Category: Religion in the Basque Country

May 6, 1542: Francis Xavier arrives in Goa

On May 6, 1542, Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary, arrived in Goa as part of a Portuguese mission to spread the faith in its new territories in the East Indies.  His primary goal was to  restore Christianity among European settlers in Goa, which had been a Portuguese possession for some thirty years. But ultimately, he extended his mission in attempts to convert the local population as well.

A Japanese depiction of Francis Xavier, dated to the 17th century. From the Kobe City Museum collection. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Francis Xavier–Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta–was born in Xabier (Javier) in the Kingdom of Navarre in 1506. The son of the seneschal (steward) of Xabier Castle and a high-ranking official at the royal court, he had a privileged upbringing. But ruin befell the family after the conquest of Navarre by Castile in 1512. Remaining loyal to an independent Navarre, his older brothers were involved in a failed plot to oust the Castilians. In retribution, the family lands were confiscated, the outer wall, gates, and two towers of the family castle destroyed, and its moat filled in.  Too young to participate in these events, Francis was sent to Paris to study. There he encountered Ignatius of Loyola and ultimately the two of them, along with five others, would take the famous vows of poverty and chastity as well as loyalty to the Pope at Montmartre, Paris in 1534 (the forerunner act to the establishment of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order). Francis was ultimately ordained in 1537 and, following a request in 1540 by King John of Portugal for Christian missionaries to go to Asia, was chosen by Loyola to undertake the task.

Xabier Castle in Navarre. Photo by Jsanchezes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He enjoyed mixed fortunes in his quest.  Starting in Goa and Portuguese India more broadly, he subsequently traveled further east, evangelizing in Malacca, the Maluku Islands, and Japan. Returning to Malacca and Goa in late 1551 and early 1552, he then set out on a new mission to China. Reaching  the island of Shangchuan in August 1552, he set about making plans to travel across to the mainland, but he was subsequently taken ill and died from a fever on December 3 that same year.

Body of Saint Francis Xavier in a silver casket of Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa. Photo by Gaius Cornelius, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He was beatified by Paul V in 1619 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622 (at the same time as fellow Basque Ignatius Loyola).  Pius XI proclaimed him the “Patron of Catholic Missions” and his feast day is December 3. His relics are kept in a silver casket, elevated inside the Bom Jesus Basilica in Goa.

Easter vacation festivities come to the Basque Country

The Baiona Ham Festival

The Easter vacation is becoming an increasingly important time for the growing leisure sector in the Basque Country. This week, traditional religious celebrations coinciding with Easter itself will be held,  in which towns like Durango (with its famous pasinue) and Balmaseda in Bizkaia as well as others all over the Basque Country take center stage.  But there are also a number of other activities taking place to cater for the increasing number of tourists who visit at this time of year. One of the biggest events takes place in Bilbao. The Basque Fest is a specially designed festival combining Basque traditions and gastronomy that seeks to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of Basque culture in all its facets, from traditional Basque sports to music and dance as well as, of course, food and drink. Staying on a similar theme, Baiona also hosts a wonderful festival of its own this week: the Baiona Ham Festival, a must see event for all aficionados of this famous Basque delicacy. Such festivities are, though, just the tip of the iceberg. Towns and cities all over the Basque Country will be celebrating this important holiday season in many and varied ways.

April 7, 1767: Jesuits expelled from Basque Country

Following a meeting by a commission convened by King Charles III on January 29, 1767, it was decided to expel members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, from all lands belonging to the Spanish crown. The decision was made on the basis of the perceived threat of the Jesuits to royal authority. On April 7, 1767, the corregidor–the king’s representative–communicated the royal command to the public authorities in Bizkaia and the Jesuit residence in Bilbao,  San Andrés college, was immediately occupied by law enforcement officers and there gathered Jesuits from Lekeitio, Urduña/Orduña, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Logroño. On May 3 they boarded two waiting ships in the Olabeaga neighborhood that would transport them to Civitavecchia, outside Rome.

Pedro de Calatayud (1698-1773).

Among those expelled was Pedro de Calatayud, a member of the Bilbao order from Tafalla, Navarre, and the author of a controversial book some years previously in which he criticized traders, shipowners, and iron foundry owners in Bizkaia for their excessive greed and usury, even branding them “public sinners.”  In retaliation, these business interests in Bizkaia began a campaign against him with the aim of getting the book banned or at least condemned by the Church. This campaign lasted some twenty years before, finally, in 1766 the work was indeed banned. Calatayud appealed against the ban, but the expulsion order brought an end to the matter. Calatayud died in Bologna in 1773.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p. 146.

 

Wentworth Webster: An Englishman in Lapurdi

Wentworth Webster (1828-1907), one of the forerunners of Basque Studies in English.

Wentworth Webster was one of the discrete forerunners of our very own discipline here at the Center: Basque Studies in English. Born in 1828, Webster studied at Oxford University and, after a spell of ill health, was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1861. Following his ordination, and posts that took him to both Egypt and Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Banhèras de Bigòrra) in Occitania, France, he accepted a post as chaplain of the newly established Anglican church of Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), where he would serve between 1869 and 1882. During this time he and his wife had five children, who all grew up speaking Basque among their languages, and he took a keen interest in Basque culture. He was especially interested in the Basque language and traditional stories and folk tales, which he enthusiastically gathered with the help of fellow scholar Jules Vinson. The result of this initial research was the publication of Basque Legends (London: Griffith and Farran, 1877).

He later resigned his post and moved to Sara, from where he continued to research and write on many Basque-related topics, frequently publishing his findings in British journals of the period, as well as reprinting Pierre d’Urte’s 1712 Basque grammar (1900) and publishing a memoir, Les Loisirs d’un étranger au Pays basque (Châlons-sur-Saöne: Imprimerie française et orientale E. Bertrand, 1901).  In March 1907, the visiting King of England, Edward VII, attended a game of pelota in Sara in Webster’s honor, but the elderly clergyman was too weak to attend the game, eventually dying a month later.

February 16, 2015: First edition of rare Basque manuscript discovered

Cover of Dotrina christiana (first edition, 1617), by Esteve Materra. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On February 16, 2015 it was announced that a unique first edition of Esteve Materra’s Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine, Bordeaux, 1617) had been discovered in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. The discovery was made by the Aziti Bihia linguists’ and philologists’ association, a group of doctoral students at the University of the Basque Country whose interests lay predominantly in historical linguistics linked to Basque philology. The young people involved in the find were Borja Ariztimuño, Dorota Krajewska, Urtzi Reguero, Ekaitz Santazilia, Oxel Uribe-Etxeberria, and Eneko Zuloaga.

Flyer to promote the official announcement of the find, February 16, 2015. From the Aziti Bihia website.

Doctrina Christiana was one of the first ever books published in Euskara, the Basque language, and is written in classical Lapurdian. Its author, Esteve Materra (or possibly Materre), was a Franciscan monk and abbot of the La Réole monastery in southwestern France when the book was first published, although by the time it went to a second edition (1623) he had moved to the Franciscan monastery in Toulouse. Although not a native Basque-speaker, Materra spent some time in Sara, Lapurdi, where he had been sent at the height of the Counter Reformation to bolster the rearguard action of the Roman Catholic Church, including in its Inquisition policy. In barely twelve months in the Basque Country he learned Basque, although the very clarity and perfection of the text makes the members of Aziti Bihia suspect that he may have received help in writing it. Masterra himself notes in the prologue to the book that he was aided by Axular. Pedro Axular (1556-1664) was the parish priest of Sara and author of the first great literary text in Basque, Guero (1643). Whatever the case, the book is an important work when it comes to understanding the historical development of written Basque.

The first edition of the work is relatively simple in appearance, as if written for children or young people, in question and answer style; by the second edition, however, an additional section had been added, specifically for seafarers, and the work as a whole was more serious in tone and longer. This is important because originally the Aziti Bihia group had been working on transcribing the second edition of 1623, a copy of which is housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, before stumbling across a reference to the earlier edition in Denmark.

For more information on the text itself (including transcriptions) click here at the Aziti Bihia website.

 

Aita Antton’s visit to the CBS

Last Wednesday morning, the CBS had a surprise visit from Aita Antton, the Basque chaplain in the Diocese of Boise. He came to Reno in order meet the wider Basque-American society here in Nevada, providing pastoral and sacramental attention to many of the elderly in our community. He also held a meet and greet at Louis’ Basque Corner on the very same day. He received a warm welcome from everyone who were very pleased to make his acquaintance.

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Aita Antton has filled this position after a five-year vacancy, and he plans to carry on the tradition, encouraging and aiding in the spiritual life of Basques across the United States. From 1911-2009, the Diocese of Bayonne sent a priest to fulfill this symbolic position for the Basque-American community. After Fr. Martxel Tillous’ death in 2009, the diocese was no longer able to spare any priests. It’s only by chance that Aita Antton learned of the position. One day, as he was listening to the radio on a drive through Iparralde to his hometown of Bidegoian/Bidania-Goiatz (Gipuzkoa), he came across a program about the history of Basque chaplains in the United States, which commented on the end of the tradition. This sparked his interest in the position. “This started me thinking and I said to myself ‘why not me?’ I only had a few years left before retiring and I always wanted, not to go back to the Basque Country, but to serve Basques somewhere else.” This revelation led him to get in contact with NABO and the Bishop of Idaho, and the rest is history.

 

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Fr. Antton has quite the impressive C.V. Born in 1953, he took his vows as a Franciscan monk in 1979 and was ordained the following year. His missionary work has taken him around the world, especially in Asia, working and teaching in Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and China. Before coming to the United States, he was teaching in Belgium. He has a PhD in Theology, and has worked as an anthropologist, specializing in comparative religion. He speaks 10 languages: Basque, Spanish, French, and English as well as Chinese, Korean, Thai, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch. He has written on his experience in his book True Confucians, Bold Christians: Korean Missionary Experience, a Model for the Third Millennium, published by Rodopi Press. He is sure to be an asset to the Basque community, both spiritually and intellectually.

Visit Aita Antton’s website at: http://basquecatholic.org/

For more information about the history of Basque chaplains in the United States, visit:  http://www.nabasque.org/chaplains.html

(Quote from an interview with Joseba Etxarri for www.euskalkultura.com

November 16, 1528: Birth of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre

Born on November 16, 1528, to Marguerite of Angoulême and King Henry II of Navarre, Jeanne d’Albret would eventually become not only an important historical figure in general in her role as the spiritual and political leader of the Protestant Huguenots but also a major personality in Basque history for introducing the Protestant faith into the Basque Country and sponsoring the publication of a key text in the Basque language. Besides all this, she also stands out for being a strong, forthright woman leader of a significant sixteenth-century European power, the Kingdom of Navarre.

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Jeanne d’Albert (1528-1572), Queen of Navarre, c. late-16th century. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon, the Duke of Vendôme, in 1548 and, on Henry II’s death in 1555, they were crowned joint rulers of Navarre. Influenced by her mother, she had taken an early interest in humanism and individual liberty, which led ultimately to her conversion to Calvinism in 1560. Jeanne d’Albert was a hands-on ruler, with a sharp intellect and a conviction in her beliefs. As Queen of Navarre between 1555 and 1572 (and Queen Regnant on the death of her husband in 1562), as well as carrying out a series of important economic and judicial reforms, she made Calvinism the official religion of her territories. To this end, she commissioned the priest and Protestant-convert Joannes Leizarraga (1506-1601), himself a central figure in Basque letters and one of the first people to attempt to create a standardized version of the Basque language, to translate the New Testament into Basque. This was eventually published under the title Iesus Christ Gure Iaunaren Testamentu Berria (The New Testament of Jesus Christ our Lord) in 1571.

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The New Testament, as translated into Basque by Joannes Leizarraga (1571). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Her attempts to instill Calvinism in her lands led to a series of religious wars throughout the 1560s, during which her husband Antoine was fatally wounded in 1562, with pressure applied on her by the surrounding Catholic monarchs, Charles IX of France and Philip II of Spain. These wars culminated in the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1570), whereby hostilities would end, Jeanne’s son,  Henry, would marry the French King Charles IX’s Catholic sister Marguerite, and the Protestant Huguenots would have the right to hold public office in France, a privilege which they had previously been denied. Jeanne died in June 1572, two months before her son’s marriage. On her death, he became King Henry III of Navarre; and in 1589 he ascended the French throne as Henry IV, founding the Bourbon royal house that came to dominate both France and, ultimately, Spain.

Jeanne d’Albret left her mark on Basque history in many ways. She ranks as a strong-willed ruler with a clear vision of how she wanted to reform the society over which she ruled. She held strong humanist values that championed individual freedom and she did all she could to try and instill those values on those around her. And, it should be remembered, she was responsible for commissioning one of the most important historical publications in and contributions to the development of the Basque language.

Further reading:

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/protestant/a/jeanne_dalbret.htm

http://www.reformed.org/webfiles/antithesis/index.html?mainframe=/webfiles/antithesis/v1n2/ant_v1n2_royalty.html

In The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions, Philippe Veyrin discusses the impact of Jeanne d’Albret, especially with regard to her religious reform, at length.