Sanctuary of Aranzazu (Santuario de Aránzazu)

Sanctuary of Aranzazu

If you are willing to make a route through the Basque Country and if you are especially interested in the architectural and artistic heritage, you have to make a mandatory stop in the town of Oñate Why? Because there you will find a temple that is considered a real jewel, both for its structure and style and for the area in which it is located. We are referring to the Sanctuary of Aránzazu.

It has become a place of pilgrimage, like the Sanctuary of Loyola, and is erected in honor of the Virgin of Aránzazu, who is the patron saint of Guipúzcoa.

The Sanctuary of Aránzazu, a reference in Guipúzcoa

In the XVI century we can establish that the origin of this religious construction is in the XVI century and it was then when the legend tells that to a shepherd, Rodrigo de Balzategi, the Virgin appeared to him on top of a hawthorn tree. When he saw her there, he said in Basque: “Arantzan su?” (You on the hawthorn?).

And there began the devotion for this image that would end up leading to the construction of a small initial sanctuary, which would be followed by the one that now occupies us, located in an area of ravines and ample nature at 750 meters of altitude.

Mercedarian friars were the first to take charge and live in this enclave, although over the years it would end up in the hands of the Dominicans.

One of the singularities of this patrimonial jewel is that it has suffered three important fires throughout its history:

  • The first took place in 1553. It resulted in the complete destruction of the monastic buildings as well as numerous valuable archives. In spite of everything, with donations from the faithful as well as with the help of noblemen, a new convent was erected soon after and a new altar was built.
  • The second one took place in 1662 and the church was absolutely destroyed. Fortunately, the image of the Virgin was saved. Again the commitment of the citizens was required and another church was built as well as classrooms and a guest house.
  • The third fire occurred in the 19th century during the First Carlist War. This century, in addition to that one, the sanctuary was attacked by Napoleonic troops. However, in 1884 the new convent and the main altar were inaugurated, without forgetting the other rooms.

But there is still a crucial moment in the history of this monument of Oñate and it is the year 1950. Yes, because in this year it was decided to build the new basilica, which can be seen today, over the old church that was devastated by flames in 1834. A project that fell into the hands of the architects Luis Laorga and Saenz de Oiza.

They gave shape to a temple that stands out externally for its three towers that make a nod to the hawthorn of the legend, the most important being the bell tower, reaching 44 meters in height. This without forgetting its iron doors made by Eduardo Chillida and the beauty of its arcades and frieze, where the 14 apostles of Oteiza are represented.

Of its interior, which has 1,200 square meters, stand out, however, its stained glass windows designed by Javier Alvarez de Eulate and the decoration of the apse, made by Lucio Muñoz. Majestic decoration that has received several awards over the years and is considered the Sistine Chapel of the twentieth century.

But, of course, we can not forget its crypt, which is the only part that remains of the construction of the nineteenth century, and the carving of the Virgin of Aránzazu that is in the apse.

Curiosities about the Sanctuary of Aránzazu

Both for its majestic interior and exterior beauty and for its enclave, this sanctuary in Guipuzcoa is worth a visit. But also because it has behind it a long list of singularities that make it even more attractive and interesting if possible:

  • It served as inspiration and setting for some parts of the emblematic film The Day of the Beast (1995), by Álex de la Iglesia.
  • It is part of the well-known Route of the Three Temples that allows to know not only him but also the Sanctuary of Loyola, in Azpeitia, and the Hermitage of Antigua, located in Zumarraga.
  • It is located next to the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park.
  • During the construction of its current basilica a great controversy arose because neither the Church nor the neighbors were in agreement with the work that was being done. Its design was not to their liking and for some time the works were paralyzed. Fortunately, they changed their minds some time later and today the place is considered a reference of the architectural avant-garde of the 20th century.

Schedules of the Sanctuary of Aranzazu

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