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The shell

Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
Hi everyone. Im walking the camino in the fall of 2017. I have read that in the middle ages they would walk to the end of the world and collect a shell to prove they completed the pilgrimage. This is something I would love to do instead of carrying one from St. jean. My question is are there still shells to pick up on the beach and most importantly, is it legal to do so? I live in California and alot of our coastline is protected. Thanks in advance for any information. Buen Camino
 
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trecile

Camino Addict
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés (2016 & 2017), Norte (2018), Francés-Salvador-Norte (2019), Portuguese (2019)
There are a lot of shells, and I didn't see any sign prohibiting taking them.
 
A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
While there are lots of sea shells, finding a Coquille St-Jacques (the large ones you think of when thinking Camino) this might be difficult.

Actually, the Coquille St-Jacques is the Pecten Maximus, and it is not white, unlike the shells sold in tourist shops. The only time I saw one on the Camino for sale was in a tiny grocery shop on the Meseta, perhaps in Hornillos. They sold the flat half, and they were beautifully coloured. (The St-Jacques has a flat and a domed half.)

I have the non St-Jacques shell given to me at the Pilgrims' Office in St-Jean Pied de Port, but did not wear it as I had not completed the route. I picked up a similarly shapped shell in Muxia, but it's much thicker and smaller, not a St-Jacques. This year I kept a few after a delicious meal of zamburinas on the Portuguese: they are flat and coloured right, but super delicate.
 

t2andreo

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
C/F: 2013, 2014
C/M: 2016
C/P: 2015, 2017
C/I: 2018
Voluntario: 2014 - 2019
You likely also know from your research, that the shell (concha) identified you as a pilgrim as you entered a village for the evening. It granted access to pilgrim lodging, albeit primitive by today's standards.

During the way's walk, the shell (concha) was also used to drink water from fuentes and other surface sources.

It was also used to scoop foods like stews and soups from a common cooking pot.

Other uses of the concha include rubbing two of them back-to-back, across the ridges, to create a wood-like musical tone not unlike a maraca. I attended a party in Santiago this past August where this was used as a musical instrument to accompany the very spirited singing...after enough wine was consumed...:eek:

The edges of most concha could also be VERY sharp and could be used to cut some things.:eek:

This also accounts for WHY the concha was worn in full view, usually in the front, hung about the neck, or fastened to one's hat or staff. You would recognize an approaching pilgrim and tend not to get your staff, sword or knife out to prepare to defend yourself and your companions.

Remember, life on the road in the Middle Ages was a lot like the mythical Zombie Apocalypse... People lived short, hard and brutal lives. They usually died in their 40s or 50s, if they lived that long, typically from maladies that are now preventable or treatable with a pill or injection. A simple sinus infection was mortal. Any puncture would led to sepsis and infection.

Maladies such as we frequently complain about, like achy joints and bones were almost unheard of. Usually people died before the developed diseases commonly regarded today as reserved to the more senior amongst us.:eek:

Back in the day, people just struggled to make it from day to day. Being on the road as a pilgrim engendered an entire new and more sketchy groups of concerns.

If you want to better understand how precarious life was for a pilgrim back then, try reading Cormack McCarthy's "On the Road," a post-apocalyptic story of a man and his son walking North to South in the Eastern US to find a place of safety. The time is now, or in the future. But the issues and concerns are strikingly similar to what might have been found during the Middle Ages...it creeped me out.

BTW...The larger the concha, the greater your portion of food or water...so bigger was better.;)

Also, and just as an FYI, many of the red Cross of St. James stamped, contemporary conchas sold in souvenir shops are sourced from China. They are not individually marked. You would have to see the shipping case they came in.

Sometimes the shells are from China, but the cord is added in Spain. I could tell because the paper the corded shells were packed in was a Spanish newspaper, sometimes from a Coruna. The shells are the same genus and species as those used originally for "Coquille St. Jacques" and other seafood dishes along Basque and Spanish Atlantic coast. Just sayin...

The 'BEST' Conchas, IMHO, are the fresh ones you pick up from the beach yourself, or obtain from a restaurant. BTW, the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean Pied de Port obtains it's non-stamped shells from local restaurants...Coquille St. Jacques...remember...:cool:

More FYI, that is where the name of this French seafood delicacy originated "St. James Shells." Colloquially, "coquille" means scallop. Technically, it translates as "shell." But the shape is distinct an unique enough to describe the specific type of mollusk.

I hope this helps.
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Year of past OR future Camino
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
Hi everyone. Im walking the camino in the fall of 2017. I have read that in the middle ages they would walk to the end of the world and collect a shell to prove they completed the pilgrimage. This is something I would love to do instead of carrying one from St. jean. My question is are there still shells to pick up on the beach and most importantly, is it legal to do so? I live in California and alot of our coastline is protected. Thanks in advance for any information. Buen Camino

It's a good place for mussels, but you might need diving gear for a scallop shell. And y, it's legal provided the health authorities haven't said otherwise.

My own shell was given to me, and in fact I'd decided I needed to "deserve" it, and yes I did, so that if you surrender to the Camino, either a shell will come to you, or you can acquire one in Santiago, or seek one on the coast -- but if you do receive one as a gift along the Way, just accept it, and don't make a fuss about it !!
 
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A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
The shell was earned upon arrival to Santiago. That is until an cheating trade started and people started selling them in towns before Santiago. The Church punished those who peddled shells "illegally", and even gabe quoatas to legit sellers. You only should be wearing a shell after having reached Santiago. There is an extensive discussion on this question in the forum from about a year ago. Search for posts from Katarina1.
 

Albertagirl

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances (2015); Aragones-Frances (2016); VdlP-Sanabres (2017); Madrid-Frances-Invierno (2019)Levante
Hi everyone. Im walking the camino in the fall of 2017. I have read that in the middle ages they would walk to the end of the world and collect a shell to prove they completed the pilgrimage. This is something I would love to do instead of carrying one from St. jean. My question is are there still shells to pick up on the beach and most importantly, is it legal to do so? I live in California and a lot of our coastline is protected. Thanks in advance for any information. Buen Camino
@Tracie
I was given a shell, or possibly two shells, one flat, one in the usual curved shape, at a restaurant in Finisterre where I had been partying with the restaurant owner and some staff and customers on the restaurant owner's birthday and my last day in Spain. The staff member who gave them to me intended them to be a candle holder and also supplied a small candle. I can only assume that she either picked them up on the beach or they had come with food served in the restaurant. She seemed to assume that she had a right to have them and give them away. I did not look for shells on the beach myself, so cannot guarantee their availability.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances and Finisterre 2014
Camino Frances,Muxia and Finisterre 2015
Camino del Norte,Arzua to Ribadeo 2015
At the end of my first Camino I picked up a shell on the beach at Fisterra,there are thousands to choose from,and it has travelled with me,on my pack,ever since.
 

mspath

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Since the legend or hagiography of Saint James recounts that his dead body miraculously washed ashore in Spain, scallop shells from the sea are his symbol. Hence, from time immemorial carved shells decorate doorway lintels and latches along the pilgrim routes and pilgrims have scallop shells (in French, coquilles St Jacques) as their emblem.

2004 when nervously beginning my first camino a kindly volunteer of the Amis du Chemin de Saint Jacques in SJPdP offered me a pilgrim shell which I wore with pride. Over subsequent years new shells were acquired for each additional camino yet today it is that first precious shell which hangs at the door of our French farmhouse continuing the timeless tradition of marking a pilgrim place....Long may it be so.
 
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MCFearnley

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Ponferrada to Santiago (September 2016)
Before I left on my Camino a friend of mine gave me a small scallop shell that I wore on a cord around my neck along with a cross. When I completed my pilgrimage I got a large one at the Pilgrim's office in Santiago to commemorate the event. I also got second one to give to my church as it is also named after St-James.
 

Botaivica

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
May - July 2016
SJPP - Santiago - Finisterra
May 2017
Caminho do Tejo
June 2017
Fatima - Santiago
Hi everyone. Im walking the camino in the fall of 2017. I have read that in the middle ages they would walk to the end of the world and collect a shell to prove they completed the pilgrimage. This is something I would love to do instead of carrying one from St. jean. My question is are there still shells to pick up on the beach and most importantly, is it legal to do so? I live in California and alot of our coastline is protected. Thanks in advance for any information. Buen Camino
Hi Tracie :)

yes, you can take a shell on the beach in Finisterre.

And something else, it depends on you, but I put shell on a backpack at the end of the pilgrimage.

The shell is a symbol of pilgrimage and I think that I was worthy to wear it only after pilgrimage, not when I walk on the Way.

Now, my little shell from the beach in Finisterre is every day with me. ;)

Bota:)
 

Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
While there are lots of sea shells, finding a Coquille St-Jacques (the large ones you think of when thinking Camino) this might be difficult.

Actually, the Coquille St-Jacques is the Pecten Maximus, and it is not white, unlike the shells sold in tourist shops. The only time I saw one on the Camino for sale was in a tiny grocery shop on the Meseta, perhaps in Hornillos. They sold the flat half, and they were beautifully coloured. (The St-Jacques has a flat and a domed half.)

I have the non St-Jacques shell given to me at the Pilgrims' Office in St-Jean Pied de Port, but did not wear it as I had not completed the route. I picked up a similarly shapped shell in Muxia, but it's much thicker and smaller, not a St-Jacques. This year I kept a few after a delicious meal of zamburinas on the Portuguese: they are flat and coloured right, but super delicate.
You likely also know from your research, that the shell (concha) identified you as a pilgrim as you entered a village for the evening. It granted access to pilgrim lodging, albeit primitive by today's standards.

During the way's walk, the shell (concha) was also used to drink water from fuentes and other surface sources.

It was also used to scoop foods like stews and soups from a common cooking pot.

Other uses of the concha include rubbing two of them back-to-back, across the ridges, to create a wood-like musical tone not unlike a maraca. I attended a party in Santiago this past August where this was used as a musical instrument to accompany the very spirited singing...after enough wine was consumed...:eek:

The edges of most concha could also be VERY sharp and could be used to cut some things.:eek:

This also accounts for WHY the concha was worn in full view, usually in the front, hung about the neck, or fastened to one's hat or staff. You would recognize an approaching pilgrim and tend not to get your staff, sword or knife out to prepare to defend yourself and your companions.

Remember, life on the road in the Middle Ages was a lot like the mythical Zombie Apocalypse... People lived short, hard and brutal lives. They usually died in their 40s or 50s, if they lived that long, typically from maladies that are now preventable or treatable with a pill or injection. A simple sinus infection was mortal. Any puncture would led to sepsis and infection.

Maladies such as we frequently complain about, like achy joints and bones were almost unheard of. Usually people died before the developed diseases commonly regarded today as reserved to the more senior amongst us.:eek:

Back in the day, people just struggled to make it from day to day. Being on the road as a pilgrim engendered an entire new and more sketchy groups of concerns.

If you want to better understand how precarious life was for a pilgrim back then, try reading Cormack McCarthy's "On the Road," a post-apocalyptic story of a man and his son walking North to South in the Eastern US to find a place of safety. The time is now, or in the future. But the issues and concerns are strikingly similar to what might have been found during the Middle Ages...it creeped me out.

BTW...The larger the concha, the greater your portion of food or water...so bigger was better.;)

Also, and just as an FYI, many of the red Cross of St. James stamped, contemporary conchas sold in souvenir shops are sourced from China. They are not individually marked. You would have to see the shipping case they came in.

Sometimes the shells are from China, but the cord is added in Spain. I could tell because the paper the corded shells were packed in was a Spanish newspaper, sometimes from a Coruna. The shells are the same genus and species as those used originally for "Coquille St. Jacques" and other seafood dishes along Basque and Spanish Atlantic coast. Just sayin...

The 'BEST' Conchas, IMHO, are the fresh ones you pick up from the beach yourself, or obtain from a restaurant. BTW, the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean Pied de Port obtains it's non-stamped shells from local restaurants...Coquille St. Jacques...remember...:cool:

More FYI, that is where the name of this French seafood delicacy originated "St. James Shells." Colloquially, "coquille" means scallop. Technically, it translates as "shell." But the shape is distinct an unique enough to describe the specific type of mollusk.

I hope this helps.
Thank you for all this amazing info. Unfortunately I did not do a bunch of research regaurding the shell. I had read a very small article that mentioned it. I did not realize they could have had the shell whenthey started their pilgrimage. I also feel that I need to "deserve" the shell and actually would cherish a shell given to me as much as the one I would find for myself
 

Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
@Tracie
I was given a shell, or possibly two shells, one flat, one in the usual curved shape, at a restaurant in Finisterre where I had been partying with the restaurant owner and some staff and customers on the restaurant owner's birthday and my last day in Spain. The staff member who gave them to me intended them to be a candle holder and also supplied a small candle. I can only assume that she either picked them up on the beach or they had come with food served in the restaurant. She seemed to assume that she had a right to have them and give them away. I did not look for shells on the beach myself, so cannot guarantee their availability.
What an awesome way to end your Camino! Beginning to believe i just need to put my trust in the Camino
 
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Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
It's a good place for mussels, but you might need diving gear for a scallop shell. And y, it's legal provided the health authorities haven't said otherwise.

My own shell was given to me, and in fact I'd decided I needed to "deserve" it, and yes I did, so that if you surrender to the Camino, either a shell will come to you, or you can acquire one in Santiago, or seek one on the coast -- but if you do receive one as a gift along the Way, just accept it, and don't make a fuss about it !!
I would cherish one given to me as much if not more than one I found on the beach
 
A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
Tracie, good for you for walking with heart and not as a tourist buying stuff along the way.

A shell will make its way into your heart.
 
A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
It is still very much how it is done, except if walking into a tourist shop. Hence why the Spaniars shake their heads when they hear SJPP has handed one out.
 

MichaelSG

Retired member
Year of past OR future Camino
Not enough
Ahhh... my favorite topic. Shells. The reason I still have a look in the forum every month or two. Some of the nonsense spouted with great authority is always entertaining.

Tracie, feel free to pick up a shell on the coast even if it is not the exact one and only authentic official species. If you feel you should "earn" the shell, go for it after your walk. If you want to wear a shell during your Camino, that's perfectly fine too. I'd say about half of the pilgrims who I saw along the Ways carried shells with them. Either option will likely give you a valued keepsake. Neither option is the "only" option except to Camino snobs and they don't matter to anyone anyway.
 
Last edited:

Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
Somewhere along the way in Northern France, when I was starting to think that the whole thing of walking to Santiago might be a pretty stupid idea I found a small green and empty plastic shell on the ground. It's the kind of shell I knew from my childhood: it is filled with hard candy, lollipop style (see image below). I'm not sure whether it's known in other parts of the world.

Was it a shell that came to me, or did I notice it and assign meaning to it because I was walking on Saint James ways, or is it meaningless because it looks like a shell but not a scallop shell? I wonder ...

View attachment 30517
Whichever way you look at it I'm sure it brought to mind some happy memories! :)
 
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Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
Ahhh... my favorite topic. Shells. The reason I still have a look in the forum every month or two. Some of the nonsense spouted with great authority is always entertaining.

Tracie, feel free to pick up a shell on the coast even if it is not the exactly the one and only authentic official species. If you feel you should "earn" the shell, go for it after your walk. If you want to wear a shell during your Camino, that's perfectly fine too. I'd say about half of the pilgrims who I saw along the Ways carried shells with them. Either option will likely give you a valued keepsake. Neither option is the "only" option except to Camino snobs and they don't matter to anyone anyway.
Lol, got it. So do what's right for me and don't worry about what others think.
 

Purky

The Dutch guy
Year of past OR future Camino
Reality is frequently inaccurate
Also hugely popular in the Middle Ages: pilgrim badges - see example of a shell badge below. Pilgrims used to sew them to their garments. Why don't we see them these days I wonder? You'd think that they would sell like hotcakes and in particular pilgrims with a number of pilgrimages would proudly display them on their hats or backpacks. It's authentic and real as anything and yet nowhere to be seen. So strange ...

View attachment 30516

Pilgrim badges? Badges?
 

JabbaPapa

"True Pilgrim"
Year of past OR future Camino
100 characters or fewer : see signature details
I'm really curious. How did that work? Are there any images or other historical sources? Off the top of my head, I would say that the shell which eventually became a symbol of pilgrimage as such (not just Santiago pilgrimage) is usually shown as sewn to the hat or the coat collar or other parts of their garments. The scallops found during archeological digs, such as the Winchester pilgrim's grave (see below), had two holes drilled into them. Did they cut the shell off and sew it on each day? And besides, didn't the water pour through the holes before they could drink it?

View attachment 30519

Mine is almost exactly like that one -- you thread a cord through the hole(s), and hang it round your neck ; without modern materials, you need a thicker one.

Using it for drinking is not that practical.
 

xin loi

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Walked May 14, 2014 from St Jean France

starting to walk again August 25, 2016 --SJPDP to Finisterre
If you ever go to the "Secret"Inca Shrine if Naupa Iglesia in the Sacred Valley near Cuzco, you will find similar shells being used on the old alter to hold offerrings of Coca Leaves.

My Shell story of 2016--- Walking to Finisterre after leaving Santiago, I saw a shell lying on the ground and picked it up and put it in my pocket. About an hour later I came upon a woman along the trail and started walking with her. After a hour or so, I noticed she did NOT have a shell and asked why>
She replied that she has a friend who is a 'Mystic" and who told her to NOT buy a shell as she would meet someone along the trail who was to become important in her life and who would give her a shell. Reached into my pocket and handed her a shell. She told me of her problems at home and I was able to help her financially. But things betweeen us appear to be leading to a possible much more serious relationship--because of a shell lying in the leaves?
 

nycwalking

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Ourense to Santiago (2019), CF: (2014, 2004, 2002, 2001). On to Fisterra, (2002, 4, 14).
How about picking up a shell in California as a start of pilgrim keepsake, kinda like the pebble in the shoe, then find one in Fisterre as an end-of-road remembrance. Just a thought.
 
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jimmcauley

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances x 2: 2010 > 2016. Plan to start Norte in May/June 2017.
Hi everyone. Im walking the camino in the fall of 2017. I have read that in the middle ages they would walk to the end of the world and collect a shell to prove they completed the pilgrimage. This is something I would love to do instead of carrying one from St. jean. My question is are there still shells to pick up on the beach and most importantly, is it legal to do so? I live in California and alot of our coastline is protected. Thanks in advance for any information. Buen Camino
 

jimmcauley

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances x 2: 2010 > 2016. Plan to start Norte in May/June 2017.
Hi NYC, as others have said the shells on the beaches after Santiago are quite small and nowhere near the size of the gift shop shells! Totally agree that you should bring a shell or stone from USA and leave it on the Camino. You'll see where to leave it once you start your walk. You can then bring a beautiful Galician shell home with you. You will fall in love with Galicia once you leave the overcrowding of Santiago behind. A group of us just walked that Finisterre/Muxia stretch for the second time there in August. It's very like my part of the world ( Ireland ) both in landscape and the hospitality of the people Buen Camino
 

Tracie

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Fall (2017)
How about picking up a shell in California as a start of pilgrim keepsake, kinda like the pebble in the shoe, then find one in Fisterre as an end-of-road remembrance. Just a thought.
I actually have a small fanlike shell from Laguna Beach that is on a beaded bracelet. It was given to me by my father-in-law, who is a Shaman. I'm thinking of taking it to La Cruz De Ferro.
 

t2andreo

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
C/F: 2013, 2014
C/M: 2016
C/P: 2015, 2017
C/I: 2018
Voluntario: 2014 - 2019
I'm really curious. How did that work? Are there any images or other historical sources? Off the top of my head, I would say that the shell which eventually became a symbol of pilgrimage as such (not just Santiago pilgrimage) is usually shown as sewn to the hat or the coat collar or other parts of their garments. The scallops found during archeological digs, such as the Winchester pilgrim's grave (see below), had two holes drilled into them. Did they cut the shell off and sew it back on each day? And besides, didn't the water pour through the holes before they could drink it?

View attachment 30519

It depends on where the holes are drilled. The shell in the photo looks to be bored for the purpose of affixing to the face of something like a turned up front of a felt "pilgrim" hay, like a badge.

Also, it is possible to secure the shell about the "stem" of the shell using a leather thong or lace. This has been done in other cultures.

The lacing is applied wet. When the leather dries, it shrinks and holds to the shell. Native Americans typically used this to attached the stone head of a hatchet, spear, arrowhead, or stone, wood, or ceramic water bowls to handles or hanging thongs.

Even now, many times the holes are bored through the two "wings" at the stem or base of the shell. The photo you provided is actually the first I have seen with holes bored far down, onto the "bowl" portion of the concha. However, I allow that this is how some may have done it.

I hope this clarifies.
 
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A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
is gracious of you, thank you ;). Below is an image of a famous concha/vieira you may have seen it if you went to the Santiago de Compostela's Museo de las Peregrinaciones. The museum text says that is "was found in a burial place in a plot that was later occupied by the north central nave of the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago. Therefore, it is prior to 1120. The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago, taken by pilgrims on their way back home to the most remote places in Europe."

View attachment 30610

Now, of only our friendly guidebook writers could visit the museum, read this information on the shell, as well as other historical documentation regarding the shell being something you earn upon arrival and not just decorate your pack with, and modify their books accordingly.
 
A

Anemone del Camino

Guest
Agreed but just to avoid misunderstandings: while I appreciate historical accuracy, I don't mind the modern foot pilgrims carrying their shells to their destination. After all, they usually have little opportunity to carry them for long on their way back home.

Nor do I mind if they fill their shells with water or wine from the spout in Irache and drink it from their shells.

I have had my shell in full sight daily, for hours on end here at home, since 2008. Much longer than I would have seen it banging on my backpack for a few weeks. ;0)

But what I really mind is when people are told to do this because of a would-be historical reason. I object to it being a tourist trap, a way to con 250k people a year into buying a commercially made product, made in China, after they are fed this notion that a shell should be worn on the way to Santiago. Like buying Mickey Mouse ears at Disney?

As for drinking instrument, yes, I would rather see people deink an ounce of the Irache wine that filling their 1l. plastic water bottle.

Same crowd I think.
 

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