The two most ubiquitous and popular symbols of the Camino de Santiago are the yellow arrow and the scallop shell.
Painted on trees, sidewalks, tiles, etc., the arrows indicate the most accurate route to Santiago. The scallop shell (vieira in Spanish) is used, along with the yellow arrow, to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different paths.
Elías Valiña, a Spanish pastor and Camino scholar was instrumental in the revival of the modern pilgrimage to Santiago. Valiña started promoting walking the ancient route in the late 1970’s. He decided to define the original sections of the pilgrimage route with yellow painted arrows. He chose yellow paint because it was donated by road painters and is also the color typically used for hiking trails in Galicia. Thank you in advance Señor Valiña, for keeping us headed in the right direction. Speaking of directions, Portugal is a member of the Schengen Agreement. There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty. This means our passports will not be stamped when we cross from Portugal into Spain. Kind of a unique and cool experience!There are many myths to explain the ancient link between the scallop shell and the Camino. One legend describes a knight’s horse fell into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells, while the remains of Saint James were being taken from Jerusalem to Galicia.
It is also believed the scallop shell had a much earlier origin. The shape of the scallop shell resembles the setting sun, full of symbolism in pre-Christian societies. It is probably not a coincidence that the Camino de Santiago is a journey to the West, finishing at the end of the world. Another idea is that the scallop shell is a metaphor; the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell also served practical purposes for Medieval pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats during their journey to Santiago. The shells were a replacement for a bowl to use to hold their food and drink on their long journey.
The scallop is native to the coast of Galicia. The shells could be picked up at the very end of the journey in Finisterre as physical proof of a completed pilgrimage.
We are taking some scallop shells from this side of the Atlantic. We look forward to eating a few deliciously prepared scallops as well as bringing back a memento scallop shell from the Galician coast.