The word “Scallop” could mean a shell, a piece of embroidery, something to eat, but it could also bring to mind eggs, snails, petrol, shelling peas or other things.
Throughout history shells have been used for millions of reasons.
Thanks to the work of etymologists during the last century, we know that the word "scallop" and "shell" are closely related to each other: they are different forms of the same word.
The Germanic tribes inhabiting Central Europe a few centuries before Christ already had a word from which our words “scallop” and “shell” descend: this word was "skal". The word was used to describe various kinds of hard coverings such as the shells of snails and the shell of an egg or a nut. Later, during the third to the sixth century after Christ, Germanic tribes together with Saxons, Goths, Franks, Huns and others wandered across Europe, as they were restless and energetic people. But during this period the word "skal" doubtless went too and has been taken over by the following cultures and people. Man doesn’t need a new word every time he discovers a new thing.
In ancient times shells were often used as symbols.
Many pieces of art with the sculpture or painting of a shell have been found made by the old Greeks and Romans.
A good example is the birth of Aphrodite from a shell. Many other Hellenistic representations of Aphrodite also show her kneeling in a newly-opened shell.
Very famous is Pompeii, the Roman town that was destroyed by the eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 A.C. Here many houses were adorned with mosaic decorations which often represented a scallop containing the figure of Aphrodite, whom the Roman's called Venus. The scallop motif was also present in wall-paintings and mosaic flooring.
The scallop is also associated with Roman funera monuments. It is often used as a sort of shield or medallion behind the bust of the dead person. Even later it was occasionally used on Christian graves. Here a shell symbolised the grave that encloses the deceased person.
The scallop shell was also the symbol of Saint James in different forms. Pilgrims on their way to the shrine at Compostella in Spain wore scallops in their hats. It was a mark of devotion: a sign that the pilgrim had really travelled.
In heraldry, which was originally little more than a system of personal identification in warfare, scallops are also present. From the late thirteenth century we can find pictures of scallops on coats of arms, seals,shields and other items.
With the Renaissance this symbol, like everything else, became secularized and lost its religious significance. But it was still used many times as a decorative motif. A good example is “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli.
In later centuries the shell has also been used very often in architecture, churches, art, furniture and many other things. On other continents, shells have also often been used in decoration. Many vases and pottery depicting scallops have been found in Peru, Chile and Guatemala.
Not only the shell itself, but also the inside of the scallop is very useful: it is a gastronomic dish. Who doesn’t like “Coquille Saint Jacques” for example?