The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, was one of the most important Christian Pilgrimages during the Middle Ages.
St James, translated as Santiago, travelled to Galicia which the Romans called Finis Terrae meaning the end of the world. Here, James preached and converted the people to Christianity. It’s hard to imagine it could be called the end of the earth now! New Zealand perhaps better deserves the title.
After James returned to Palestine, history tells us he was taken prisoner and tortured to death. The King would not bury him, and his body was stolen by his disciples and put on board a small boat. The currents washed the boat to the Spanish coast and he was secretly buried in a wood near the province’s capital, Iria Flavia. Many centuries later a hermit listened to music in the same wood, saw a great light and the place was soon called Campus Stellae, the field of the star. This is the origin of the word Compostela.
By the 16th Century, enthusiasm for the route had decreased: the Black death, Protestant reforms and political unrest led to the decline in the numbers of pilgrims walking the route. Passion for the pilgrimage increased when the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987 and since the 1980’s the route has attracted a growing number of International Pilgrims.
The Scallop Shell
The scallop shell has long been considered a symbol of the Camino de Santiago. The shell is seen on posts and signs along the route. Its relevance may have originally come from a desire for pilgrims to take home a souvenir from the shores of Galicia. Now it has become the symbol of myths and legends. The grooves in the scallop shell meet at a single point and this, metaphorically, could represent all the pilgrims travelling different routes until they arrive at their single destination, the tomb of St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
I love this idea that at the end of the journey we all come together, pilgrims of the past and future, pilgrims all merging in thoughts, feelings and friendship becoming one in their devotion. I will bring a scallop shell from South Island, New Zealand, in the Pacific Ocean to Spain, a journey of 19,888 Km. As a child I was told if you drilled a hole through the central core of the world, your tunnel would emerge in Spain, so I have always felt a connection to my friends, yet to be met, on the other side of the world. I always wondered exactly where my tunnel would end, perhaps in Galicia?
Sir Walter Raleigh wrote about the pilgrimage--
Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory, hopes true gauge,
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.