According to the legend, these were the words of the shepherd Rodrigo de Balanzategui, who discovered the sculpture of the Virgin in a thorn-bush in the Onati county in the South of the Basque Country.
These words named the place Arantzazu, a holy place for the Basques, where they have erected a Sanctuary.
I visited the Sanctuary of Arantzazu more than a month ago, during a day that the skies were grey and the water was falling continuously, all day long. As we approach the Virgin’s Assumption on the 15th of August, I felt is would be appropriate to share with you some of my pictures from the Basque Madonna.
The whole area of the Sanctuary is developed for people. You can walk, rest, enjoy the natural environment, visit the Church and the other edifices. The Basilica was rebuilt in 1951, when it was decided that no further extension of the old building made sense.
The Church is modern. The imposing belfry tower has a minimal cross on top.
The main entrance of the Church is modern but powerful.
The spikes of the facade are “thorns”.
The four doors of the main entrance were made by Eduardo Chillida. In the page of Onati dedicated to Arantzazu, we read: “The four doors that provide access to the church were designed by Eduardo Chillida and seem to be almost below ground, being set at the bottom of a steep staircase.”
“With their mineral appearance, the doors suggest the entrance to the underground world, an impression which is further reinforced inside the church by the massive high altarpiece, which measures over 600 square metres. The altarpiece was designed by Lucio Muñoz and is carved in wood of many different colors.”
The 14 Apostles guarding the entrance are the work of Jorge Oteiza. The Bilbao Guggenheim organized in 2005 a major retrospective of Oteiza’s work. We read in the Exhibition program: ” In the same year (1950), he began work tentatively on a major commission for the statuary of the basilica at Aránzazu, a huge undertaking finally realized in 1969. Here, religious motifs are depersonalized; figures are emptied, opened to space, and filled with spiritual content.”
The Pieta crowns the 14 Apostles.
The crypt is accessible from the inside of the Basilica. It is utterly modern, and captivating. The Onati site comments: “The crypt, decorated by Nestor Basterretxea, contains 18 murals of exceptional expressive strength, which have a somewhat aggressive use of color.”
The 15th century statute of the Virgin.
May her Mercy envelop and deliver us more true and free to the world.
May her Grace help us to sustain pain and sorrow.
May her Heart keep us warm in the cold and dark terrain of solitude and remembrance.
Time to go.
Time to get lost in the mountains and the clouds.