Paxtonvic’s Blog

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Scallop shell

scallop shell

I have been known to use a scallop shell when I baptise – and you may know that the scallop is often depicted with images of St James. The emblem was worn by pilgrims to St James’ tomb at Santiago de Compostela and can have several meanings, depending on whether you place any merit on legends.

Here is a summary of possibilities on the meaning of the scallop – I rather like it being a metaphor for a pligrim. God ” washes us up ” onto the places where we are meant to be. I find that often happens.

The significance of the scallop symbol.

Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meaning.

There are different accounts of the mythical origin of the symbol  Two versions of the most common myth are:

1)James the Greater, the brother of John, was killed in Jerusalem for his convictions about his brother. James had spent some time preaching on the Iberian Peninsula.After James’ 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, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

2) After James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

Besides being the mythical symbol, the scallop shell also acts as 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 Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. The scallop shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guided the pilgrims to Santiago.

The scallop shell served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago as well. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. Also, because the scallop shell is native to the shores of Galicia, the shell functioned as proof of completion. By having a scallop shell, a pilgrim could almost certainly prove that he or she had finished the pilgrimage and had actually seen the “end of the world” which at that point in history was the Western coast of Spain.

The reference to St. James rescuing a “knight covered in scallops” is therefore a reference to St. James healing, or resurrecting, a dying (setting sun) knight. Note also that the knight obviously would have had to be “under the waters of death” for quite some time for shellfish to have grown over him. Similarly, the notion of the “Sea of Darkness” (Atlantic Ocean) disgorging St. James’ body, so that his relics are (allegedly) buried at Santiago de Compostela on the coast, is itself a metaphor for “rising up out of Death”, that is, resurrection.

Time for sleep – too tired to wait up for the traditional ” Land of Hope and Glory” at the Last Night of the Proms. Though did watch Sir David Attenborough play the floor polisher in Malcolm Arnold’s piece – thought he performed very well – though prefer him doing what he usually does to be honest! There was a Sir David snippet on BBC TV earlier – he said that since he started broadcasting the population of the worold has trebled – thats seriously worrying.

September 12, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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