Today was a momentous day on the Camino; I am already a third of the way to Santiago de Compostela! As I reflected on the miracle of my legs continuing to work, and my head continuing to let them, I wondered what it was I would remember most when the aches of my muscles had faded from memory. There are many candidates, with the amazing landscapes and beautiful architecture being particular highlights, but anyone who has done the Camino will tell you it’s the stories and the kindness of the people you meet that really abide.
One of my favourite stories from the Camino comes from the small city of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. There, it is said, a couple and their teenage son once stayed whilst on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. When, however, the boy refused the amorous advances of a local girl, she planted a silver chalice on his person and he was duly found guilty of theft. On returning to visit the grave of their son, the couple were astonished to find him still alive on the gallows, apparently thanks to a miracle from the city’s namesake and founder. They quickly ran to the mayor’s house to plead for his release, but the mayor, sitting down for dinner, dismissed the claim, saying that the boy was as alive as his roast chicken. At this point the chicken grew feathers and a beak and began to crow. Upon this further miracle, the boy was taken down from the gallows and the family returned home.
To this day the city’s motto is ‘Santo Domingo de la Calzada: Where the hens sing after being roasted’, and the cathedral has a chicken coop with a cockerel and a number of hens living in it!
Jesus also used stories to great effect. His parables endure in the memory, even when
we have not heard them for a long time. Almost everyone you meet knows the parable of the good Samaritan and the central point it makes, so we can see how important stories are. Whether it’s the ones we tell about ourselves, our friends and families, or the ones we tell of our communities, cultures and religions, stories give us identity, meaning, and purpose. It is worth noting here that historically, when a conquering power or a despotic leader has wanted to subjugate, dehumanise, or assimilate a people, they have consistently attempted to take two main things from them: their language and their stories.
On the Camino, everyone has a story. The really glorious thing about that is that because you have all the time in the world, you can listen without concern for your next task. Too often our lives are so busy that we don’t care about people’s stories. This is perhaps a lesson of the Camino; every community in history, no matter how big or small, has been built on story. It can certainly be hard, but we should try to make time to listen to them more, wherever they may turn up.