Many images of Saint James the Greater have the appearance of a pilgrim … I guess as a way to illustrate how thousands and thousands of pilgrims have hiked from their homes to his resting place in Spain for over 1000 years now. A handful of symbols are often portrayed with the patron saint of pilgrims, but the most prominent would be the Scallop Shell. There are a handful of theories over how the scallop shell became such a popular symbol of Saint James …
* Some say that when the boat/sarcophagus holding the body of Saint James washed ashore in Spain, it was covered in scallop shells.
* Another hazy legend suggests that near the time the body of Saint James drifted to the Spanish coast, a wedding happened to be taking place close to the site. The bridegroom was seated on a horse and the horse became spooked and lurched into the sea. Miraculously, the bridegroom and horse re-emerged, covered in scallop shells. The miracle was attributed to Saint James.
* Another story suggests that the lines of a scallop shell illustrate the line of traveling pilgrims … they start in different places, but all merge at one spot … Santiago de Compostela.
* A very practical explanation proposes that the various paths that lead the thousands of pilgrims to Santiago eventually veer close to the sea … and that scallop shells are easily found. Medieval pilgrims carried a scallop shell as a way to declare themselves as pilgrims. They probably used them for drinking water, holding food and maybe for other handy purposes as well.
Other Symbols of Saint James the Pilgrim
Wide-Brimmed Hat – To help protect pilgrims from the sun as they trek several hours a day.
Gourd – Used as a container for water during medieval pilgrimages.
Walking Staff – To give extra support during the long stretches of walking, especially during some of the more treacherous areas. In times past the Walking Staff has also help to keep wild dogs, hogs and wolves away.
Cloak – To give protection from the cold and/or rain.
Pouch – A pouch Is sometimes depicted in portrayals of Saint James. It symbolizes the need to carry just the basic things needed for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.