The Way of St. James has a rich variety of symbols, which has been enriched over the years. In the following article we analyze what are the main symbols that you will find on the way and their meaning. Take note so you don’t miss anything and enjoy every detail on your pilgrimage to Santiago!

Symbols of the Way of St. James

The shell

Also known as the common scallop, it is the symbol par excellence of the Camino. In ancient times, it was given to pilgrims as a token of having completed the pilgrimage to
Santiago de Compostela
. There is evidence that the scallop was also a useful utensil in the daily life of the pilgrim with practical uses such as drinking water or taking food. We are undoubtedly in front of one of the oldest symbols since it appears reflected in the
Codex Calixtinus
as a gift given by the clergy to the pilgrims.

The cross of Santiago

This peculiar looking cross is characterized by being a Latin cross gules . Its shape simulates that of a sword that has the shape of a fleur-de-lis on the hilt and arms. Its historical origin is linked to the crusades where the religious knights carried a cross of similar appearance that they nailed to the ground to carry out their prayers. The symbolic meaning of this cross is strongly linked to the Apostle Santiago since the sword refers to the combative and chivalrous character of the apostle.

Nowadays we can find this symbol as a decorative aspect in the delicious cakes of Santiago that you should not miss on your pilgrimage.

The yellow arrow

The best friend of the pilgrims, this arrow will show you the way to follow in each stage. This fabulous initiative has its origin in the 70’s when father Eliás Valiña decided to start painting them to mark the way to Santiago. The yellow colour was chosen for its good visibility as it stands out in an environment where the green of the woods and the grey of the stone usually predominate. Along your way you will find it in many places and shapes: walls, ground, cairns, trees…

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The bead

Popularly known as a walking stick, it is one of the essential accessories for any pilgrim. This extra point of support will be very useful to reduce the impact on ankles and knees, especially on descents. It will also serve as a support point on climbs and steep areas. In ancient times it was also used to hang tools and as protection against wild animals that could be found along the road.

Little by little this traditional walking stick has been replaced by the popular trekking poles, but if you want to continue enjoying the romanticism of the path, this is undoubtedly your best option.

The pumpkin

The gourd emerged, like the staff, as a method of making life easier for pilgrims. In the old days it was used as a practical and economical way to transport liquids and keep them cold. Nowadays it has no “useful” value, but it has a strong symbolic value. It is common to see pilgrims adding this accessory to their attire or hanging it from the staff as in the past. Undoubtedly one of the most representative symbols of the Camino de Santiago.

The credential and Compostela

The credential, also known as the pilgrim’s passport, is the essential document that every traveller must carry. It is a booklet where the personal details of each pilgrim are written down and which has spaces to be stamped in the different lodgings, churches, shops and establishments along the way.

This credential will help us to accredit the distance covered and at the same time will allow us to obtain the
Compostela
at our arrival in Santiago as recognition of the effort made. It is necessary to bear in mind that to obtain the precious Compostela you have to
travel at least 100 Kms
if it is done walking or
200 Kms if you choose to do it by bicycle.

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