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Sunday, September 5, 2010

His Pilgrimage

(Sir Walter Raleigh by an unknown artist)

Since medieval times, the scallop shell has been the emblem of the pilgrim — the person on a spiritual quest who journeys to a sacred place to offer prayers of penance or gratitude or to place a petition for a special favor. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales follows one company of such travelers to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket.

This symbolic use of the shell began with the popular pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago (St. James) de Compostela in Spain. The pilgrims used the shells that they found by the ocean as drinking vessels. Today, all those who reach the end of their journey at the cathedral get their pilgrimage passports stamped with the image of a shell.

The verse below is an excerpt from a longer poem that Sir Walter Raleigh wrote after he was sentenced to death for treason.

Gage here means pledge or guarantee.)


Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My script of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation.
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.

~Sir Walter Raleigh (1552?-1618), courtier, explorer, writer, and poet

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