Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town founded as a shelter for pilgrims, a mission it continues today, celebrates the 1,000th anniversary of the birth of its founding saint this year
The Way of St. James enters La Rioja at Logroño and passes through Navarrete, Nájera and Azofra before reaching Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a historical town and compulsory stop for all Camino pilgrims. A popular Spanish legend involving a cock who crowed after roasting grew in stature with the historical monuments and the legacy of St. Dominic, its founding saint. This year, as the town celebrates a landmark jubilee, the pilgrim route takes centre stage.
The Camino goes along Santo Domingo’s Calle Mayor, a street of imposing buildings with illustrious crests and inscriptions featuring the former residences of the Trastámara, Lorenzo de Tejada, Mayor Martínez de Pisón, and Ocio families, as well as the old abattoir and Saints’ Guild, reminding visitors of the town’s splendorous past.
Every year, a summer spectacle starring over one hundred actors, ‘Miracles of the Saint’, is staged in Plaza de España, the town square and heart of the city. Other features in the square include the Town Hall with its elegant arched gallery; a section of the town wall (the best-preserved in La Rioja); one of the few surviving 18th-century prisons in Spain and can be visited, and Santo Domingo Cathedral, a sober building which actually gives onto the adjacent Plaza del Santo square.
The Cathedral, whose construction began in the 12th century, boasts elements of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque design and is one of the most prized examples of religious architecture in La Rioja. To mark this year’s important jubilee, the church has opened the wooden and bronze door next to the main entrance, commissioned a new stained-glass window, and opened the saint’s crypt to the public with its recently-restored mosaics and chest. All the restoration work was carried by the prestigious Slovenian artist Marko Ivan Rupnik.
The cathedral is an endless treasure trove of surprises. The central altarpiece, by Damián Forment, for example, is considered a prime example of Spanish Renaissance sculpture. The Gothic henhouse, which houses a hen and cock in memory of the miracle that made Santo Domingo de la Calzada famous among pilgrims all over the world, is another jewel of art and symbolism.
The old bell ringer’s building stands in the same square as the cathedral. Apart from housing a clock and bell museum with a fascinating collection of artifacts and documents, the building also contains a foundry and reverberatory furnace for casting bells. A short distance away, the Church of Nuestra Señora de La Plaza honours the town’s patron saint and remembers its founder. In keeping with tradition, the church was constructed on the remains of the original oratory built by St. Dominic.
With only a short distance to go before the Camino leaves this welcoming town which originally consisted of no more than a hospital and shelter, make sure to call in to the Convent of San Francisco, an elegant building constructed in the 16th century in the style of much-revered Spanish Renaissance architect Juan de Herrera. Next to it, there is a sculpture by Riojan artist Vicente Ochoa entitled the Pilgrim Monument, which speaks to the town’s culture, identity and religious patrimony.
All visitors to Santo Domingo de la Calzada feel like pilgrims and join in the spirit of its rituals and legends. An inextricable blend of history and heritage lie at the heart of Santo Domingo, a Riojan town that offers excellent accommodation including two National Paradors, several hotels and a campsite; fantastic food and wine, and surprisingly beautiful surroundings with a variety of native flora and fauna which visitors can discover at the Rioja Natura centre. To mark this year’s jubilee, the town is hosting an extensive programme of special events featuring exhibitions, concerts, and conferences, etc.