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Basílica of St. Mary

Donostia - San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa

Audioguide of the Basílica of St. Mary

What to see in the Basílica of St. Mary

This building's full name is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro, although the locals always call it Santa Maria. It houses the Virgin Del Coro, patron of the city alongside St. Sebastian, the Martyr. There are two representations of St. Sebastian the Martyr. On the outside, in a niche on the upper part of the facade, there is a sculpture of the saint bristling with arrows. Inside, beside the high altar, there is a painting of the patron saint of the city.

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This building's full name is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro, although the locals always call it Santa Maria. It houses the Virgin Del Coro, patron of the city alongside St. Sebastian, the Martyr. There are two representations of St. Sebastian the Martyr. On the outside, in a niche on the upper part of the facade, there is a sculpture of the saint bristling with arrows. Inside, beside the high altar, there is a painting of the patron saint of the city.

During Donosti's fiesta week in August, the Donosti Orpheus Choir - Orfeon Donostiarra - performs the Salve de Récife within these walls, a work composed especially for the Eve of the Assumption of the Virgin. The Orfeón Donostiarra is a world-renowned amateur choir founded more than one hundred years ago with an exceptionally long list of prizes to its name. Thrilling to listen to...

But to return to the building...the one you see before you was built in the mid 18th century, the most recent in a long line of places of worship on this site, dating back to the 12th century. It's basically Baroque style is spiced up with Gothic, Rococo and neo-classical elements, not to mention its Plateresque portico. A delightful "pick n mix" of architectural styles!

This church backs onto Mount Urgull, but most of the stone used in its construction comes from Mount Igeldo on the other side of the bay. If we turn our backs on the main entrance and look straight down the long sweep of the street, our eyes will light on Buen Pastor cathedral at the far end. Now look to your left to see the 31st of August Street, the unique survivor of the fire which razed most of the old city to the ground during the assault by English troops in 1813, and to its right is the port of the city.

Nowadays, except during services, you have to pay to go in. Not a municipal tax, but rather the only way the parish priest has of keeping the building in a decent state of repair. Once inside, your eyes will probably go to the delicate workmanship of the main altarpiece. Opposite to it, you may also spot a cross created by the inimitable Eduardo Chillida, the most famous of the distinguished group of Basque sculptors from the second half of the last century. If you approach the choir, look for a small altar dedicated to the Christ of Peace and Patience, a curious figure, which once presided over one of the city gates in the defensive walls which surrounded Donostia until 1863. This is the oldest piece in the basilica. However, the piece most venerated by the people, for reasons which are not fully understood, is a little figure of St. Nicholas. He is given credit for having extraordinary powers when one is looking for a husband, children, or a job... But we're not promising anything!

There are two explanations of the origin of the name of this church, the Virgin del Coro. Some say that it was originally a little statue in the choir stalls - "coro" in Spanish, and a priest who was besotted with her, wrenched her off to take her to his house. A mysterious force prevented him from doing so.

A more prosaic version claims that the Royal Navigation Company of Caracas brought the image from the Venezuelan city of Coro. Which version do you find more convincing?

While those baptise in Saint Vincent’s are known locally as “Koxkeros”, people christened in St. Mary´s church are nicknamed “Joxemaritarras”, a reference to one of the versus in the hymn of San Sebastian, which is sang with great enthusiasm every 20thof January during the city´s celebrations of the Tamborrada, a traditional drum festival.


Basílica of St. Mary

Calle 31 de Agosto, 46
20003 Donostia - San Sebastián
(+34) 943 481 166

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