We arrived at Santo Domingo de la Calzada as the rain ceased and the sun appeared. It is a lovely small town on the Camino, really, I suppose, a city because it has a Cathedral. We found a taverna right by the Cathedral. It was serving a good menu of the day, had WiFi and most importantly a fierce room heater. So we all dried off and enjoyed good food and wine.
Then we went into the Cathedral. On entering, it seems a strange place. The choir comes almost to the west end, is enclosed and hides the view of the east end. But when you make your way around the solid screen what unusual glories await you.
I’ll have to tell you the story of St Domingo so that you understand this place. Domingo Garcia was a hermit who was concerned for the pilgrims on the road to Santiago. So he built a better road and made provision for the care of the pilgrims. The locals and the pilgrims regarded him as a saint. But the most important miracle attributed to him happened to another pilgrim.
Hugonell was a German pilgrim, by all accounts a very attractive young man, making the pilgrimage with his parents. The innkeeper’s daughter fell in love with him, but he wasn’t interested. In a fit of pique she hid a silver cup in his pilgrims sack and accused him of stealing it. As with Benjamin in the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, his sack was opened and the cup found. There was only one sentence – death by hanging. His parents left him there and continued their pilgrimage to Santiago, vowing to visit his grave on their return.
When they came back they found that he was still alive and hanging from the gallows. The boy said to his parents ‘I prayed to St Domingo and he kept me alive. Go tell the mayor to set me free. I am an innocent man.’ So they dashed to the Mayor’s house. The Mayor was sitting down to a roast dinner of hen and rooster. Not believing their story he said to the handsome young man’s parents, ‘That boy is as alive as these two roast chickens I am about to eat.’ At that moment both chickens sprang to life and the cock crowed. The boy was cut down and set free. What happened to the innkeeper’s daughter I do not know.
To mark the miracle Pope Clement VI declared in 1350 that a live hen and a live rooster could be kept in the Cathedral. So there high on the wall is a gothic hen house complete with hen and rooster. It is said to be a good sign for pilgrims if the cock crows. It did for us, on and on and on. It was the craziest thing I have ever seen and one of the nicest. Alongside the henhouse are manacles and leg irons worn by prisoners allowed to serve their sentence by walking to Compostela. When they arrived they were set free and hung their chains in a place of significance for them. Like the boy in every sense they were set free.
As the cock crowed I was reminded of St Peter in the courtyard, another cockerel, another place, but a challenge to him to his faithfulness to Christ and in the beauty of this place I was challenged about my own need for release from those things that tie me down.
The rest of the church is lovely. Its gothic splendour has been restored and the amazing baroque altarpiece moved to a side chapel so that the true glory of the building can be seen. In the cloisters treasures of the Cathedral are on display.
Amongst them a wooden altar frontal which depicts creation and the fall of Adam and Eve. One panel is of the creation of Eve from the side of Adam. Perhaps we wouldn’t depict it quite like this now. But in this place of beauty and release it was a good reminder of the life and freedom we all enjoy in Christ.
We left Santo Domingo de la Calzada and journeyed to Burgos where we stay overnight.
It has been another great day, sun and rain and hens and roosters. There are always surprises and challenges on the Way.