Tag: Elorrio

Two Basque Saints Remembered This Week

Today, July 7, as I’m sure many of you are aware, is Saint Fermin’s Day, after which the world famous festival in Iruñea-Pamplona, Nafarroa is named. But did you also know that July 4 this year was a holiday in Bizkaia, on the occasion of the feast day of the province’s first saint, Balentin Berriotxoa (also spelled Berrio-Otxoa)? Today we thought we’d take a quick look at the individuals behind these two holidays.

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Saint Balentin Berriotxoa. Image by vinhanonline.com, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Balentin Faustino Berriotxoa Arizti was born in Elorrio, Bizkaia, in 1827. At age 18 he entered the Logroño Seminary but after three years, lacking the necessary funds to continue his studies, he returned home to Elorrio where he worked as a carpenter with his father. Finally, though, in 1851 he was ordained a priest and became a well-known figure in his local area.

His real vocation, however, was to be a missionary and to that end in 1854 he joined the Dominican Order. It is around this time that he is reputed to have said, half in jest, that he would eventually become Bizkaia’s first saint. In 1857, he was sent to Asia to work as a missionary, arriving first in Manila. There he set about studying Vietnamese as his final destination was to be Tonkin, in what is today the northern part of Vietnam.

When he arrived there in 1858, Emperor Tự Đức of Vietnam was sanctioning a particularly bloody persecution of all foreign missionaries, with no quarter offered. This was due to a general suspicion of foreigners that stemmed from previous foreign efforts to depose his father as king. The result was that Berriotxoa often had to carry out his parish duties among the converts in his charge under cover of darkness and away from any official eyes. As timed passed, though, so this was increasingly difficult. The emperor issued a decree to destroy the Christian community in the country and in 1861 Berriotxoa was arrested and, following a trial, he was sentenced to death. On November 1, 1861, he was beheaded. His remains were eventually transferred back to Elorrio, where they are kept in the parish church.

Berriotxoa was beatified in 1905, along with the other so-called Vietnamese Martyrs, and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988, making him the first Bizkaian-born saint. July 4 is an annual holiday in Elorrio in honor of Berriotxoa that is also occasionally observed in Bizkaia as a whole. One can also visit the Balentin Berriotxoa Museum in Elorrio.

Saint Fermin of Amiens, meanwhile, was born in Iruñea-Pamplona (Pompaelo in Latin) c.272, reputedly the son of a pagan Roman of senatorial rank, who converted to Christianity. At age 18 he was sent to Toulouse (Tolosa in Occitan) in the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, where he was ordained. Thereafter, following an initial period preaching the gospel in Nafarroa he was sent to Gaul as a missionary, settling in Amiens, and becoming a bishop at the age of 24. Yet there was still much hostility to Christianity among the Gaulish tribes. As a consequence, Fermin was arrested and because he refused to give up his faith he was beheaded on September 25, 303.

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The decapitation of Saint Fermin, as depicted in the Orreaga-Roncesvalles Church, Nafarroa. Photo by Rowanwindwhistler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After certain relics of Saint Fermin were brought back to Iruñea-Pamplona in the late 12th century, annual celebrations in his honor gradually took on more importance. Two such festivals are currently held in the city: the famous festival in July of course, and San Fermin Txikito or San Fermin Txiki (Little Saint Fermin) in the Old Quarter of the city, every September 25.  The town of Lesaka in northern Nafarroa also celebrates the July date and Fermin is, likewise, still honored in Amiens as well. Check out this interesting article on the origins of Saint Fermin.

 

March 31, 1937: The Mola Proclamation and the Bombing of Durango and Elorrio

On March 31, 1937, nine months into the Spanish Civil War, General Emilio Mola, the main figure in charge of the northern campaign by the military rebels against the democratically elected government of Spain’s Second Republic, issued the following chilling proclamation:

I have decided to end the war rapidly in the north. The lives and property of those who surrender with their arms and who are not guilty of murder will be respected. But if the surrender is not immediate, I shall raze Bizkaia to its very foundations, beginning with the war industry. I have the means to do so.

That same day, heavy bombers from Fascist Italy’s Legionary Air Force (Aviazione Legionaria) bombed the Bizkaian towns of Durango and Elorrio in relays over a period of five days.

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Plaque in Durango, Bizkaia, in memory of all those who lost their lives as a result of the bombing. Photo by Txo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Casualty figures, the vast majority of them non-combatants, are disputed, with different figures of between 150 and 350 deaths quoted by different authors, although the official number quoted at yesterday’s commemorations was 336. Churches were also bombed in Durango as part of the operation, resulting in the death of one priest and several nuns. Some images of the town in the aftermath of the bombing can be seen here.

This was arguably the first instance in history of aerial bombing of a civilian population on European soil. And it clearly served as an operational model for the bombing of Gernika, later that same month, on April 26.

See some pictures of an official event of remembrance yesterday in Durango here. And our friends at the Gerediaga Association have produced this moving video in remembrance of the bombing of Durango:

For more on the general context in which these events took place, see Modern Basque History by Cameron Watson, which you can download for free here.  For more detailed studies of the impact of the civil war in the Basque Country, check out War, Justice, Exile, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott and Gernika 1937: The Market Day Massacre by Xabier Irujo.

 

My Little Part of 50 Years of the Azoka

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My first day of my first Azoka in 2009. I was so excited to be a part of it all.

I am really excited to be preparing to journey to the Durango Azoka again, for the 6th time. And to take part in the 50th anniversary of this great cultural event. Trying to explain the Azoka to people here in the US, and especially my academic friends, can be difficult—we are used to book events being stuffy and sparsely attended affairs. Not so the Durango Azoka, it brings thousands of people from all over the Basque Country into the small town of Durango to celebrate Basque culture and the Basque language, Euskara. For a history of it’s standardization (an essential precursor to an event like the Azoka) see our brand new book, Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque.

In preparation for my trip I’ve put together some of my favorite photos from my previous years at the Azoka.

And this year I will be posting special blog posts from the front lines of the Azoka, so stay tuned all next week for live updates!

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In 2014 author Begoña Echeverria (left) made the trip with me to help promote her book, The Hammer of Witches. One of her highlights was meeting a favorite author of hers, Itxaro Borda (right)

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A bird’s eye view of the controlled chaos that happens every year at Plateruena, the cafe-theatre which serves as meeting place for coffee or drinks, a place to grab some food, and venue for everything from read alongs to concerts to dance classes.

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Of all the fun that I have at the Azoka, the absolutely best thing is seeing people, especially kids, take an interest in our books. Here a family peruses our The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, by Mark Kurlansky

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On an off-day, in 2009, I was treated to a visit of the famous Puente Colgante (the hanging bridge) over the River Nervión in Bilbao by an incomparable tour guide, our own contributor Katu.

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Taking a break in 2010 I took the stroll from my home away from home in Bizkaia during the Azoka, Elorrio, to stroll to Arrazola, under the shadow of the storied mountain of Anboto

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In 2011 a coworker took me to visit the famous sanctuary of Arantzazu, with its famous Oteiza facade of the apostles.

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The calm before the storm when the door’s open. They are long days, but it is so worth it to help share and spread Basque culture!

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The Liburudenda Donosti, the Donosti Bookstore, another regular stop on my circuit of the Basque Country.

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View from my window at the Hotel Elorrio in San Agustín, a hamlet of Elorrio on a morning before making the about 20-minute bus ride down to the Azoka. It’s not all quite this bucolic however, if I pointed my camera a little to the left, we would see the warehouse for the large Basque grocery store chain Eroski, which is an important piece of industry for Elorrio and is nowhere near as photogenic 😉

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Bilbao’s Gran Vía, alit for Christmas, in 2014

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Given that I don’t usually have a cell phone, it is always an adventure meeting with authors and others. Here, I waited to pick up some books from author Kirmen Uribe, whose children book Garmendia and the Black Rider we just published this year before he and his father-in-law attended an Athletic Bilbao soccer game in San Mamés stadium. Sadly I didn’t get to attend, but it was fun seeing the excitement of fans anticipating a big game.