About 4 kms. from Montpellier, the town of Castelnau-Le-Lez has a population of about 15,000 and is served by Monpellier’s 2nd tramline. Le Lez is the name of the local river, which gives the town its name.
The town of Castelnau is home to l’Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a church which dates from the end of the 16th century, and has a 14th century bell tower.
As I was walking around the town, I noticed seashell markers called “Coquilles Saint Jacques de Compostale” on the sidewalks, as a way to indicate the pilgrimage route in the Middle Ages from Campostale to Lourdes (see map photo). The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings.
Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol concern the death of Saint James, who was killed in Jerusalem for his convictions about his brother.
- Version 1: After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
- Version 2: After James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.
The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.
The scallop shell also served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. (Source: Wikipedia)
I enjoyed strolling along the pedestrian zone, with the sights and smells of the local bakery, flower shop, and other stores, as locals leisurely went about their shopping. Have you ever tasted a “coing” (quince)?