St. James and the Pilgrim's Path
St. James the Greater is also the patron saint of the Santiago de Compostela (the way of St. James). After Jesus' ascension, St. James made his way to Spain where he preached and spread the Gospel. He returned to Jerusalem, however, and was beheaded there under orders from Herod. Tradition holds that his body was returned to northwest Spain, and a cult to him began. He is especially associated with the scallop shells found naturally in the area. Scallop shells are also seen throughout the compostela as markers and momentos. But why are scalloped shells so closely connected to St. James?
Philip Kosloski of Aleteia.com, writes, "Part of it was due to certain legends surrounding the arrival of St. James’s body in Spain. One story recounts that after James was martyred in Jerusalem in the year 44, his body was taken to Spain and when the ship reached the shore a horse was spooked and fell in the water. The story goes on to say how both the horse and rider were miraculously saved and came forth from the water covered in scallop shells.
On a more practical level scallop shells are naturally found on the coast of Galicia near the location of St. James’s tomb. For pilgrims in the Middle Ages the journey was typically done to fulfill a penance given by a priest. In order to verify that the pilgrim did in fact reach the final destination, a local souvenir was required. Over time pilgrims began to take the scallop shells they found and then presented them as proof when they returned home."
Scallop shells are also closely associated with the Sacrament of Baptism, and thus, also to new life through membership in the family of God. This symbolism would have been part of the reason for the pilgrimage as well - a restoration to the relationship with God. Through the use of water in Baptism, we die to the old life of death and sin and rise to new life. This once again reminds us of Jesus' conversation with St. James - "Can you drink the chalice I am going to drink?" Can you participate in my death and resurrection, and so find new life for yourself?
Scripture shows that St. James was "hot headed" and Jesus called James and his brother "Sons of Thunder." The pilgrimage tradtion reminds us of the path we are all on, the path that St . James showed us of a turning away from our rasher impulses into a mellowing out into fullness of life.
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