Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saint James Major Patron Saint of Pilgrims

Carlo Crivelli (Italian, Venetian, circa 1430/5–1494). Saint James Major, 1472. Tempera and gold on panel. Brooklyn Museum

Please click on the photo above and enlarge? You can see the scallop shell on Saint James' garment and also the lead pilgrim's badges sewn to his wide brimmed hat. The scallop shell is the traditional emblem of Saint James the Greater and is popular with pilgrims on the Way of St James to the apostle's shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Medieval Christians making the pilgrimage to his shrine often wore a scallop shell symbol on their hat or clothes. The pilgrim also carried a scallop shell with him and would present himself at churches, castles, abbeys etc. where he could expect to be given as much sustenance as he could pick up with one scoop. Probably he would be given oats, barley, and perhaps beer or wine. Thus even the poorest household could give charity without being overburdened. The association of Saint James with the scallop can most likely be traced to the legend that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallops. An alternate version of the legend holds that while St. James' remains were being transported to Spain from Jerusalem, the horse of a knight fell into the water, and emerged covered in the shells.

"The pilgrim with his scrip, staff and leaden badges, was a familiar sight on medieval roads throughout Britain, Europe and the Holy Land from the early 1200's through the 1500's when the rising tide of Protestantism closed many shrines and places of sanctuary. Pilgrims were a varied lot. Some were seeking help for a particular affliction, some wished to honor a vow or atone for a sin. Many simply set out to see something of the world and find some adventure in distant or foreign lands. Whatever the reason for their travels, pilgrims choked the roads from spring to fall and sometimes doubled the populations of shrine towns, giving a much needed boost to local economies who depended on the sale of food, lodging and souvenirs."

In Scotland, the Christian faith found it harder to gain a major influence until the sixth century with the arrival of St Columba from Ireland. He set up a community on the island of Iona from where he and his followers spread the Gospels into the Pictish communities. The island is the perfect place for a retreat and today is a major ecumenical centre. This is one of the most beautiful places I have had the privilege to visit.

Although St Columba’s arrival was a major influence, there had long been an element of Christianity in Scotland, which had crept in as a result of the numerous Roman invasions. In the late fourth century the first Bishop from north of Hadrian’s Wall, (St) Ninian, set up the first Celtic monastic community in the small fishing port of Whithorn. In the 1990s this site was excavated to find traces of his Candida Casa (White House), and numerous early Christian graves and artifacts and is now a fascinating place to visit during a journey to Scotland.

Queen Margaret (1045 – 1093) the wife of King Malcolm III spread a more organized, almost, state-sanctioned Christianity and established the Cistercians in Scotland. You can visit Saint Margaret's cave in Dunfermline where she went to pray. I found it very interesting and moving. It's quite small. There is a link below where you can take a virtual tour if you like.

Photo I took of Saint Margaret's Cave in 2005.


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