Located in the municipality of Oñati, in Guipúzcoa, cradled by several mountain ranges, the Elguea, the Aizkorri, which is not the highest peak of the massif of the same name but the most popular and known of it, the massif Aloña...., in the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park, is immersed in a magical landscape in which ravines and chasms intermingle with steep mountains, wooded hills and beautiful waterfalls. The Sanctuary of Arantzazu-Aranzazu begins its journey in history with the mysterious apparition of the Virgin of Aránzazu in 1468. In dark and bellicose times for the people of the different territories of the Basque Country, produced in part by the Banderizas Wars, devotion to the Virgin deepened among the people and the nobles of Oñati who built a primitive hermitage. As there were many pilgrims coming to the holy place, a hospice and a monastery were also built, in which the Mercedarian friars were already established in 1493, but the Dominicans immediately took charge of the Sanctuary and its facilities, although in the end it was the Franciscans, in 1514, who were in charge of the worship of Andra Mari de Aránzazu.
The Sanctuary of Arantzazu has suffered throughout its history three devastating fires, the first was the night of the feast of St. John the Evangelist in 1553. Immediately the temple was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1621 with the celebration of numerous festive and religious acts and the grace of a solemn jubilee, but a new fire destroyed everything in 1622 saving only the carving of the Virgin from the flames. Once again, with the important collaboration of the faithful and the authorities, the Shrine was erected again. The political uprisings and wars of the 19th century together with a new fire in 1834, ravaged the place, and the community of Franciscans had to leave to return years later, 1878, when the buildings were rebuilt and a new church was blessed in 1846. Since then, important improvements, reforms and enlargements have taken place in the surroundings and in the Sanctuary and convent itself. The current basilica dates from the middle of the 20th century and was consecrated coinciding with the celebration of the fifth centenary of the apparition of the Virgin.
A beautiful mountain road, immersed in a spectacular landscape, is the prelude to the emblematic place where the Sanctuary of Arantzazu is located. The image of Andra Mari, which is a small stone carving on a trunk of hawthorn with a cowbell next to it and which has a face that describes it as that of a "healthy village woman with a wide neck" awaits visitors, devout pilgrims, hikers and mountaineers who come daily to the Sanctuary in the magnificent altarpiece in the apse of its basilica. Impressive iron doors, the work of sculptor Eduardo Chillida, give access to the temple and shine on a main façade in which its three towers stand out, two framing it and the bell tower, higher and a little further away, whose diamond-pointed decoration is an allegory to the thorn where the Virgin appeared. On one side of the steps leading to the entrance to the temple is the access to the crypt, the only vestige of the 19th century temple. Already in the street you can see some porches that run along the side of the church and the apse that, over the cliff, shows the remains of the previous construction.
Between the Gandiaga Topagunea cultural centre, which hosts both public and private events, meetings, meetings, congresses, seminars... and the Sanctuary, there is a small building dedicated to meditation, which is known as Misterio, the name given to it by the sculpture at its entrance, so called, and which is the work of Jorge Oteiza. In it a Franciscan from Arantzazu offers the people the Virgin Mary and Jesus child. The Sanctuary of Arantzazu, a Marian place of great spirituality that houses the patron saint of Guipúzcoa, is a real museum in which to admire current Basque art, where architects, sculptors, painters... have captured and vivified their art. The location of the Arantzazu Sanctuary also makes it the chosen starting point for hikers and mountaineers who, after visiting the Interpretation Centre of the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park, Arantzazuko Parketxea, which is located in one of its buildings, walk along the hiking trails that the park offers, climb its peaks or enter the Tunnel of San Adrian, where a hermitage of the same name and a medieval road awaits them, or in the Caves of Arrikrutz, with galleries adorned with giant stalactites.
The festivity of the Virgin of Arantzazu, patron saint of Guipúzcoa, is celebrated on 9 September.
The numerous pilgrimages that come from around the Basque territory from May to October to the Sanctuary of Arantzazu are traditional.
One of the facilities of the Arantzazu Sanctuary is the headquarters of the Interpretation Centre of the Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park, which, located between the provinces of Alava and Gipuzkoa, has immense beech forests between its limestone mountain ranges. Within its peaks is the Aitxuri, 1,551 m, the highest peak in the Basque Country.
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Legend has it that it was 1.469 when a little shepherd from the area called Rodrigo de Balzategui, who was guarding the flock he cared for on the slopes of Mount Aloña, heard the sound of a cowbell and thinking that some of his animals had been lost, and went to look for it. Walking, walking, the sound was heard closer and closer. He seemed to come from a thorn bush and when he arrived at the place he was very surprised when he saw that on top of a white thorn there was an image of the Virgin who sweetly said to him, "My son, go to your father, carpenter, and tell him on my part to build in this place a hermitage with the name Arantzazu". In addition the area was going through a disaster of great drought and the people of the town towards prayers to solve the crucial problem, then the Virgin said to him "and go to the town and speak with the people so that they come up to Me in procession and it will begin to rain". And so it happened when they descended, with great devotion, the image to the village.
Oñati is reached by the GI-2630 road, which connects it with Legazpi and the AP-1. It also has a bus service that connects it with Mondragón, Legazpi, Bilbao, Arrasate, Bergara and Durango, as well as with the different localities along the routes.
From Oñati a winding road leads to the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, where you can park your vehicle in spacious car parks. There is also a bus service that connects the Sanctuary of Arantzazu with Oñati at different times.
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