Most pilgrims take this leg to Grañón, but I had long ago decided to spend a night in Sto. Domingo de la Calzada. The small town, 20 kilometers ahead, had three things going for it: a comparatively easy day’s walk to get to, a mad legend about a dead chicken coming to life, and it being the spiritual continuation of a hike I’d taken a few months earlier.
Schondorf in Bavaria, along the Ammer lake, is not only one of Germany’s richest communities but also the former home of three families of church masons and painters who had left their mark all over northern Spain and, most prominently, the town of Sto. Domingo de la Calzada. According to legend, one of the younger masons found himself being fancied by a local girl who, upon his refusal to … sin … with her, accused him of having stolen a spoon. Tried and convicted on the word of a local girl, he died hanging. His father, outraged, visited the local baron who was having dinner at the moment, demanding justice and insisting on his son’s innocence. “Your son is as guilty as this chicken on my plate is dead,” the baron answered. Just on cue, as this happens in miracle fantasies, the chicken came back to life as a proud cock, crowed once, and flew off.
The boy was cut down and miraculously survived asphyxiation by strangulation.
Images of this miracle can be found in two places: Sto. Domingo de la Calzada and the boy’s home town of Schondorf, where the local church, alternatingly with its Spanish twin, displays two of the four panels.
I left Nájera early, leaving the creepy hostel behind. A number of inconsiderate Italian pilgrims had, loudly chatting and laughing, woken everyone up at a quarter to five, s0 I just waited until they were gone to not be lumped in with them in the collective consciousness of the Camino, and left as well.
Behind Azofra, I had to decide if I wanted to walk an hour along a busy road or take the diversion through Ciruena, over a hill. I took the hill, arrived in Ciruena around noon, and perused the only bar’s selection of dry and tasteless food along with a bottle of Estrella.
“Randone was here,” a familiar voice from behind. The American I’d met in St. Jean joined me at the table and, whipping out his cell phone, played a number of songs by a Sicilian art-rock project named after its founder, Nicola Randone. Nicola had walked the Camino in 2013, recorded locals, conversations, and scenes, and turned them into a concept album, Ultreïa. Apparently Nicola had recorded a German woman saying “do you know any songs from the Lion King?” here. Arcane knowledge, almost as cool as hanging boys, and just as much and as powerfully part of the Camino’s history and lore.
We walked the final six kilometers to Sto. Domingo together. Inside the Cathedral, a cock is supposed to crow when pilgrims enter, a sign of good luck. He did. I am still not sure, if this was a recorded version, piped in from a speaker, or the real thing, but above an altar in one of the corners there were, indeed two cocks, caged. The antithesis to anything Camino, caged and elevated.
St. Domingo is a small town, a few bars and restaurants, a small albergue with an amazing yard, and old men sitting in lawnchairs outside their houses, alternatively waving or cursing at pilgrims. I booked myself into the albergue, dropped my clothes off with the hospitalera who explained that she was taking them home to wash for an extra two bucks, “better wash,” she claimed, so I paid.
Outside the albergue I had to verify one of my theories: the Camino starts spiritually and becomes more and more worldly as it moves on. Nowhere else is this better seen than in the vending machines along the Way. While those in St. Jean sold crosses, bibles, shells, and prayer beads, the ones in Sto. Domingo had done away with all this and embraced the changing needs of pilgrims:
I grabbed the parts needed for dinner from a local supermarket, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the albergue’s yard, drinking Estrellas and, finally, checking in with those at home by phone and text.
A fun group of pilgrims, one of the “Camino Families” that tend to form in Rioja and remain together until the End, joined, we shared some smokes and stories. One of the girls, Arianne, knew Rainer (the German surveyor) and reported having seen him a day behind. Another pilgrim, Leon from France, told the story of a Swedish lady and an American who, supposedly, offered medical services on the Camino. I should meet them, he said, the American is a little weird but fun, he heard.
I could see the Milky Way above when I walked back into the albergue to find my clothes, washed and folded, on my bunk. I brushed, shaved, and went to sleep, dreaming of the stars.