 
Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, 
and the body was lost to the ocean. 
After some time, however, 
it washed ashore undamaged, 
covered in scallops.

Version 2: 
After James's death 
his body was mysteriously transported by a crewless ship
 back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. 
As the ship approached land, 
a wedding was taking place on shore. 
The young groom was on horseback, 
and on seeing the ship approaching,
 his horse got spooked, 
and horse and rider plunged into the sea. 
Through miraculous intervention, 
the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, 
covered in seashells.

I don't know where I've been for the past 8 years 
or why I never heard this story. 
Perhaps I've heard it and just didn't pay attention.

My friend Joe, who has a Jesuit eduction,
says these are fairly recent legends.
He says the scallop is a symbol of having walked the Camino Santiago,
just as the key is the symbol of having walked to Rome
or a bottle of water is a symbol of having been at Lourdes.
He says each pilgrimage has its own symbol.

But there you have it!
And now I know!

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