Month: August 2019

August 11, 1972: Birth of cyclist Joane Somarriba

Cycling is one of the most popular sports, both spectator and participation, in the Basque Country and one of its most successful and renowned  exponents is Joane Somarriba Arrola. Born in Gernika on August 11, 1972, she faced a tough start to her cycling career. While preparing to take part in the summer Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, she suffered complications from minor surgery, resulting in her missing the games and putting her budding career on hold. She fought back to fitness and was competing on the pro-circuit by the mid-1990s.

At the end of that decade she really hit her golden period, winning the Giro d’Italia (now known as the Giro Rosa), Italy’s premier road race, in 1999 and 2000, as well as the famed Tour de France in 2000, 2001, and 2003. Moreover, in 2003 she also won the World Time Trial Championship. She brought her illustrious career to a close in 2005 by winning the Trophée d’Or Féminin in France, one of the principal women’s stage races.

She was named best athlete of the year in Spain in 2003, and she was also honored with the Universal Basque Award in 2004, one of the most prestigious honors for Basque people, for her contributions to gender equality in Basque sports and for raising awareness of the Basque Country abroad.

If you’re interested in the topic of Basque sports, check out the CBS Press publication Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi, also available free to download here.

August 8, 1897: Assassination of Spanish Prime Minister in the Basque Country

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (1828-1897). Portrait by Ricardo de Madrazo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (1828-1897). Portrait by Ricardo de Madrazo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo was one of the most important Spanish politicians in the nineteenth century, serving a total of six terms as prime minister. He was the chief architect behind the implementation of the so-called Restoration Monarchy system after 1876, a transformation that included the abolishing of the fueros or charters that had guaranteed the Basque provinces major devolved decision-making powers to that date. On August 8, 1897, however, Cánovas was assasinated infamously in the Basque Country. In Basque Nationalism and Political Violence, Cameron J. Watson  describes the event thus (pp. 84-85):

That August Sunday, Cánovas, who had been spending the traditional vacation month in the Basque spa town of Santa Agueda (Gipuzkoa), was shot twice by an Italian anarchist, Michele Angiolillo. Cánovas died instantly. At the time, it was widely suspected that members of “colonial secret societies” had been involved in the assassination, but it subsequently came to light that Angiolillo had acted solely on behalf of the anarchists. “We’ve just heard the auspicious news of the death of the Spanish pig,” wrote [Sabino] Arana that same day in a private letter, “National Joy!”

While there was a genuine reaction of shock throughout Spain, in the Basque Country (at least in rural areas), this was not the case. The residents of Bergara (Gipuzkoa), where Angiolillo was being held pending trial, were reported as being “indifferent” to the commotion. And Joxe Manuel Lujanbio (popularly known as Txirrita), a bertsolari, or traditional Basque versifier, even composed a verse attacking Cánovas to record the event. That same month, after a military trial, Angiolillo was garroted in the Bergara prison.

Representation of the assassination by V. Ginés. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Representation of the assassination by V. Ginés. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

July 31, 1556: Death of Saint Ignatius of Loiola

It remains one of the key dates in the Basque calendar, July 31, the day Saint Ignatius of Loiola died in Rome as  a result of a form of malaria. Born in Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa, in 1491, at age eighteen he entered into the military service of the Duke of Nájera, who would subsequently  become Viceroy of Navarre after its capitulation to Castile in 1512. He demonstrated a keen military sense and became a key aide to the Duke, but was injured seriously at the Battle of Pamplona-Iruñea in 1521, while fighting for the Crown of Castile against a combined Navarrese-French force.

Saint Ignatius of Loiola (1491-1556). Painting by E. Salaberria. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saint Ignatius of Loiola (1491-1556). Painting by E. Salaberria. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sent home to the family seat in Gipuzkoa, and his military career over, he went through an arduous recovery process, during which time he went through a famous spiritual conversion, formulating a method of meditation he termed the “spiritual exercises.” Once he had recovered sufficiently to walk, he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, practising a strict form of asceticism along the way. On his return to Europe he began preaching in public, and eventually settling in Paris to continue his theological studies.

When Peter Faber and Francis Xavier (another Basque) founded the Society of Jesus in 1539, Loiola was chosen to be the order’s first Superior General. He subsequently helped establish the Jesuits as a dynamic order, organizing missions and creating a strong, disciplined centralized organization.

Loiola was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622. His feast day, July 31, is celebrated in both Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia, as well as being an important date for Basque Americans in Idaho. Indeed, next year’s celebration will coincide with Jaialdi, held every five years in Boise.

Today, the Sanctuary of Loiola is an important site in the Basque Country, and of course several important educational institutions bear his name in the US as does the town of St. Ignace in Michigan.