Stealing Away to the Beach

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Every year when my family makes its yearly pilgrimage to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, it seems that everywhere I turn, even at the beach, there are reminders of the Trinity and His Church. One of our favorite activities is to walk along the beach and collect sea shells. We consistently find one specific type: scallop sea shells.

St. JamesDid you know that scallops have a rich tradition within our faith and are an ancient symbol of Baptism? Many times these shells are the vessel used by the ordinary minister to pour water over the heads of catechumens during the Sacrament of Baptism. The scallop, too, is associated with, and is a symbol for, the Apostle James the Greater.

There are two ancient myths that attempt to explain why St. James is connected with this sea shell. Since St. James had spent time preaching around the Iberian Peninsula, version one goes like this:

“After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore, undamaged and covered in scallops.”1

A second version, though a bit more romantic, is like the first:

“After James’ death, his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in sea shells.”2

The scallop has been associated with the Way of St. James, one of the most important pilgrimages during medieval times, for over a thousand years. Some say the grooves of the shell that come to a point represent the various routes of the pilgrimage that all converge upon the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrimages were also thought to be a way to “renew” your relationship with Christ like a new Baptism. So, while walking along beaches this summer, maybe you’ll find some of those scallops and remember the great gift of Baptism and how it has forever made you a son or daughter of the Most High. You know, the One who created the beach.

1.“Symbols of the Camino,” Caminoteca, 2013, accessed June 14, 2014,

2. Ibid.

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