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Oldest Known Pilgrim's Scallop Shell

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by Nancy L. Frey, PhD

Oldest Known Pilgrim's Scallop Shell in Santiago de Compostela

One of my favorite objects on display in Santiago de Compostela's Museo de las Peregrinaciones (Pilgrimages Museum) is this scallop shell dated to before 1120. Identified as "Vieira de peregrino (Pectem maximus) " (Pilgrim's Scallop) the room text tells us it: "was found in a burial place in a plot that was later occupied by the north central nave of the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago. Therefore, it is prior to 1120. The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago, taken by pilgrims on their way back home to the most remote places in Europe." We are looking at the oldest known scallop shell used by a pilgrim to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela.

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