Symbols of St. James
The cockleshell is an emblem of the apostle Saint James the Great. The story is told that when Saint James’ remains were taken by boat to Spain, a man was riding his horse on the beach. The horse saw the boat and plunged into the sea, with its rider, making for the boat. They sank but then rose again, covered with scallop shells.
The scallop edged shell is used to line the way on the Camino de Santiago (Road of St. James) in northwestern Spain. In times past it was used to take water for drinking from streams on the way. Thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago each year which leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (St. James of Compostela).
James was the brother of John and a son of Zebedee. One tradition says that he preached in Spain after working in Jerusalem. James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa and is the only apostle whose death is recorded in scripture (Acts 12:2). His shield shows a scallop (or cockle) shell, a symbol of pilgrimage by sea and the sword of martyrdom. Sometimes three shells are shown without a sword.