A Church Made of Seashells
On a visit to Galicia in North-West Spain we drove one day to A Toxa simply to see its only famous tourist attraction; the small twelfth century church of San Caralampio set in beautiful gardens and which is completely covered in scallop shells. We crossed the bridge from O Grove to the island and by a combination of a stroke of luck and by driving the wrong way down a one way street we found it almost immediately.
The shell is the traditional symbol of pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination. It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.
Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:
Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.
It had been a long way to drive but it was really worth it and the church looked magnificent in the late afternoon sun and framed against a perfect blue sky with its gleaming scallop shells bleached even more brilliantly white by the sun.