Tag: Urkiola

Saint Anthony’s Day in Urkiola, Bizkaia

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.


Discover the Basque Country: Get Active in Urkiola and Baztan

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.

So you’ve expanded your mind in one or more of the numerous Basque museums and cultural sites of interest, and you’ve expanded your waistline sampling the many and varied delights of Basque cuisine . . . what better way to complement all that mental and gastronomic stimulation with a bit of physical exercise?


View from Mount Anboto in Urkiola. Photo by Txo, via Wikimedia Commons

Of the many possibilities on offer for the adventurous visitor, check out the Urkiola Natural Park in Bizkaia, which includes Mount Anboto (home to the mythic figure Mari, on whom see below), a natural environment offering plenty of hiking, rock-climbing, and potholing opportunities and where you can even be a shepherd for a day to get a real taste of rural Basque life.

The flying witch-like deity Mari is a figure associated with Basque mythology. Of the many caves in which she is said to swell, that of Anboto is one of the most important. The figure of Mari, and the mythology surrounding her, is discussed at length in Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography. For example, Barandiarán notes one legend that shepherds from Aia, Gipuzkoa, once made a pilgrimage to Mari’s cave in Anboto to keep hail or other storms from harming their flocks. Meanwhile, another legend has it that a boy who stole a golden canteen that was lying beside the cave of Anboto was taken from his house that same night, disappearing forever.


Panoramic view of Elizondo, Baztan Valley, Navarre. Photo by Euskalduna, via Wikimedia Commons

Alternatively, why not add a bit of thrill-seeking to your visit and take in Europe’s highest cliff jump, among other adrenaline-fueled activities such as white water rafting, mountain biking, and paintball, at the Baztan Adventure Park near Elizondo, Navarre?

The Baztan Valley is, moreover, a renowned area of Basque traditions and its towns and villages are well worth a visit in their own right.  One such tradition is the Baztandarren Biltzarra, a gathering of people from all over the valley to witness the spectacle of a parade, held annually in Elizondo. Check out a video of this year’s gathering here. In The Basques, moreover, Julio Caro Baroja writes of certain celebrations that are particular to the Baztan Valley:

In vast portions of Europe there is a winter date on which the holiday of married women is celebrated. In Spain, as in other parts of the West, Saint Agatha’s Day (February 5) is considered the most appropriate date to celebrate it, because that famous martyr is the patron saint of lactating women. But if it is true that in the Basque lands there are many places in which Saint Agatha is worshiped and she is venerated from this point of view, it is also true that, independent of this, there can be a holiday of married women to which no particular Christian meaning is attached. In fact, in the Navarrese mountains, in the Baztan Valley, women give gifts to men on the first Thursday of the three before Carnival, called Izekunde; on the second, the men celebrate the women, for which reason it is called Andrakunde (andria is woman) or Emakunde (emakume means matron), and the third is a general holiday called Orokunde. In those days, there were special dances for married women, as there were in Gipuzkoa as well, even if it is true that they took place at the very end of the patron saint holidays.