Of symbols and shells, pilgrimage and baptism

The pilgrims have come home.

Many of you were here in mid-April and heard Deacon Linda and Jesse Brown tell us of their plans to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route through northern Spain, arriving at last at Santiago de Compostela, the Cathedral of St. James. 

Since St. James is our patron too, they came here to receive a blessing for their journey, which we, as a congregation, bestowed on them. We also bestowed something else on them as well: two scallop shells.

Linda and Jesse carried those scallop shells with them throughout their long journey. And when they arrived at the Cathedral, they dipped them in holy water. Now they have returned them to us, just in time for the baptism this coming Sunday of Amaya Vezina.

We hope to have Linda and Jesse back here soon to tell us first-hand of their adventures along the Camino and what spiritual lessons they took away from their pilgrimage. But in the meantime, it’s worth knowing a little bit more about the shells they carried on our behalf.

The Sacrament of Baptism has long been symbolized by the scallop shell, sometimes called the cockle shell. Often, a shell is used to pour water over the head of the person being baptized. Many churches have lovely silver shells they use for the occasion. Others have natural shells, such as we now have. 

Here’s a bit of trivia about our shells: I ordered them from a seafood company. They’re actually marketed as a beautiful way to serve baked seafood. They were harvested from the off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, and are microwave-safe.  And since they came in a set of four, I have two in reserve. The next person from St. James to set off on pilgrimage can have one.

In addition to symbolizing the Sacrament of Baptism, the shell also is a symbol of pilgrimage – especially pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. That’s why we have a shell in our stained glass windows. It is the symbol of Saint James the apostle and our patron saint. 

These two meanings are linked. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are born to new life in Christ and are cleansed of sin. Our life becomes a pilgrimage through this world, and union with God in heaven becomes the goal of our journey. 

Some of us have been on our pilgrimages for many, many years. Some of us may have strayed off the path a time or two, but through God’s grace we’ve found our way back. How wonderful that we’ll be there on Sunday for the start of Amaya’s pilgrimage.