It is located at the highest point of a conical-shaped island, between the towns of Bermeo and Baquio, on the coast of Vizcaya. The hermitage is dedicated to San Juan and the island takes its name from Saint John of Gaztelugatxe. A stone bridge, built by man, serves as an umbilical cord that joins it to the coastal coastline and turns it into a peninsula. This bridge ends up being a long, narrow staircase with 241 steps that zigzags up to the top and with it the hermitage. It is believed that the origin of the first hermitage dates back to the 10th century and some say that it was Templar. Medieval burials from the 9th and 12th centuries have been found both in the esplanade and inside the church. In the 11th century, according to documents, the hermitage was called Sancti Johannis de Castiello and was donated by Íñigo López, Lord of Vizcaya, and his wife Toda Ortiz to the monks of the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, in Jaca. In the twelfth century, it became a convent, however, two centuries later the friars left the place taking all valuables with them. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was also a defensive bastion, protecting the power of the Vizcaya lordship.
Over the years the hermitage of Saint John of Gaztelugatxe has suffered fires, looting and assaults such as that of 1596 in which Protestant ships from the French town of La Rochelle assaulted Bermeo and its surroundings, even reaching the hermitage and killing, it is said by shooting from the cliff from the top, the hermit who cared for it. The church also deteriorated over time and in 1886 it was demolished and rebuilt. After the last fire, which burned the entire temple, in 1978 the current church was built, which was reopened on St. John's Day, 24 June, 1980. The hermitage, under the jurisdiction of the parish of San Pelayo de Baquio, is dedicated to San Juan Bautista, is a rectangular building, whose door, crowned by a belfry that houses a bell and that according to tradition must be rung three times to fulfill a wish or to scare away evil spirits, is reached after having exceeded two hundred and forty steps marked by Stations of the Cross. At the end of the staircase you have to look for the trace that, it is said, San Juan Bautista himself left when he was on the island, if you put your foot on it it it brings good luck. Inside the temple you can see the offerings made by sailors who have been saved from some shipwreck. The idyllic and legendary surroundings of the Gaztelugatxe hermitage are full of life, the waters surrounding the islet delight divers and bird lovers scrutinize the air and the rocks where many of them nest.
In Saint John of Gaztelugatxe several festivities are celebrated, depending on the saint to whom the people from one village or another are attending. On the 24th of June, the Bermeans celebrate Saint John the Baptist. On 31 July, it is the people from Arrieta celebrating San Ignacio de Loyola who go on pilgrimage. San Juan Degollado, is celebrated by those of Baquio on 29 August, a day on which an underwater floral offering is also made to the Virgin of Nuestra Señora de Begoña, which was placed at the bottom of the sea, in front of the arches, in 1963 and on which representatives of the town council of Bermeo come to renew the possession of the place. The end of the year is bid farewell to the island with a mass.
There is a deep-rooted tradition among the seafarers of the area, when they go out with their boats to fish, in front of the island they make several turns to port and starboard so that San Juan blesses them with a great catch and protects them at sea.
The island of Saint John of Gaztelugatxe is crossed by several natural tunnels through which the water flows. Large arches have been built into the rock by the force of the sea. From the top of this cone-shaped island, the view is marvellous. Many people are attracted to it by its beautiful sunsets.
There are many legends that have developed around Saint John of Gaztelugatxe, some tell how, during the Inquisition, the witches and the accused were prisoners in the caves that pierce the island. Another legend tells that in the year 1334 seven Biscayan banderizos locked themselves in the hermitage to defend the site of the siege of the troops of King Alfonso XI of Castilla. Or the one that says that San Juan disembarked in the island leaving as proof of his presence his footprints in the stone slabs.
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Saint John of Gaztelugatxe is located between the towns of Baquio and Bermeo, the access we will find in the road that joins these two coastal towns.
As soon as you take the detour you will have several parking areas where you can leave your vehicle, as access in a private vehicle to the top of the stairs is restricted. To access this island there are two ways, the simplest but longest is to go down on foot following the narrow road that leads to the base of the chapel, the fastest way but more complicated by the unevenness of the terrain, is to leave the signposted path that in addition to the chapel also brings us to the viewpoint, from where you can admire beautiful views of the place. The path is conditioned to the viewpoint, then the somewhat stark path connects with the asphalt track that comes from the road and parking area.
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La ermita de San Juan de Gaztelugatxe está en un sitio simplemente espectacular, merece la pena visitar la ermita y estar un buen rato contemplando las vistas. Las escaleras hay que tomarse su tiempo para subirlas pero no es tan difícil como parece, para mí fue peor volver luego al aparcamiento donde dejamos el coche. Recomiendo la visita a Gaztelugatxe.
Estuve allí, disfrute mucho de las vistas además por suerte no había mucha gente y pude aprovechar para estar un buen rato.
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