Those who walk the Camino to Santiago are party to many wonderful legends and tales. Some are spiritual or religious, some are folk tales or simply traditional. Whether one accepts these tales as true is of little consequence. What matters, in my opinion, is what these stories tell us about the people who share them, revere them or are guided or transformed by them.
Following is a Camino tale that took place on Christmas Eve centuries ago.
The story begins on a dark and stormy Christmas Eve in medieval times. A poor farmer from the village of Barjamayor struggled up the steep 1,293 meter-high mountain to the O'Cebreiro church. He braved the raging snowstorm to hear midnight Mass and participate in communion.
When he reached the church, he was cold, wet and weary. The door swung open, icy winds swept in behind him. The farmer quickly stepped inside and the large door slammed shut behind him, reverberating throughout the church.
The priest, garbed in his elegant robes, stood at the front of the church with the host elevated for the consecration. Hearing the door and feeling the bitter wind sweeping into the church, the priest, turned and cast a disparaging look at the pious farmer.
Then, the priest angrily berated the man for being so foolish as to venture out on such a stormy night. What kind of fool would climb a mountain at midnight in the midst of a storm to simply sip wine from a cup and to taste a tiny piece of bread?
What a fool, he thought. The priest shook his head and turned back to his duties.
Suddenly a shriek rang out. The priest stood wide-eyed - he witnessed a miracle: the humble loaf of crusty bread and the Spanish wine on the altar were no longer there. In their place he saw on the platter the flesh of Jesus and in the chalice, he found the blood of Christ.
The astonished priest turned his head and witnessed yet another miracle - the image of the Virgin leaned her head forward to observe the amazing events that had taken place, (Today the icon is known as the Virgen del Milagro or the Virgin of the Miracle).
The story continues. After the glorious mass on that stormy night, the humbled priest collected the remaining crumbs and drops of blood. He carefully placed these sacred items in a silver reliquary.
Since then this miracle has been celebrated in songs, poems, paintings and sculptures. In the year 1487 the event was certified by Pope Innocent VIII. The reliquary was presented to Queen Isabella.
Today, however, the reliquary is housed in a niche on the right of the church’s main altar. Many pilgrims enroute to Santago stop at the church to pay their respects and to see the Virgin of the Miracle.
The following poem (loosely translated) about this Christmas Eve miracle was published in the 1400's and is still widely circulated along the Camino.
I want to tell you a miraculous story
about a host that was being consecrated and revealed,
in perfect flesh,
its hidden nature.
An idiot of a priest
who was offering the host at Mass
doubted the truth of the consecration.
The holy vision was demonstrated to him
as it is, today and always,
- A.E. Molina, 1400, Spain