Symbolism – Santiago de Compostela

Scallop Shell

The most iconic symbol of the St. James Way. It is currently used to prove that a pilgrim completed the route. There are various theories on the origins of the shell as a symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago. One of these is that the shell was called “Santiago’s Shell” because when pilgrims reached Santiago de Compostela they received a parchment and they placed a shell over their hat or cape. This was one of the ways to call people’s attention to their presence in Santiago de Compostela. It also served as proof of personal merit on their way back to their hometown. There were times when the sale of shells outside the city of Santiago de Compostela was forbidden, with the threat of excommunication by the Catholic Church. Nowadays it is very common to see pilgrims with this symbolic element on their backpacks. However, what many people do not know is that the shell should be bought when you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, symbolizing in this manner the end of the Way.

Stylised Shell

Universal symbol identifying the Way of St. James. As an identifying symbol, it represents the converging of various European routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela. In certain situations, the stylized shell is also an orientating element; it shows the way along the route for the pilgrims. In this case, the shell is placed according to the directions the pilgrim has to follow.

Santiago Cross

The Santiago cross is a Latin cross imitating a lily in the shape of a sword. It is believed to date back to the time of the Crusades, when the knights used small crosses with one pointed end to stick them into the ground and pray on a daily basis. The three lilies symbolize the moral character of James, the apostle. The sword represents the noble character of St. James and the manner in which he was martyred, beheaded with a sword. In a certain sense it may also symbolize taking the sword in Christ’s name. In particular it is the insignia of the Order of Santiago from the 12th century, referencing the patron saint of Spain, Santiago. (St. James).

How did the yellow arrow appear?

The Priest, Elías Velina from “O cebreiro”, the author of a guide book for the Way noticed that pilgrims often got lost. His idea changed the “Way” forever. He asked some workers who were painting the road for some leftover paint and started to paint yellow arrows along the route, on trees, rocks and houses to indicate the correct path. These arrows, now known world-wide, are the most important and well-known signs of the St. James Way. You will nd signs and markings from Porto that will lead you to Santiago. In Portugal you will nd these arrows while in Spain, in addition to the yellow arrows, these have a blue background and there are ceramic tiles with the shell which indicate the path to follow and kilometres left to arrive.

Pilgrim Credential (Passport)

This is the document that identi es the pilgrim during their journey along the Way, providing access to albergues or other lodgings. Collect stamps along the way in the albergues, churches, public or commercial entities to prove you have walked that day. It is advisable to collect at least two stamps per stage. You should present your credentials when you arrive in Santiago, in the Pilgrim’s Reception Of ce (O cina do Peregrino) where they will authenticate and validate the route that you took and it is then that you receive your Compostela.

The Compostela

The Compostela is a certi cate signed by the Chapter Secretary certifying that you completed the pilgrimage. To receive it, you have to present your pilgrim credentials which prove that you covered at least 100 km on foot or by horse or 200 km by bike.