The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.
Many traditions on the Comino is based on legend and myth, the same holds true for the presence of the scallop shell as a symbol on the Camino
One of the most fascinating myths about the scallop shell’s association with the Camino, is the mysterious return of James' body to the Iberian Peninsula, by a ship with no crew, to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James' ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom (knight) 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
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 James in Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. The pilgrim would present himself at churches, castles, abbeys etc., where he could expect to be given as much sustenance as he could pick up with one scoop. Probably he would be given oats, barley, and perhaps beer or wine. Thus even the poorest household could give charity without being overburdened.
Today the shell is only used as a symbol and a more monitory means of charity is employed as pilgrims now pay €5, 00 for sustenance all over the route...