The legend goes something like this:
A father, mother, and son were making a pilgrimage to Santiago. One night, they stopped in Santo Domingo for rest. The innkeeper had a daughter who took a fancy to the son, who was handsome and devout. He, being devout, rejected the advances of the daughter, who was not happy at being spurned.
She put some gold or jewels or something in the young man’s baggage and, the next morning, accused him of stealing.
The local magistrate found the lad guilty and he was hung.
The father and mother, heart-broken, continued on their pilgrimage to Santiago, praying for their son. On their return trip, they walked near the same town. To their surprise, their son was hanging but still alive! They rushed to the local magistrate’s house, who was in the middle of dinner, and begged him to cut their son down, for he was still alive! The magistrate laughed at their request, saying that their son could no more be alive than the chicken which was on his plate for dinner.
At that moment, the chicken stood up and cackled. Amazed and recognizing a miracle, the magistrate ordered the young man cut down and the family lived happily ever after.
Since then, the church at Santo Domingo has been famous for the legend of the chicken. It is said to keep a live chicken because of this legend.
How do legends get out of hand?
A wet day made the trip to Santo Domingo boring and tiresome. Imagine my surprise to hear a marching band playing as I approached. My fellow pilgrim wondered what the music was about but excitedly remembered that she heard today was a special day at the church in Santo Domingo – they were going to do “something” with the chicken at Mass that night.
As a Catholic, I was curious as to what a priest would do with a chicken during Mass. I knew there were Masses where animals were blessed, but that was all I could think of.
Sacrifice a chicken? Wasn’t that a voodoo thing? We don’t do that in the Roman Catholic Church, at least I had never heard of it, and I was pretty sure I would have heard if there was some kind of ritual where a chicken was killed during Mass.
No, no, no, something wasn’t right. But I was having a hard time convincing my companion of this.
The town was celebrating Corpus Christi, a major Catholic feast day. The whole town processed after a band and a colorful float, through the narrow street to the church. They walked over lovely murals made of grass and flowers which had been made on the pavement. After the band, float, and townspeople walked over the displays, children played with the grass and flowers and the street took on the colors of a lovely ticker tape parade.
The Mass at 8 p.m. was peaceful and serene, with not a cluck to be heard or a feather to be seen.
As Mass ended, I looked around at the beautiful interior.
There, overhead, where a choir might be in another church, was a tiny lit apartment, bars in front. Did I see movement? Yes! I found the chicken!
It turns out that the chicken is kept (probably more for the benefit of tourists than anything else) in the church in a sound proof room so as not to disturb Mass. In fact, the chickens (there are several, very pretty) take turns and live in the church for only a week, then are free to roam around, carefully attended to both in and out of the Church.
I realized that the chickens had better living conditions than I had in most of the albergues I had stayed in on the Camino.
My friend was not disappointed that there had been no slaughter.
Another misinterpretation of Catholic ritual was “laid” to rest.