Today, June 13, marks the celebrated festival of Saint Anthony’s Day (after Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of finding things or lost people ) in the Urkiola Sanctuary in Bizkaia.


A historic image of the festival in Urkiola. Photo by Indalecio Ojanguren. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This festival was known especially as an  important gathering place for singles (mainly women) to find prospective partners. According to tradition, single people had to walk around a large stone opposite the sanctuary to seek help in finding a prospective husband.  It is actually a meteorite that in 1929 was moved there, on the orders of the then rector of the sanctuary, Benito de Vizcarra, from a nearby mountain.

In his classic work, The Basques, Julio Caro Baroja notes:

The desire to have a fiancé gives rise to an endless number of such acts, which are linked in a particular way to a sanctuary or hermitage. Thus, for example, Bizkaian girls who want a fiancé often go to San Antonio de Urkiola. If they want him to have dark hair they throw blackheaded pins into the sanctuary, and if they want him to be blond, whiteheaded pins.

Nowadays, the stone walking tends to be more of a symbolic act of fun than anything else, but the event in general is still well attended and besides the religious ceremony at the heart of the festival, the day also includes a livestock fair and open-air dance.