Madelyn Given took this photo near Santo Domingo, on her el Camino pilgrimage.

El Camino: Santo Domingo and the Chickens

I walked to Azofra in the pre-dawn darkness and was the first customer at the tiny bar; as the owner opened the door, I went in and ordered an orange juice and expresso. He took five oranges and one at a time put them into the machine. There is nothing more refreshing than freshly squeezed juice after two hours of steady walking—thank goodness for the bars in the little Spanish towns along the el Camino trail, which I was walking in September 2014. These bars are multi-purpose, often the only places open for the pilgrims for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ice cream coolers and soda machines are usually out front, along with a few tables and chairs, for pilgrims and locals who want to take a break.

In a small park in Azofra, I filled my water bottle at the pilgrim fountain and was off again. I went through many hay fields where the bailed hay was stacked into a huge rectangle mass, many stories high, as you can see in my photo at the top of this blog post. When walking, you can see this in the distance, standing out like a skyscraper appears in a city. There were several kestrels flying overhead, looking for locusts and grasshoppers.

I reached Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the Swedish couple I knew came into view. They joggled my memory about the founder of this city, Santo Domingo, and took me to the store where I could buy tickets to the museum. We went in together: this is one of the special places on the el Camino, because of what happened long ago with Santo Domingo and a couple of chickens.

The legend is that Santo Domingo was a poor shepherd who wanted to be a monk, but he was rejected. He became a hermit in the woods, and for the rest of his life, he helped pilgrims by building bridges and improving the el Camino trail. He fed the passing pilgrims at a long table next to the river, and later he built a pilgrim hospice, located in this city which is named after him. Santo Domingo is entombed in the main part of this grand cathedral.

The legend continues: in the 14th century, a young German pilgrim traveling with his parents spurned the advances of a maid. After the maid planted a silver goblet in the man’s bag, he was caught and hanged for theft. His parents continued their pilgrimage to Santiago, and on their return, they were shocked to see their son, still dangling from the gallows—but alive. The parents rushed to the town’s magistrate to tell him of the miracle. He replied that their son was as alive as the roast chickens he was about to eat for dinner. At that moment, the cock and hen jumped from the pot and began to crow! The young German man was released.

Madelyn Given heard the Santo Domingo chickens crow on her el Camino pilgrimage.

Chicken in the Santo Domingo Cathedral
(photo by Madelyn Given)

As I stood in the cathedral, a couple of feet above me were two live chickens, behind the glass-faced cage in the wall. I listened to them crow, as it brings good luck on the journey to Santiago. After picking up my pack (safely stashed in a closet by an attendant), I exited the cathedral and started looking for the el Camino markers: carved stone scallop shells in the middle of the street. I was distracted by glancing above, to the top of the tall chimneys, to see the stork nests. As I left this interesting and historic town, I crossed over Santo Domingo’s original bridge and headed out into the countryside, in the terrible midday heat.

(posted February 3, 2015)