The Legend of the Sand Dollar
Margaret C. Gallitzin
It is difficult to find a shell so rich in symbolism as the sand dollar.
When I was a girl, I saw my first sand dollar – which I later learned
was called the keyhole sand dollar – and my uncle, a priest, explained
to me how it represented the story of the Birth, Crucifixion, and
Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I never forgot that lesson
of how to see God invisible Creation.
front sand dollar
The sand dollar - front above, and back below
sand dollar back
The sand dollar is flat-looking burrowing sea urchin belonging to
the order Clypeasteroida. It lives on the floor of shallow sandy
waters along the coasts of ocean waters in the Northern Hemisphere.
The mollusks are washed up on Oregon Coast beaches regularly.
After the urchin is washed up on the beach and bleached by the sun,
it looks like a large silver coin, such as the old Spanish or American
dollar. Ergo, its simple American name. In other places, it is known
as the sea biscuit or pansy shell.
It was not long, however, before a legend rich in Catholic symbolism
developed about the poorly named sand dollar. This was the story my
uncle told me:
On the top part of the shell, you can clearly see in the center a star,
which represents the Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to the
manger when Christ was born. Around it is the outline of the Easter
lily, a sign of Our Lord’s Resurrection.
At the edges of the star are four holes and in the center another one.
These remind us of the four Sacred Wounds of Our Lord on His Hands
and Feet that He bore after being nailed to the Cross. A center hole,
the fifth, represents the pierce Wound to His Sacred Heart made by
the spear of Longinus.
If you turn the sand dollar over, you will find an outline of the
Poinsettia, the Christmas flower.
The sand dollar always has five doves inside
Finally, if you break open the sand dollar, five "doves" emerge –
the doves of the Peace and Joy of Christmas. There are always
five doves every time you open one.
Many poems have been written about the legend of the sand dollar.
This one, author unknown, is my favorite:
The legend of the Sand dollar
That I would like to tell
Of the birth and death of Jesus Christ
Found in this lowly shell.
If you will examine closely,
You'll see that you find here
Four nail holes and a fifth one
Made by a Roman's spear.
On one side the Easter Lily,
Its center is the star
That appeared unto the shepherds
And led them from afar.
The Christmas Poinsettia
Etched on the other side
Reminds us of His birthday,
Our joyous Christmas tide.
Now break the center open
And here you will release
The five white doves awaiting
To spread goodwill and peace.
This simple little symbol,
Christ left for you and me.
To help to spread His Message
Through all eternity. The Sand dollar will be
there to show you Jesus!