When we arrived in Villar de Mazarife, we wanted to learn some local history (one of the dangers of the camino is that you spend so much time walking each day, and are so tired when you arrive, that you have no energy left to explore the new place you are in). Late in the afternoon, after our mandatory post-lunch nap, we walked into the local Catholic church. Immediately, the woman volunteering there, Pilar Fernández, began to tell us the story of the storks.
Storks mate for life, and migrate from Spain to Africa, each October. Each spring, they return to Spain, always to the same nest, and always to the same village (with climate change, some storks also now stay in Spain, year-round). They are, in this sense, the quintessential definition of “faithful.” Stork nests are massive, weighing up to 1400 pounds, and are a prominent part of the iconography of northern Spain, as seen in the photo, below.
In Villar de Mazarife, there once was a pair of storks that had built their nest together on the belltower of the Catholic church. The village residents needed to rebuild the church—it was old and falling apart—and so they built a new church, belltower and all. While the old belltower remained standing, the storknest on top of it, the storks opted to rebuild their nest on the belltower of the new church. But, in the process of rebuilding, the female stork tragically got her wing caught in the crucifix of the church. She was pinned to the crucifix. Village residents protested and asked for help from the municipal authorities to assist the stork, but, as Pilar writes, “this is Spain!” And there is a lot of bureacracy and hemming and hawing. So no one came. Over a series of agonizing days, her wing trapped, the female stork died, her mate vocalizing out loud in agony.
Her mate returned the next year, back to the same nest, sitting and looking to the sky, waiting for her to return. He became very withdrawn, would not let any other birds approach the nest, and lost a lot of weight. Storks are social animals, and need the socialization of their mates in order to survive. The residents of Villar de Mazarife were concerned he would not survive without his mate.