When I was on Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, my roommate wore a sun visor with a pilgrim’s shell on it. She had packed it quite on accident, simply wanting something to keep the sun off of her face. This visor had been purchased at a golf tournament in Hilton Head, and the shell on it was simply referring to the Island and ocean surrounding it. And yet, here she was, on Pilgrimage with a sign of the Pilgrim on her head.
Later, another woman on the trip with us would get the shell tattooed on her ankle (like this image, but this is not her).
It’s nice to have a concrete symbol of your journey, your trip, your searching, your reaching out towards God. I get it. It stuck with me. I’ve read that the image is in part used in honor of safe passage on pilgrimages by sea, and in part because of the shells use as cup or eating implement while traveling – using what the land provides.
And so, I was interested to learn that this symbol is associated with St. James the Apostle, the patron Saint of Spain, whose Feast Day inspires a pilgrimage called Camino de Santiago, which has roots in medieval times and was resurrected to modern observance through the book The Road to Santiago. The Pilgrims of St. James. by Walter Starkie in 1957.
And so, this Feast Day for me, today, is less about St. James and what he did (spread the Gospel to Spain, martyred after becoming a bishop in Jerusalem, his emblem was the symbol for he military Order of Santiago, named after James, founded in Spain in the 12th century to fight the Moors.) and more about remembering being called by the Holy Spirit to Pilgrimage, and following that call halfway around the world.
So…how do you Feast for this day?
For me – I’m going to have some zataar seasoning on my bread at dinner, an amazing spice blend I fell in love with while in Palestine.
There are traditions for the day too. There’s a proverb saying that “Whoever eats oysters on St. James’s Day, will never want money.”, a nod to the association with pilgrims shells. If oysters aren’t your thing (or are, ironically, too expensive), you can instead have sea food and decorate your table with shells.
A general Spanish nod – tappas or paella, for example – would also be most appropriate.
Pilgrim Shell tattoos optional.