History of Saint James’: The Baptismal Scallop Shell

Baptismal shell

The rite of Holy Baptism is administered at Saint James’ Church using the symbol associated with Saint James himself – the scallop shell.  Parishioners have witnessed the celebrant use the shell in dipping water from the font, and baptizing the candidate therewith – the culmination of this ancient ceremony.

On these occasions at Saint James’ Church, the celebrant uses a beautiful shell made of silver and having a cross engraved on the small handle.  The shell was a gift in 1952 from Mrs. Samuel Spencer Hall, Jr. (known as Pearl) in memory of her son and only child, Samuel Spencer Hall III, tragically killed in action in Korea on September 27, 1952, at age 23.  He had been baptized, confirmed and was a communicant at Saint James’.  He was buried in Warrenton Cemetery on November 28, 1952. Young Sam had married Anne Benney the year before his death; he and his wife had a baby girl, Jeanne Hambleton Hall, born August 30, 1952.  Sam knew of his daughter’s birth – a month before he died.

The late Anne Brooke Smith, life-long faithful member of Saint James’ Church, and its historian, wrote in January 1999, “I was assistant to Mrs. Hall that year (1952) in her nursery-kindergarten class in Sunday School.  I can see Mrs. Hall holding the scallop shell up and explaining to the children what it was and how it would be used in baptism scooping the water up to be poured over the head.  I think it was used first when her granddaughter was baptized.” – on January 4, 1953