Field Guide


When seen on a tombstone, the cockleshell, or the scallop shell, symbolizes a journey or a pilgrimage. The scallop shell is also a symbol of baptism, specifically the Baptism of Christ. Even today some baptismals have shells incorporated into their design, and the baptismal water is sometimes sprinkled from a shell.

The shell's association with water and the sea is an integral part of many myths, and it is a female/goddess attribute in many cultures. Perhaps the best known depiction of the shell and a female is Botticelli's famous painting The Birth of Venus. Because the shell may also contain a pearl, it is associated with good luck and prosperity in a number of cultures.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli c. 1486

Depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore. Thought to be based in part on the Venus de' Medici, an ancient Greek marble sculpture of Aphrodite. Source: Wikipedia