Usage of the shell of Saint James in pilgrimage

On the square in front of the cathedral, pilgrims bought metal badges including in shell form, from the "concheros" (silver and goldsmiths with an exclusive license). Pilgrims fixed the ornaments to their clothes and hats so they were visible when being approached by others along the way.  Pilgrims wore the shell of Saint James with the closure up on their chest or used the shell as closure of their mantle.


schilderij pelgrim kleinThere was a time when the pilgrim only received the shell after the pilgrimage to Santiago was completed, as a sign that the job or vow was fulfilled. The shell served as an emblem to recognized a true pilgrim.


The shell played an important signalling function for others to treat a pilgrim with respect and provide him with food and a place to sleep.




The shell of Saint James contributed to the safety of pilgrims. Robbers recognized the symbol and didn’t harm the pilgirms, since there was nothing to steal. Unfortunately beggars quickly discovered it was easy to pretend being a pilgrim in order to receive food and shelter. Soon after, wearing a shell of Saint James became only symbolic.


The pilgrims believed the shells of Saint James and insignias to have religious and healing properties. The objects have touched the grave, the relics or statue of Saint James and therefore carry a sacred power that they could take home. The shell of Saint James therefore became a talisman loaded with healing energy to ward of evil and bring luck. Read more >>