Tag: basque culture (page 1 of 27)

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.

July 20, 1818: Birth of philanthropist Casilda Iturrizar

Some of you will have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to stroll through the Doña Casilda Park in Bilbao. But do you know after whom the park was named? Casilda Margarita de Iturrizar y Urquijo was one of he most important and influential women in the city in the nineteenth century, and it is her story we recount today.

Casilda Iturrizar (1818-1900). Image by Lole, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Casilda Iturrizar (1818-1900). Image by Lole, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although born into a family of reasonable economic means, following the bankruptcy, jail, and eventual death of her father in 1833, Casilda Iturrizar was obliged to find work and obtained a position as a servant in the household of one of Bilbao’s richest entrepreneurs and a co-founder of the historic Bank of Bilbao, Tomás José Joaquín de Epalza y Zubaran. Although married, Epalza eventually went through a lengthy divorce process, stretching from 1849 to 1857. In 1859, Casilda and Tomás were married. After his death in 1873, she started signing her name “Epalza’s widow” and, with the couple not having had any children, proceeded gradually to donate most of the incredible fortune she had inherited to worthy causes and cultural initiatives. She herself died in 1900.

 

Monument to Iturrizar in the Doña Casilda Park. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Monument to Iturrizar in the Doña Casilda Park. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She funded the building of schools and a hospital, sponsored operatic societies and religious bodies, and created grants for deserving students from poor backgrounds as well as funding part of the original institution that would become the University of Deusto and being a major investor in the construction of the Arriaga Theater. And what is more, she also donated a significant piece of land in central Bilbao to the City Council, which ultimately became the park named in her honor that was opened in 1920.

Doña Casilda Park today. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Doña Casilda Park today. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Excluding maritime dedications, she is reputed to be the only person to have two public spaces named in her honor in Bilbao: the aforementioned park and  a street by the name of Epalza’s Widow.

June 19, 1920: Birth of famous bertsolari Xalbador

We have already come across one of the great bertsolariak, improvisers, Fernando Aire Etxart, better known as Xalbador, on a couple of other occasions here on the blog. He was present during the events surrounding the creation of the San Francisco Basque Club, as noted here,  and he was involved in one of the most (in)famous moments in the history of bertsolaritza or Basque improvised oral poetry, as recounted here.

A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Born on June 19, 1920 in Urepele, Lower Navarre, Aire took the name Xalbador from that of the family baserri or farmstead, “Xalbadorenea.” Interestingly, his mother had been born in Los Angeles, into a family from the same area, before returning to the Basque Country.  He remained in Urepele all his life, working as a shepherd, and from an early age discovered a talent for improvising verses. He married Leoni Etxebarren in 1943 and the couple had four children. In his bertsoak, verses, he was serious and at time melancholic, but also highly lyrical and poetic, and was at the top of his game in the 1960s. He died of a heart attack in his home village of Urepele in 1976.

For more information about bertsiolaritza in general and Xalbador, see Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here.

May 13, 1757: Birth of writer and dramatist Rita de Barrenechea

The eighteenth-century Enlightenment found its expression in the Basque Country primarily in the Real Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País (Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country). This was a multifaceted body whose members came from the privileged classes and it sought to encourage the scientific, cultural, and economic development of the Basque Country along the new liberal Enlightenment values. One figure that benefited from the encouragement of this group was María Rita Nicolasa de Barrenechea y Morante de la Madrid , who was born in Bilbao on May 13, 1757. 

Portrait of María Rita de Barrenechea (1757–1795) by Francisco Goya. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of María Rita de Barrenechea (1757–1795) by Francisco Goya. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1775 she married Juan de Sahagún de la Mata Linares, the Count of Carpio, and the couple settled in Barcelona, later moving to Madrid. Their homes became salons for Enlightened debate and she took up writing. Her two best known works are both comedies: Catalin, a one-act play that charts the difficulties a young couple from the rural hinterland outside Portugalete, Bizkaia, have in getting married.  Interestingly, the work includes a traditional song in Basque; and La aya (The governess), a rumination on how children should be raised and educated.

Barrenechea died in Madrid in 1795.

Cameron Watson discusses the impact of the Enlightenment in the Basque Country in Modern Basque History.

 

April 24, 1898: Birth of Fidela Bernat, the last native-born speaker of Eastern Navarrese Basque dialect

The fortunes of the Basque language have historically paralleled those of the Basque Country itself, with high points and low points, triumphs and defeats. Fidela Bernat Aragüés would ultimately be the last native-born speaker of what Koldo Zuazo (see below) classifies as Eastern Navarrese Basque, the Basque spoken in the Erronkari and Zaraitzu Valleys of Navarre.

Fidela Bernat and her husband Pedro Ederra.

Fidela Bernat and her husband Pedro Ederra.

She was born in Uztarroze, in the Erronkari Valley, on April 24, 1898 and married Pedro Ederra Lorea in 1925. The couple went on to have six children. Herv husband died in 1988, and she passed away on February 23, 1991, at the age of ninety-three, the last native speaker of Eastern Navarrese.

Eastern navarrese was one of the more distinct dialects. According to expert Zuazo, “The Basque forms in Erronkari and in Zaraitzu have been grouped together. Those two valleys used to be influenced from both the north and the south, but for a long time now their main source of influence has been Navarre, to the south. However, they retained their own special character and did not become completely assimilated into the other areas of Navarre and, because of that, I decided to call this dialect ‘Eastern Navarrese’ Basque.”

Check out Koldo Zuazo, The Dialects of Basque.

 

April 7, 2011: Korrika kicks off in…. Burgos?

Street sign in Basque and Spanish in Trebiñu-Treviño, Burgos. Picture by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Street sign in Basque and Spanish in Trebiñu-Treviño, Burgos. Picture by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I hope everyone has gotten their running shoes on because we’re coming to the exciting finale of Korrika 21 right now in the Basque Country. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, check out our posts on Korrika, in 2015, in 2017, and even the 2017 edition in Reno. But did you know that, on April 7, 2011 Korrika 17 started Trebiñu-Treviño, an enclave of Burgos entirely surrounded by Araba? While many people in this enclave would like to become a formal part of the Basque Country, to date it remains officially part of the province of Burgos in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon. To the best of our knowledge, then, this is the only time Korrika has started (or indeed finished) outside of Euskal Herria. Now there’s a good fact to impress your friends with the next time you play Basque trivia!

April 2, 1984: Death of Bilbao poet Angela Figuera

The so-called rootless poetry was a genre of lyric poetry that, insofar as it was able to during the Franco dictatorship in Spain, attempted the counteract the more classical version of lyric poetry that received the official support of the regime. One of the principal exponents of this poetry was a Basque, Angela Figuera Aymerich.

Born in Bilbao in 1902, she was a brilliant student who managed, against the social conventions of the time and despite spending much of her childhood raising her siblings on account of her mother’s poor health, to earn a university degree and, by the early 1930s, she qualified to become a public high school teacher. After marrying in 1933 she relocated to Madrid, but following the Spanish Civil War, on which her sympathies were on the losing side, she was stripped of her job and degree. Despite the repression suffered by her family, she managed to develop an incipient career as a writer.Simultaneously, in the 1950s she began working in mobile libraries that served the peripheral neighborhoods of Madrid.  She published sporadically and much of her work was aimed, where possible given conditions of censorship, against the Franco regime, from a feminist, existentialist, and social conscience perspective. During this time, she developed especially close relationships with fellow Basques writing social poetry in Spanish, Gabriel Celaya and Blas de Otero, together with who  she formed was termed the so-called Basque postwar triumvirate. Following Franco’s death in 1975, she was critical of the flaws she saw in the transition to democracy in Spain.

After a short illness, she died on April 2, 1984. In English, see Jo Evans, Moving Reflections: Gender, Faith and Aesthetics in the Work of Angela Figuera Aymerich (London: Tamesis, 1996).

March 24, 1980: Death of Pierre Etchebaster, greatest real tennis player in history

If you haven’t heard of real tennis or court tennis, then check it out . Not only is it the forerunner of modern or “lawn” tennis, but it has a long and important history. Evolving out of hand ball games not unlike the Basques’ very own pelota, it was the sport of the royal houses of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the famous 1789 Tennis Court Oath in the French Revolution was taken in a real tennis court. And real tennis reputedly has the longest line of consecutive word champions in any sport, dating back to 1760.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arguably the greatest real tennis player of all time, at least in the modern age, was a Basque, Pierre Etchebaster. Born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on the coast of Lapurdi, in 1893, he naturally grew up playing several of the different types of pelota. Aged eighteen, he was already champion of France in the chistera/xistera variety, the equivalent of what we know today as jai alai or zesta punta. After serving in the French army in World War I he returned to the Basque Country where he continued to excel at pelota.

In 1922 he took up real tennis and became head professional at the Paris court club after auditioning for the post the first time he picked up a racquet! In 1928, already in this thirties, he won his first world championship, wearing his customary blue txapela or beret as a sign of his strong Basque identity. This began a remarkable run of world championship victories, winning his last title in 1954 aged sixty years old! In the meantime, he also spent the 1930s in the United States, where he was a resident professional at the prestigious Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City, where he resided until his retirement in the 1950s.

An excellent athlete, he enjoyed a full and active retirement. He was awarded France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, in 1955, and went on to publish a coaching manual about the game in 1971. In 1978 he was inducted into the tennis hall of fame. Etchebaster died in the town of his birth, Donibane Lohizune, aged eighty-seven.

Check out this fascinating article on Etcebaster by the New Yorker in 1953.

See also the fascinating book by Olatz González Abrisketa, Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

March 21, 1941: Birth of composer Sara Soto

Most of you reading this will be aware of the importance of music in Basque culture and we could quite easily dedicate an entire blog to Basque music alone. Today’s Flashback Friday story concerns an interesting figure in the world of Basque music that is sometimes overlooked in studies of the topic. Sara Soto Gabiola was born in Gorliz, Bizkaia, on March 21, 1941, although her family moved to Irun, Gipuzkoa, when she was very young.

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

She suffered from a muscular illness as a child, which limited her ability to move around easily, and she found an escape from the physical limitation imposed on her by developing a keen appreciation for the arts: she drew and painted and was an avid reader. But in was in music that she found her true métier. Although she did undertakle some formal studies of harmony, she was largeñy self-taught.

Her first compositions, influenced strongly by the Basque artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu and in particular Lourdes Iriondo and Xabier Lete (with whom she established a lasting friendship), she started composing songs for accompaniment by the guitar. Lete wrote the lyrics for several of her compositions, including the popular “Kanta Kanta,” recorded by Maria Ostiz in the late 1960s, and Iriondo recorded her song “Maitasun honek zugan dirudi” in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1970s the renowned sculptor, artist, and all-round Basque renaissance figure Nestor Basterretxea commissioned her to compose an accompanying soundtrack for what would become arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series), today housed in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.  The result was the choral work “Karraxis,” based on verses by Basterretxea, which premiered in 1979 in Donostia-San Sebastián with the Ametsa Choir from Irun and some members of the Orfeón Donostiarra choir as well. In the mid-1980s she worked with Basterretxea again to create the “Cripta,” a piece for the organ inspired by the artist’s murals for the crypt in the Sanctuary of Arantzazu.  Although these were her best known works, she composed many more choral and organ pieces and left a profound mark on Basque music. She died in Irun in June 1999.

February 28, 1513: Twelve cannons added to the Gipuzkoa coat of arms

The origins of coats of arms go back to the surcoat, a garment worn by knights over their armor and emblazoned with their personal “arms” or design. In time, these arms became identified with larger entities like a whole noble family, a royal house, town, province, and so on. In effect, these coats of arms became easily identifiable emblems by which to represent such an entity, a kind of logo. On February 28, 1513, Queen Joanna of Castile, Joanna the Mad (!), conceded Gipuzkoa the right to incorporate twelve cannons on its coat of arms.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1513-1979, featuring the monarch and twelve cannons. Image by Miguillen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1513-1979, featuring the monarch and twelve cannons. Image by Miguillen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1512, Gipuzkoan troops, in the service of her father, Ferdinand, and the crown of Castile and Aragon had taken part  in its conquest of Navarre. The Gipuzkoans fought the Navarrese at the Battles of Belate and Elizondo. During the war, the Gipuzkoans took twelve French cannons that had been used by the Navarrese in the siege of Iruñea-Pamplona.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1979-present. Image by HansenBCN, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coat of arms of Gipuzkoa, 1979-present. Image by HansenBCN, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Between 1513 and 1979, then, those twelve cannons, representing Gipuzkoan service to the Kingdom of Castile and Aragon and the military defeat of the Kingdom of Navarre featured on the province’s official coat of arms. In 1979, though, by a vote of the provincial council of Gipuzkoa, it was decided to remove the cannons. The reason given was that they represented a glorification of war and that the symbol was humiliating for Navarre. At the same time, it was also decided to withdraw the figure of a monarch being crowned (thought to represent either Alfonso VIII or Henry IV of Castile).

The legend Fidelisima Bardulia, numquam superada means “Most loyal Bardulia, never overcome” (Bardulia being an ancient Roman term for a region in the north of the Iberian Peninsula that derived from the Roman term for a tribe of people, the Varduli, who inhabited present-day Gipuzkoa).  The trees are Taxus baccata, a conifer known in English as the common yew, while the figures holding clubs represent the aforementioned Varduli.

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