They say that this is where she appeared... The Virgin of Arantzazu... In the year 1469, at an altitude of 750 metres above this deep valley surrounded by mountains and vegetation. Legend has it that she appeared above a hawthorn plant and was seen by a shepherd called Rodrigo. Attending to his sheep at the time and unable to believe his eyes, all he could think to say was “Arantzan zu?” which translated from Basque means “You on a hawthorn?”
According to another less fanciful legend, however, the name of the sanctuary and the surrounding area where the Virgin supposedly appeared has nothing to do with the nature of her apparition. In Basque, Arantzazu is comprised of two words: “arantza” which means “hawthorn” and “zu” which indicates an abundance of something. So the name literally means “an abundance of hawthorn” a reference to the large number of thorny bushes that cover the area.
Our Lady of Arantzazu is a catholic sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is located in the municipal town of Oñati at the foot of the plains of Urbia. Since 1514 it has been used by the Franciscan Order who, over the centuries, have turned Arantzazu into a site of religious veneration and destination for pilgrims, not to mention a point of artistic and cultural interest.
Throughout history, the sanctuary has undergone reconstruction on three occasions due to fire: one in 1553, later in 1622 and finally in 1834. However, notwithstanding the flames, given all the wars and turmoil suffered by this area over the centuries, the sanctuary has come out pretty unscathed. The first, against the King of France, ended in 1700, to be shortly followed by the War of Succession, which concluded in 1714, then the war of 1719, the Napoleonic Wars of 1808 and 1813 and finally the constitutional war of 1823…!
Finally, in 1834, not even its inaccessible location could defend it from the liberal troops led by General Rodil, who took the convent, believing it to be a refuge for absolutists... After having sacked the place, they finally set fire to it.
In 1951 it was decided that, rather than continue with the endless task of partial renovation and expansion, a new basilica would be built whose shape and dimensions would faithfully reflect its majesty and which, above all, would reflect the Christian faith which, for centuries, the Franciscans had managed to preserve in this remote corner of Gipuzkoa.
Ideas for the design of the new basilica were put out for tender, which is why the recently built basilica is a work of architecture, sculpture and art thanks to three local artists: Jorge Oteiza, Eduardo Chillida and Nestor Basterretxea.
Without doubt the most photographed detail of this place are the characters which inhabitat the frieze located at the entrance of the building; the representation of Christianity in its purest form: remove all that which resides within and deliver it unto others. But pay close attention to detail, for here there are 14 characters while there were only 12 apostles. Is this some sort of mistake, you may wonder... Take a closer look at the two characters at either end and you will see that they are both looking inwards, that is, towards the other 12. They are two people converted to Christianity thanks to the work of the apostles. In other words, the 14 characters represent the growth of the Christian community thanks to those who dedicated themselves to spreading the word of Christ, starting with the 12 apostles.
Beneath the present-day building are the foundations of the old basilica, which now serve as a crypt.
And to end, one final interesting detail about the Virgin of Aranzazu, who since 1918 has been the patron saint of Gipuzkoa. As a result, there are many women who bear the name Arantza or Arantxa in her honour.