Are you considering walking the Camino in 2021, a Holy Year (when the Feast of St. James falls on a Sunday)? If so, you will encounter these signs all the way along the 800km walk. But do you know why?
The history of The Way is much older than the christian pilgrimage most people know it as today. Santiago de Compostela is a blend of paganism and christianity. ‘Santiago’ being Spanish for ‘St James’, while ‘Compostela’ means ‘field of stars’.
Following the path of the sun from east to west across Spain appears to lie directly under the Milky Way. In the 6th Century BC, pagans believed that following the Milky Way to the setting sun at Finisterre (from the Latin finis terrae, meaning "end of the earth") was quite literally an earthly re-enactment of the soul’s journey from life to death.
The trademark Camino scallop shell was an ancient symbol for the setting sun and was a focus for Celtic, Pagan, Roman & early Scandinavian rituals in this part of Spain long before Christianity. In Christianity, the shell has become a common symbol of salvation through baptism, with many old churches having holy water fonts in the shape of shells.
Over the centuries, the scallop has remained a badge of honour for pilgrims to display that they had made the journey. Still today, beaches in the area are littered with the shells which ancient and modern day pilgrims have collected before undertaking the journey home.