Saint Dominic de la Calzada: The Iconography
MAY 12
According to his vita and other materials in the Acta Sanctorum, Dominic was a peasant from northwest Spain who became a follower of St. Gregory of Ostia and later settled in a hermitage in the Rioja region. This part of the pilgrimage route to Compostela was heavily wooded and infested with bandits. To assist the pilgrims he cleared a roadway (in Spanish, a calzada) and enlisted the help of locals to build a bridge across the Rio Oja. He also built a hermitage and an oratory.1

Because of these works he became known as Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a name also taken by the town that grew up around the hermitage. The town celebrates its patron saint every May 11th and 12th in its elaborate medieval cathedral and continues to keep the bridge in working order.2

MIRACLES

After Dominic's death numerous legends developed regarding miracles obtained by those who prayed to him. Two of them involve the resuscitation of a cooked rooster.

In one, a Moorish chieftain who is holding a young prisoner from Rioja is warned one evening at dinner that the youth has been praying to St. Dominic; perhaps the saint might free the captive. The Moor says that is as likely as that the roasted rooster on his plate should get up and crow. Suddenly the rooster does just that, and when the Moor looks in the prison the young man is in fact gone, his cell filled with a great light signifying the presence of St. Dominic.3

In the other legend, a 14th-century pilgrim family stops in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and the young man of the family catches the eye of the innkeeper's daughter. Because he refuses to sleep with her, she hides a silver cup in his hood and later has him arrested for theft. The judge condemns him to death. The distraught parents continue to Compostela, pray to St. James for their son, and return again by way of the town. On the outskirts they see their son hanging from the gallows but alive. He says that Dominic and the Blessed Virgin have kept him alive and that they should go tell the judge.

Like the Moor, the judge is having a chicken dinner and dismisses the story with the same remark about the cooked rooster and hen on the plate before him. But the chickens do indeed rise up, fully feathered, and the rooster crows loudly. So the judge goes to the gallows, where he finds the young man living and has him released.4

In both stories, the people of the town adopt the rooster and hen and make a place for them in the church. Today an ornate Late Gothic henhouse in the Cathedral houses a rooster and hen said to be descended from the chickens of the story.5

PORTRAITS AND ATTRIBUTES

St. Dominic de la Calzada's attributes include, naturally, a hen and a rooster. He also wears a monastic habit with a cowl. Dominic never was accepted into a monastery, but his vita refers to a group of companions that shared his hermitage and saw to his burial. The Roman Martyrology (May p. 16) lists him as a "confessor" (a lay believer) rather than a monk.

The vita says Dominic would pray in his oratory until he became too weak to stand, and he kept walking sticks there to hold himself up. This seems to be the reason for the prayer beads and walking stick in his portraits. (In most of them, the top of the stick ends not in a circle as at right but in a J shape.)

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-27.

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Statue of St. Dominic de la Calzada in the Presentation Chapel of Burgos Cathedral (See description page)

DATES

  • Died in 1039

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Acta Sanctorum, May vol. 3, 167-170. The website of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Casada also reports that the saint built a hospice for pilgrims.

2 "Fiestas del Santo del 10 al 15 de mayo."

3 In a somewhat uncommon intrusion into the text, the Acta Sanctorum editors protest their doubtfulness about this story and the next one but leave it to the reader to believe them or not. Ibid., 171.

4 Acta Sanctorum, ibid., 171-2.

5 See the city's website for the web pages "El milagro del peregrino ahoracado" and "El Gallinero."