December 23, 2011

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. October, 2009

There is no escaping the scallop shell in this pilgrim destination in Northern Spain. It’s the traditional emblem of Saint James (Santiago), one of the two national patron saints. (The other is Saint Teresa of Ávila.) Beginning in the 9th century, pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela would carry a scallop shell not only to identify themselves, but also allegedly to scoop up sustenance offered to them along the sacred way. These days shops offer cakes in the scallop shape. Door-knocking hardware. And all sorts of jewelry, from demure earrings to over-the-top brooches. The scallop is even reproduced in brass and set into the city’s pavement to designate the official camino that pilgrims still follow. Here in the city’s Museo das Peregrinacións, there is an almost laughable number of these shells reproduced in paintings, books and decorative objects like this ornately embellished trunk. In supermarkets, you can buy pre-baked pastry shells in the scallop shape to fill with ice cream and pieces of fruit, resulting in a delightful mix of devotion and dessert.

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