Chicken Church and Candlelight Confessions

Najera to Granon
Sunday 9 November

We went out for breakfast, and my Dutch friend wanted to walk alone, so I gave him a fifteen minute headstart, while I stayed chatting to our South African friend.

Today for some reason I had a real spring in my step. My feet were OK, I bounced down the road as I started in awe at the snow capped mountains in the distance. I soon passed my friend, and bounced ahead. We stopped for a coffee in the next town. His feet too had improved. Were were both feeing good. The day was sparkling and the surrounding colours were vibrant.

We had arranged to meet my brother in the next town, Ciruena, as he had flown out from Australia to walk with me for a week, to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We approached the town, that was probably the ugliest we had encountered in Spain – large seemingly abandon apartment blocks, many with for sale signs. Continuing onto the older part of town, we found the bar where my brother was. We ate a Russian salad, and had a glass if vino, before we headed into Santo Dominigo de Calzada. It was nice to catch up with my brother, and we chatted happily telling him all about my trip so far.

Santo Dominigo de Calzada had a large Cathedral that is famous for a legend involving chickens. There is a rather bizarre hen house inside the church. The cathedral was a museum, and we had to buy tickets to go inside. The ticket office was full of all sorts of chicken merchandising. Bizarre. The cathedral was beautiful, austere, with a contemporary interior renovation. The gilt decorated hen house was high up built into the wall, overlooking the tomb of, it contained two fat white chickens.

We were hungry, so went to a nearby Resturant for the menu. Second lunch. Service was slow, but we had time, as we only had another seven kilometers to walk to Granon, our destination for tonight. Santo Dominigo de Calzada was the traditional stop in both of our guidebooks, but we had both received separate messages from different friends that the Albergue at Granon was rather special, and worth continuing onto. It was in the church, and we were all unsure what to expect.

As lunch had taken some time, we arrived as it was getting dark. We entered the stone spiraling staircase into the warm and inviting room. The fire was roaring and others were sitting around a long table, with some playing chess by the fire. We were directed upstairs to the small attic room, where there were mats to sleep on.
We sorted out our sleeping space, showered and then dinner was served. This hostel was open to all and included dinner and breakfast for whatever you wished to donate. It was run by a very welcoming group of volunteers. Although the other pilgrims were all very friendly, they had also been traveling together as a group, and we felt a little out of place, as though we were intruding a little. We were fed a hearty meal of salad, bean soup (which was too porky for me), baked apple and chocolate slices, with the obligatory vino tino.

After dinner we were all ushered though a small door that entered into the church, to the area above where the choir would be. We could see over the darkened interior, and the gilt alter below. One of our group was strumming some music on a guitar. There were candles lit, and we were seated in the carved choristers chairs for prayers. Were were then handed a large candle, which we were told had passed through more than 7,000 pilgrims hands, and asked to say what the Camino was for us. We were able to speak in our mother tongue, but as mine is English, felt embarrassed that most would understand. I considered speaking in Indonesian, but that would have been cheating. I could only think in cliches, and said that as I walked the Camino I was thankful for having enough love, enough hope and enough freedom, and that I was very aware that many others were denied such privileges. There is truth in cliche. The candle continued down the line. We all then stood, held hands, said more prayers, then hugged one another. It was a lovely ceremony, perhaps a little awkward. Later both my Dutch friend and I commented that we would have been nice to have shared this with our other friends, rather than some people we had just met. I assured my brother that it was rather different from our other experiences on the Camino, and he hadn’t joined some new cult.

After the ceremony we remained in the church to be entertained by another of the group playing guitar. The acoustics were amazing, and it was enchanting. We returned to the hostel and bed.


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