– Pope Benedict XVI, Arrival in Tel Aviv – May 11, 2009
Pilgrimage – A Moral Obligation
A pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre and Holy Land is a moral obligation of every Knight and Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and should be realized, with the help of God, at least once during each one’s lifetime. The pilgrimage helps us to attain a better insight into our lives as a “pilgrimage of faith” and to understand their foundation in the Resurrection of the Lord, it opens us to mutual ecumenical and charitable understanding with our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and it reminds us that the “Way of the Cross” is the way that leads to life and hope. The pilgrimage to the Sepulchre of the Lord and to other Holy Places is also an act of solidarity with our Brothers and Sisters in the Holy Land. Our presence among them is an encouragement to the minority Christian people of the land, living amid so many problems, pressures, and difficulties. Pilgrims’ deepened faith and new experience of the “Land of the Bible” and its people enables them to give a particular witness to those with whom they live and work.
The pilgrimage, besides visits to the Holy Sepulchre and other Holy Places and to the Patriarchate, should include provision of time for person-to-person contacts with the local Church of the Holy Land – e.g. a visit for Sunday Mass with an opportunity to meet with the pastor and parishioners, a visit to Bethlehem University with an opportunity to meet with faculty and students, or small groups of pilgrims visiting individual homes of Christian families in a given parish or area. The nature of the trip to the Holy Land is a pilgrimage, not merely a tour.
The Pilgrim Shell is the choicest decoration of the Order, and is awarded by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Any Knight or Lady of the Order in good standing, who makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and prays at the site of the Holy Sepulchre of our Risen Lord, can earn the Pilgrim Shell. It testifies that the Knight or Lady of the Order has seen the results of his or her charity and knows the importance of the mission of the Order and the fulfillment of the apostolate. It is the goal of every member.
The Pilgrim Shell is a scalloped shell, the ancient badge of a pilgrim, oxidized in silver and overlaid with the Cross of Godfrey of Bouillon enameled in red and bordered in gold. It is worn on the outside of the cape, scalloped edge down, centered on the red felt cross of the Order. The Pilgrim Shell and the 2000 Jubilee medal are the only decorations to be worn on the cape. When worn with other decorations on business or formal attire, no decoration is placed above the Pilgrim Shell.
The identification of a seashell with a pilgrim is of ancient origin. In the beginning, the shell was never awarded or conferred on the recipient as it is today. Instead, it was a self-chosen decoration that the pilgrim proudly pinned on his own cloak, so that as he returned homeward, other pilgrims would know that the wearer had made it to the place of pilgrimage.
Legend has it that Saint James, the apostle, had been the apostle of the Iberian Peninsula and had first brought the Good News of salvation to the people of that part of the world. He subsequently made his way back to Palestine to die and after death his body was returned to Spain to be buried in his own mission land in the city now called Santiago de Compostela, in honor of the apostle. In the 9th Century, the place of his burial was rediscovered and gradually became a place of pilgrimage.
Before the first Crusade in the 11th Century, Christians were not allowed by the Seljuk Turks to visit the Holy Land and Jerusalem. As a result, the faithful started to flow from all parts of Europe by different routes and streams, to pay homage to Our Lord at the spot where one of His apostles lay buried – Santiago de Compostela. Each year thousands of pilgrims visited and prayed at the tomb of St. James. Since Santiago de Compostela is so close to the sea, seashells were abundant and they became the badge of one who had traveled there. As they started the long walk home, the shell on their garment was a symbol of encouragement to those whom they passed who were on their way to visit the Tomb of St. James.
As history changed, pilgrims once again started their arduous trips to Palestine and the land of Jesus, but the Sea Shell of Santiago de Compostela had become the sign of a successful pilgrimage, and out of faith and tradition it remained the badge of pilgrims. To this day, the Pilgrim Shell is the most coveted award to be earned by a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem who has made a prayerful pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Receiving a Pilgrim Shell
Members who are planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and who would like to receive their Pilgrim Shell from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, should contact the Holy Sepulchre office via email or phone. Members should provide dates and times when they will be in Jerusalem at least 3 weeks prior to their visit so that a meeting can be arranged.