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San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Bermeo, Bizkaia

Audioguide of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

What to see in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

The first thing that stands out about the shrine of Gaztelugatxe is its peculiar location, stuck out on the middle of a rocky peninsular that is joined to the land by a narrow stretch of stone stairs leading all the way up to this 10th century religious sanctuary. Once you get there, remember to ring the bell three times by pulling the rope by the chapel's main door, and make a wish. What's more, for the same price you'll be banishing any bad spirits that might be lurking.

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The first thing that stands out about the shrine of Gaztelugatxe is its peculiar location, stuck out on the middle of a rocky peninsular that is joined to the land by a narrow stretch of stone stairs leading all the way up to this 10th century religious sanctuary. Once you get there, remember to ring the bell three times by pulling the rope by the chapel's main door, and make a wish. What's more, for the same price you'll be banishing any bad spirits that might be lurking.

As with many Catholic sanctuaries of this kind, this was originally a pagan shrine associated with Celtic cults which the Church then tried to “purify” by dedicating it to a Christian saint: John the Baptist.

From then history would follow its course... the Biscay province, hotly disputed by the Kings of Castille, Navarre and England, became a battlefield in which any little outpost that could be fortified were important.

And as history progressed, the following centuries brought new wars. In 1594, the Protestants of La Rochelle (whose stronghold was the setting for the final scenes of Dumas' novel “The Three Musketeers”) had its eye on the shrine as one of its targets.

In the 18th century, during the so-called War of Jenkins' Ear, between 1740 and 1748 a British fleet under the command of Admiral Norris also tried, in vain to attack the shrine.

Even in the First World War, from this point of the Peninsular (which remained neutral during the conflict) one could see how German submarines would attack fishing boats from Bermeo, who were going about their business catching albacore, or common fish similar to tuna.

And last but by far the most awe-aspiring in our run-down of Gaztelugatxe's brushes with war: in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, from this spot one could observe the naval battle of Cape Machichaco in which four fishing trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy, armed with artillery, took on the Spanish Nationalists' heavy cruiser the Canarias...

And to end this audioguide... something a little less war-like! In 1985, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe  was the setting for the film “Fuego Eterno”, starring Imanol Arias and Angela Molina. Known in English as “Eternal Fire” it is one of the best films ever made dealing with the theme of Basque witchcraft... Witches that probably have something to do with an old custom according to which women who are having problems with fertility come all the way to the chapel in search of a miracle.


San Juan de Gaztelugatxe


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