Camino de Santiago: Churches of the Camino

The Camino de Santiago, know as the Way of St. James, has a long history of religious pilgrimage dating back to the ninth century A.D. Beginning with early pilgrimages by priests and others faithful to the church, the Camino has grown to include many pilgrims journeying for a myriad of reasons.

Las Chicas encountered countless numbers of churches along their journey on the Camino. Some with their ancient bones in tact, others restored, all with stories and special features.

The first was the Sanctuario de Guadalupe on Day 1. While the church and its surroundings were lovely, the nun who stamped our Credencial de Peregrino, pilgrim card, was quite a character. Startling us out of the haze of our beginning journey, she asks us about “sellos” that we soon learn are the stamps on our cards to indicate our stops along the Camino.

Along with getting her card stamped, Lisa attempts to share her experience with the Virgin of Guadalupe living near Mexico. The sister responds (all in Spanish) that the Mexican Guadalupe is different from the Spanish Guadalupe, as the Spanish Lady of Guadalupe depicts her with a son. The Mexican Lady of Guadalupe is pictured without her son.

The church here is near Hondarribia. When Hondarribia was besieged in 1638, the Virgin of Guadalupe protected the town for 69 days and is now celebrated in this sanctuary every year on September 8th.

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Sanctuario de Guadalupe near Hondarribia, 16th century.

On Day 3 we begin our day with a lovely breakfast with our new friend, Wei Sim. After breakfast Wei Sim continues up the coast and we make a short visit to the Church of Nuestra Señora la Real, in Zarautz, said to contain the “tomb of the pilgrim”, before continuing inland up the medieval road to Zumaia.

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Church of Nuestra Señora la Real, Zarautz. Contains the “tomb of the pilgrim”.

On Day 4 we walk in the rain for quite some time before escaping into Getaria. We descend to Getaria via elevator, similar to the one in Puigcerdá, which provides an alternative to four street levels of stairs. A small square opposite the elevator has a statue of Juan Sebastian Elcano. Elcano was the explorer who took over Magellan’s fleet after Magellan was killed. Thus, he was first to circumnavigate the globe.

After finishing tapas we venture further into Getaria and come across the Church of San Salvador.

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Church of San Salvador, Getaria, 13th century

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Church of San Salvador, Getaria, with its tilted floor and menorah in the sanctuary.

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Ship hanging in the Church of San Salvador to honor Elcano.

Further along we come to Akizizu, a veritable ghost town, except for the chickens, and one lone person who throws a cup of food their way.

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Hen dash!

The guidebook also mentions the church and has a note: “Key obtainable from a neighbor” ?

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Church of San Martín Tours, Akizizu. Gothic architecture. No apparent neighbor with key.

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Scallop shell of St. James, Church of San Martín Tours, Akizizu.

At the end of the day in Zumaia, after luscious pintxos (pinchos) and a visit to the beach to see the Flysch rocks,

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we make a quick trip to the only grocery store open in town. On our way back to the albergue we take in the awesome site of the Church of San Pedro.

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Church of San Pedro, Zumaia, 15th Century

 

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Church of San Pedro gargoyle, Zumaia, 15th Century

On Day 5 we head from Zumaia to Deba via Itziar. The town is preparing for a festival evidenced by the stadium seats set up outside the church. Las Chicas want to see the Virgin of Itziar, one of the Basque region’s most important Virgins.

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Church of Nuestra Señora of Itziar, Itziar, 16th Century

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Church of Nuestra Señora of Itziar altar, Itziar, 16th Century

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Virgin of Itziar

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Virgin of Itziar venerated by seafarers who still make pilgrimages to the sanctuary from Basque coastal towns.

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Limestone ball from a captured Portuguese cannon, embedded in the church wall.

The next couple of days are long hikes and little time and energy to visit local sites. But religious symbols pop up on the path like this stone marker with a cross:

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Day 7 en route to Monasterio de Zenarruza, we stop in Bolibar. Founded in the 11th century, this is the homeland for Simón Bolívar, credited with freeing countries in the Americas from Spanish rule.

We walk by the shell gate en route to the Bolívar museum, but it is closed, so we move on to the church.

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The church at Bolibar has been restored and seems to have the feeling of a monument. The altar has a large statue of Santo Tomás and a small image of Jesus on the cross at the front of the altar.

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Church of Santo Tomás, Bolibar.

We continue on toward the monastery, looking forward to a short day and a small, quiet place in the monastery to rest. We arrive first followed by a Danish peregrino who more carefully inspects the accommodations. One room with 8 bunks, good. Less than clean bathrooms and a mattress being carried out, not good. We take her lead and decide to stay at the private albergue down the hill. A great choice and the small, quiet place we were looking to rest.

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Hill leading to Monasterio de Zenarruza

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Grounds of Monasterio de Zenarruza

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Monasterio de Zenarruza

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Inner courtyard, Monasterio de Zenarruza

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Crosses, Monasterio de Zenarruza

From the monastery, Day 8, we head toward Gernika.  We are now walking mostly through lovely countryside and occasional towns like Elexalde and the next church to visit. As we approach to fill our water bottles from the fountain, there is a group of ladies waiting for Mass to start. They are very friendly and inquire about our journey and where we are from, “De donde eres?” We chat in Spanish for a few minutes and then head toward the church where the choir is practicing. The church has been renovated and is clearly well maintained.

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Santo Tomás Church, Elexade

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Santo Tomás Church, Elexade

Our destination this day is Gernika. Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, commemorates the bombing during Hitler’s reign. Much of Gernika has been reconstructed leaving little or no trace of its early architecture. We happen by a cathedral on our evening walk. There is no information about it, but we see the headless statue by the door, and the other two which have been reconstructed. Perhaps Gothic or Romanesque, clearly from a much earlier period. We think it deserves recognition, so we take a few pictures and move on.

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Day 9, we leaving early the next morning and walk toward Lezama. After about 18 km we come to Goikolexea and see a bar where we hope to get some tapas. The woman is less than excited to see us, refuses us service and sends us on to the next town of Larrabetzu about 1.5 km up the road. We get a glimpse of this church from the outside, but can not see the murals inside, as the church is locked, perhaps due to the big fiesta the night before. The town is quiet.

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Church of Santos Emerterio and Celedonio, Goikolexea, Gothic

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Church of Santos Emerterio and Celedonio, Goikolexea, Gothic

A short time later we arrive in Lezama. After a miraculous move on Mary’s part to get us a spot in the tiny hidden albergue (only 20 spots), we set out to find the Church of Santa María de Lezama.

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Church of Santa María de Lezama

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Church of Santa María de Lezama

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Church of Santa María de Lezama. Another magnificent portico and another locked church.

Day 10 to Bilbao, our final destination in this part of our journey to Santiago. Along with the wonders of the Guggenheim (our post on Bilbao will follow), are all the wonderful churches, cathedrals and basilicas.

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Basilica of Begoña, Bilbao, Gothic. Recognized by sailors as their first landmark given its three naves and tall bell tower.

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Basilica of Begoña, Bilbao

As we make our way further into Bilbao we come to the Cathedral of Santiago. Originally constructed in the latter 14th century, Gothic. Since then it has been renovated in Gothic style and is now the seat of the Diocese of Bilbao.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao

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Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao

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Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao

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Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao

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Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao

The next morning, we investigate Casco Viejo and visit several other churches. First is the Church of the Sacred Heart where the Jesuits built their new home in the late 19th century.

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Church of the Sacred Heart, Bilbao

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Church of the Sacred Heart, Bilbao

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Church of the Sacred Heart, Bilbao

The next is the Church of San Antón, originally built in Gothic style in the 14th century, but now has a  Renaissance feel due to numerous renovations, with a Baroque belfry.

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao, Gothic vaulting

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao, Baroque belfry

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao. Celebrating Sant Roque the patron saints of dogs (by his side) and victims  of the plague (seen by the sore on his leg). He is dressed as a pilgrim and uses a walking stick.

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Church of San Antón, Bilbao

Churches mark centuries of worship for Basques, Spaniards, pilgrims, and sailors viewing hill top cathedrals from across the waves.We welcome the shade of their porticos and we feel the peace inside their sanctuaries.

© 2014 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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