Tag: Friday (page 1 of 8)

June 23, 1448: The Burning of Arrasate-Mondragón

On June 23, 1448 an infamous conflict–the Burning of Arradsate-Mondragón–took place in Gipuzkoa. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Basque Country was the setting for what came to be known as the factional struggles or wars. In the words of Gregorio Monreal Zia, in The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452) (p. 36):

Among the Basques, as elsewhere in Europe, the Late Middle Ages witnessed violent social confrontations. In the Basque case, initially, it was a conflict between the leaders of lineages (the great traditional lineages–not unlike Scottish clans–were primarily based in the rural districts) and subsequently a rural aristocracy with the inhabitants of the recently-founded urban nuclei or villas.

The two main factions were the Gamboinos (incorporating the families Gamboa, Guevara, Balda, Olaso, Abendaño, Salazar, Ayala, Leguizamones, and allies) and the Oñacinos (made up of the families Oñaz, Mendoza, Lazcano, Mújica, Butrón, Calleja, Zurbarán, and allies).

Like other areas of the Basque Country the town of Arrasate-Mondragón was divided across these factional lines with the Bañez family part of the Gamboinos and the Guraia family belonging to the Oñacinos. In the mid-fifteenth century the town was, in fact, clearly divided between these two factions, with two mayors and two governing councils. On June 23, 1448, in an attempt to take control of the whole town, the Bañez family (with the help of forces loyal to the jauntxo or squire of nearby Oñati) invaded the Guraia neighborhood. Th Guraia family immediately enlisted its own support from Bizkaian allies and managed to repel the attack.  But the incident did not end there. The Oñacinos regrouped and tried once more. However, seeing the impossibility of their objective they instead decided to raze the town to the ground, with the ensuing fire leaving just two houses standing.

The ruling monarch at the time, Juan II of Castile and León, was so incensed by these events that he exiled those behind the plan, eventually forcing the families to sign a peace treaty.

*Image: La pacificación de los bandos en el banco de Vizcaya de la Plaza de España de Sevilla, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

June 14, 1959: Famous Basque woodchopper Latasa achieves major feat

Ramon Latasa Elizondo (1930-1991)

On June 14, 1959, in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, the renowned Basque aizkolari (woodchopper) Ramon Latasa achieved one of his most memorable feats: that day, on the basis of major betting on the outcome, he cut through the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree with a girth of just under 17 feet (!) within 4 hours; specifically, in 3 hours and 17 minutes, and with 5,259 ax blows.

 

Ramon Latasa Elizondo was born on the Aguria baserri in Sunbilla, Nafarroa, in 1930 into a poor family. At age 17 he began working in the logging industry, gaining special fame among his coworkers for his woodchopping prowess. His most famous feat took place on April 26, 1959, when he won a legendary challenge in competition with Luxia (Juan Jose Narbaiza Ibarbia), from Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa.  In this “challenge of the century” (as it was termed at the time), the humble woodchopper from Sunbilla finished a whopping 5 minutes before his rival, leaving onlookers stunned at the feat.  Latasa continued taking part in thee challenges through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, retiring at age 47. Remembered by many as the greatest aizkolari of all time, he died in 1991.

June 4, 1873: Basque rebel priest’s squad of soldiers execute 37 border guards

On June 4, 1873, a squad of volunteer soldiers, under the command of the rebel priest Manuel Santa Cruz Loidi (pictured above), executed 37 border guards on the Endarlatza bridge between Gipuzkoa and Navarre during the Carlist War of 1872-1876. From that moment on the civil and military authorities in Gipuzkoa held annual remembrance services for those executed until the entry of Carlist forces into the province during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when the service was suspended (despite the fact that during the nineteenth-century war Santa Cruz himself had been condemned to death on account of his sanguinary exploits by the very Carlist forces he purported to support). During that same Carlist War Sant Cruz’s squad carried a black flag with a skull and the inscription “Battle to the Death.”

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos(Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 193.

The Carlist Wars are discussed in Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present, available free to download here.

May 22, 1938: The San Cristóbal Prison Break

On May 22, 1938, some 792 prisoners escaped from Fort San Cristóbal, on Mount Ezkaba, about 2.5 miles outside Pamplona-Iruñea, in what is estimated to be one of the numerically biggest prison breaks in history.  These inmates were prisoners of war who had been detained by Franco’s rebel forces during the Spanish Civil War. There were 2,487 inmates in total in 1938, most of them Republican sympathizers arrested during the war. Condition were brutal, with prisoners suffering torture, starvation, and death.

The escape was planned by around 30 inmates, who used Esperanto to communicate among each other. It started during dinner, when the guards were most dispersed, and different groups of prisoners managed to overpower them within a half hour. Thereafter, they began their escape, but, unbeknownst to them, a soldier had witnessed the events and rushed to Pamplona-Iruñea to inform the authorities there. Ultimately, it was not so difficult to capture the escapees. They were poorly dressed, malnourished, and without any specific plan beyond just breaking out of Fort San Cristóbal. Within a matter of days, of the 795 who originally escaped, 585 were captured, 207 died or were killed, and just 3 made it to the French border and safety. Of those recaptured, 14 were sentenced to death after being singled out as ringleaders.

*Image: Monument to those who escaped from Fort San Cristóbal on the southern slope of Mount Ezkaba. Photo by Jorab, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 17, 1837: The Battle of Irun

On May 14, 1837, around 20,000 Liberal troops under the command of General Sir George de Lacy Evans, head of the British Legion that was assisting the forces of Isabella II during the First Carlist War, rendezvoused in Donostia-San Sebastián before setting out with the aim of taking the corridor of towns toward the French border. Taking Hernani swiftly, their Carlist opponents retreated to the border town of Irun, the ultimate goal for the Liberals. Around 12,000 of the original 20,000 took part in the assault on Irun (including 5,000 soldiers of the British Legion). The Carlists, meanwhile, were hopelessly outnumbered, with many of their number having been committed elsewhere to the so-called Royal Expedition, an attempt to attack Madrid directly and try and wrest control of the throne away from Isabella II. On May 16, the British forces began bombarding Irun and the following day, May 17, they attacked the city. The Carlist forces there, though as mentioned much less in number, defended their position stoically. Following this desperate resistance by the Carlists, though, the Liberals triumphed, pillaging Irun and carrying out widespread reprisals against their enemy. Despite efforts by de Lacy Evans to precvent such reprisals, British troops, too, took part in the pots-battle retaliations, probably due to having been humiliated by Carlist forces at the Battle of Oriamendi on March 16 that same year.  The following day Hondarribia, too, fell to the Liberal forces, who were ultimately successful in their attempt to seal the corridor to the French border.

*Image: Attack on the Behobia Gate, Irun, by the British Auxiliary Legion, during the Battle of Irun. From Twelve Views in the Basque Provinces illustrating several of the actions in which the British Legion was engaged with Carlist Troops, by Thomas Lyde Hornbrook. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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.

May 1850: The “French (or Basque) Revolution” in Murphys, California

This week’s Flashback Friday post is a little different, referring to events that took place throughout the month of May 1850 in what was known at the time as “Murphys Camp,” one of the sites of the original California Gold Rush. Today this is Murphys in Calaveras County, CA. In Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (pp.208-9), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao recount the story of how, in this settlement at the heart of the Gold Rush, there was what was described at the time as a mini “French” (we should really say Basque) Revolution!

Historic view of Murphys Main Street, from the visitmurphys.com

Douglass and Bilbao observe that Basques from Iparralde formed a sizable part of population of Murphys, and one that was capable of collective action. They quote the German traveler Friedrich Gerstäcker, who visited the camp in May 1850 and reported on what he termed the French Revolution:

An immense number of French, a large part of them Basques, had likewise arrived in Murphys, and a great many French stores sprang up along with those of the Americans. . . . There were also Germans, Spaniards and Englishmen in Murphys, but the French outnumbered them by far, and in any case made up three-fourths of the entire population of this little mining town.

The Basques became incensed when,

a law was passed by the California legislature that a tax of twenty dollars per month would be levied on all foreign gold miners in the mines of California, and in case they did not want to pay that, or were not in a position to pay it, they should leave the mines at once. If, in spite of this, they were thereafter to be found at another mine also engaged in gold mining, this would then be considered a crime against the state and punished as such.

… Especially the French complained and argued profusely; declared the law infamous, and decided not pay a  penny. Among the Germans were some Alsatians who especially agreed with them, and the Basques brought forth rifles and shotguns, declaring that it would be best to place themselves in armed readiness from the very beginning, so as to win the respect of the Americans.

[The tents] surged with Frenchmen, and especially Basques . . . and [there were] mixed outbursts of anger, such as: Wicked!, Help!, Down with the Americans!

A rumor later spread that two Frenchmen and a German had been imprisoned at Sonora over the tax, and an armed mob marched on the camp , only to find out that it was not true. They disbanded, although not before almost hanging the rumormonger, and California’s “French” or “Basque” Revolution came to an end!

 

April 24 and April 26, 1937: Eibar and Gernika bombed

Eibar after the bombing in 1937

We have been commemorating the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika all week and today, we’ll just take a brief moment to recall that Gernika represented the climax to series of aerial attacks on Basque towns, the first use of this tactic (now arguably the most prominent form of waging war) on European soil. In earlier posts we have discussed the bombings of Durango and Elorrio as well as of Otxandio, and it also worth recalling that the town of Eibar in Gipuzkoa also suffered a bombardment on April 24. At 6 pm that day, the church bells rang out to warn people of the imminent attack. Most tried as best they could to get to shelter, and others fled west toward Bizkaia. Around 60 people were killed in the attack.

In That Old Bilbao Moon, Joseba Zulaika cites at length (p. 30) fragments from the diary of Wolfram von Richthofen, who was in charge of the elite Condor Legion, the Nazi unit dispatched to Spain to help Franco in the Spanish Civil War and test out the tactic of terror bombing, which would feature so prominently in World War II. The very “normality” of his observations makes for chilling reading:

4.4.1937. I have gone to Otxandio. Marvelous effects of the bombardment, and of the fighter plane and of the A/88 . . . Dead and mutilated people everywhere; heavy trucks, carrying part of the munitions, blown up.

24.4.1937. Elorrio has been evacuated by the enemy, one of our battalions is further advanced 500 meters in red territory. It is very entertaining to see, at the beginning of the sunset, the fire that comes out of the rifle mouths. . . . First they were bombarded once by the Italians, but then they were spared because of their pretty palaces.

25.4.1937. Finally the bomber planes arrive; the Ju dropped heavy bombs over Ermua very beautifully. . . . Again the Italians miss the target and bomb Eibar by mistake. . . . Elgueta, which was taken care of completely by the Italians on the 23rd, has a horrendous aspect. Very good results of the bombardment, the hits fell very tightly.

26.4.1937. Eibar, touching. . . . With the exception of a few houses, the center of the town was completely burned out. The beginning of the fire and the collapse of some houses was a very interesting
phenomenon.

27.4.1937. [The day after the bombing of Gernika] After lunch, a nice trip to the coast of Deba, where the headquarters of the Italian General Staff are, and to Ondarroa, the frontline, where there is also a command post.

Magnificent coast, which recalls Amalfi. . . . Toward Zarautz, where I find Sander and lodge for the night. Beautiful grand hotel at the edge of a pretty sea, with a good room and good food. There, magnificent.

In the morning again we discuss everything point by point. The transmission of news from unit to unit is a matter of concern. . . . It is not worth having transmissions of our own for this zarzuela operetta.

In the afternoon, Sander, Jaenecke and myself play cards.

28.4.1937. Also in the afternoon, precise information that Gernika has been literally razed to the ground.

29.4.1937. In the afternoon, playing cards with Sander and Jaenecke; the latter always ransacks us.

 

April 18, 1815: A Daring Basque Robbery

On April 18, 1815, a convoy including the Duke of Bourbon, the cousin of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was making its way over the Arlaban Pass that marks the border between Araba and Gipuzkoa. On the steep climb up the hill, the carriage containing the duke, which was being pulled by two oxen, became slightly separated from the convoy. Seizing the opportunity, five armed men appeared from out of the woods and proceeded to liberate the duke of all the equipment, treasures, and documents he was carrying.

Asalto al coche (Robbery of the coach), 1786-1787, by Francisco Goya. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arlaban Pass had, it should be noted, gained an infamous reputation for such highway robbery. Indeed, many of the so-called highwaymen gained a kind of infamous notoriety, men like the guerrillas Espoz and Mina as well as Sebastián Fernández de Leceta or “Dos Pelos” (Two Hairs). 

Witnesses to the robbery said that the thieves were Basques, as could be discerned from their accents, which also led people to believe they came from an area between Tolosa and Hernani in Gipuzkoa. The main suspect was subsequently thought to be one N. de Lazkao, who was fairly identifiable because of his green eyes and red beard. But despite the dispatch of multiple search parties and an investigation that lasted ten years, no one was ever apprehended.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 167-68.

April 14, 1983: Basque national anthem established

By a Basque Parliament decree of April 14, 1983,  “Eusko Abendaren ereserkia” (The hymn of the Basque ethnic group) was adopted as the official anthem of the Basque Autonomous Community. The music itself is based on a popular Basque melody that was used typically at dances as a form of introducing the proceedings paying homage to a flag. Sabino Arana, the founder of Basque nationalism, then added words to the tune. The first Basque government, which came into being in 1936, had originally adopted the melody (but not the words) as the Basque national anthem before the triumph of General Franco’s rebel forces in the Spanish Civil War led to the abolition of Basque home rule.  With the Statute of Autonomy (1979) and the creation once more of the Basque government, the 1983 law was passed to provide the new autonomous community with its own anthem. Once again, as in 1936, the official anthem is the music without the lyrics Arana wrote. That said,  it is known popularly as “Gora ta Gora” (Up and Up) on the basis of its first line (“Gora ta gora Euskadi,” Onward and upward the Basque Country).

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