Shells into the sea of BluArte in Giardini Naxos Taormina

seashell Giardini Naxos

Shells, current in every culture and always used as jewelry by children and adults of all times and civilizations, represent a positive symbol, impressed in our unconscious.

Ancient symbolism

Shells, In Greek and Roman myths, were a symbol of prosperity, of rebirth and, if associated with the sea, indicated the source of fertility. We all come from the sea and the shell brings back to the idea of the womb and the birth of humanity. This is also the symbol of love and birth.

Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, was created from the foam and carried ashore on a shell (Botticelli’s Birth of Venus). But also other gods were adorned with shells, as can be seen in the ancient statues of Pompei.

shell god Taormina
Detail of a lava stone table representing the wind rose

Christian symbols

The shell is also linked to the cult and pilgrimage of St. James (Santiago), one of the most important spiritual paths from the Middle Ages until today. The shell can be seen on the hats or on the backpacks and accompanies the pilgrim to the destination, that is the beautiful Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

But this sacred path digs deeper in ancient times, where it represented, for couples who could not have children, the last chance to achieve the blessing of the gods and therefore fertility.

Couples so ventured along an impervious sacred path, carrying with them a shell, an emblem of the birth of creation. But it also had a practical use, used as a glass or a natural bowl, it allowed the sharing of water and food and reminded the couple of the importance of simplicity and of how little is needed when there is Love.

Camino de Santiago

The Christians then continued to walk this path in honor of St. James who was the first to evangelize those places.

The shell, representing in the Christian world, life and spiritual purification, is often in baptismal sources and in holy water fonts.

From the 18th century onwards, the shell is portrayed as a component of Nature, in all its forms and dimensions. It is a symbol of beauty in itself, of the marvelous and for this to admire, but also an emblem of superior knowledge.

White and blue ceramic fruit bowl with shells and corals BluArte
White and blue ceramic fruit bowl with shells and corals BluArte

But, to conclude, I leave you a quote from the book “the shell as a symbol”, which collects the essence of its meaning:

The shells are a gift from the sea, the waves that bring them to the shore reveal us a part of its secret, make us share in its mystery. It is a way of feeling part of the universe as the traveler who, through experiences and fragments of knowledge, goes in search of himself.