It was past four in the afternoon when I finally reached the albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The name freely translates into ‘Santo Domingo of the Causeway’ or ‘on the path’. On my arrival Noelia stepped out to check her laundry next door. She informed me that Eric had continued walking an extra seven kilometres to the next albergue in Grañón, and that we were not likely to meet him again. This left Noelia and me as the last members of the group of seven that started the walk in Roncesvalles. Dominique had left us after Torres del Rio. She had arranged to meet her partner in Burgos and had taken the bus for some stages to get there in time.
The albergue in Santo Domingo is adjacent to a still functioning monastery and our sleeping quarters and the elaborate staircase leading to them were previously part of the same complex. There is still an interleading gate in the wall now separating the two dwellings, which allowed us to have a glimpse into the monk’s quarters with its tastefully furnished passages.
Sleeping quarters in Santo Domingo de Calzada
I was quite fond of our sleeping quarters. The dormitory was directly under the roof which, like other roof structures we had previously encountered, was supported by old wooden beams and columns. However, this roof is unusually flat and the support structure appears rather light in construction. > > For a change all beds were low and they had comfortable mattresses, which was a rare luxury – no double bunks.
The 12th century cathedral in Santo Domingo, like most old cathedrals and churches, has been extensively modified over the centuries and somehow the interior did not inspire me as others had. I consequently spent more time talking to a pair of fowls – a white hen and a cock. They are housed in an artificially lit, but reasonably sized cage, recessed into a wall at the end of the nave about three meters above floor level, where they scratched in the sand for food ‒ and entertainment. They took little notice of me.
In general chickens are not part of cathedral requisites, but there was a reason for this unusual exhibit and I copy the relevant story from my guidebook:
“The chicken coop relates back to the story of the Miracle of the Cock and Hen, otherwise known as The Hanging Pilgrim. Embellished over the years it has become one of the more endearing stories along the Way of St. James.
The legend has it that a pilgrim couple and their son stopped at an inn here on their way to Santiago. The pretty innkeeper’s daughter had her eye on the handsome lad, but the devout young fellow thwarted her advances. Incensed by his refusal she hid a silver goblet in his backpack and reported him for stealing it. The innocent lad was caught and condemned to hang.
The parents continued on their way, oblivious of what had happened [not very diligent parents, I should say] and on their return from Santiago they found him still hanging on the gallows. However, thanks to the intervention of Santo Domingo, miraculously and in spite of everything he was alive.
They rushed to the judge’s house and found him just about to tuck into a fine dinner. Upon hearing the news, he retorted that their son was no more alive than the cock and hen he was about to eat, whereupon the fowls stood up on the dish and cackled and crowed loudly.
The miracle was not lost on the diner who rushed back to the gallows and cut down the lad, who was given a full pardon.”
We are left to speculate on the fate of the foxy maiden.
Santo Domingo, after whom the town of Santo Domingo de Calzada is named, was born in the village of Viloria de la Rioja which we would reach the next day. He was a deeply religious person from the 11th century, but it seems that the privilege of becoming a monk in his days was mostly reserved for nobles and those with influence. As Santo Domingo came from humble stock and was not literate, the church authorities initially refused to accept him as a monk, although this had been his life’s ambition. As a result he dedicated himself to make the pilgrims’ lot around this part of the Camino more comfortable by building roads, bridges, hospitals and hostels.
It appears that Santo Domingo’s work as a layperson was ultimately of greater benefit to his fellow men and pilgrims than would have been the case had he been cooped up in a monastery. Without the influence and control of other friars, he was free to act as needs presented themselves. In spite of his initial rejection he received sainthood at a later stage, after the church had recognized his values. Santo Domingo was probably one of those remarkable, humble folk with great awareness and courage, a truly conscious member of humanity.
That evening in Santo Domingo I found a cosy bar that served menu del dia at the same time as Barcelona played soccer against Seville. The patrons of the bar followed the game on the television screen with passion and the owner wanted me to sit by myself in a separate, rather sterile and dimly lit dining room. It took a fair amount of gesticulation and persistence to hold on to the table I had managed to reserve on entering the bar, and which was situated almost directly under the television screen.
He finally and rather reluctantly relented, and while having my dinner I had a wall of excited men breathing down my neck. Instead of sitting in solitude, I now had company and at the same time enjoyed the game with these lively spectators.