It is almost in the centre of the Llanada Alavesa in the town of Argandoña, very close to the city of Vitoria. At the top of a hill, which at the beginning of the 11th century was already considered sacred, a primitive building existed back in the 10th century according to the archives of San Millán de la Cogolla, although the history of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz begins at the beginning of the 12th century when a monastery was built that was ceded to the Benedictine monks of Santa María la Real de Nájera to whom it belonged until it was sold to Don Fernán Pérez de Ayala in 1431.
The monastery of Estíbaliz belonged to the Hospital of Santiago de Vitoria by donation, made in 1542, of Don Atanasio de Ayala. At this time the monastery was no longer occupied by monks and its church was used as a parish church, although there was little news of it during the 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century the church was practically abandoned and even suffered a fire. After the sanctuary was taken over by the Diputación Alavesa and the City Council of Vitoria, its restoration began and worship resumed and in 1923 the usufruct of the sanctuary and its belongings were ceded to the Benedictine religious of the Abbey of Silos.
Tradition and history coexist in this beautiful enclave where the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz looks like a true jewel of Romanesque. Considered an Asset of Cultural Interest, declared a Historic-Artistic Monument, it has been the home for centuries of the Virgin of Estíbaliz, patron saint of Álava. The church, a sanctuary that houses the precious Romanesque polychrome wood carving of the Virgin of Estíbaliz, is what survives in time from its origins back in the twelfth century. Inside the church you can admire, as well, beautiful columns with profuse and ornamented capitals, simple and stony chapels, one of them houses a baptismal font, which despite having known better times, shows a beautiful decoration.
We cannot fail to admire the basilica from the outside, because even in the areas where it has been skilfully reconstructed, its carved stones show us, with their animal and vegetable framework, all the splendour of a valuable treasure of Romanesque art. On the south façade, the famous Speciosa Gate welcomes visitors who, daring, have faced a demanding staircase to reach the temple. The Romanesque Interpretation Centre in Alava, which is located in the visitor reception centre, or a more than pleasant recreational area where you can spend a nice day in the countryside after visiting the sanctuary and having walked through its woods or having taken one of the hiking routes that arrive or depart from it, such as the Way Santiago of Basque of the Interior, the GR 38 Wine and Fish Route or the Vasco Navarro Greenway, are ideal complements for enjoying the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz and its surroundings.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz hosts several celebrations of the Alaveses, the first Sunday of May is the feast of the Coronation, the 1st of May is the day of the Desagravios, and the feast of the Virgin of Estíbaliz is the 12th of September although in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz the celebration is the second Sunday of September.
Tradition has it that on 1 May, and since the 12th century, a market was held in Estíbaliz. Coinciding with it and due to the large influx of people also took place the judgments of God, a privilege granted by the Navarrese king Sancho el Mayor in which he authorized all the Alaveses to settle their disputes on this hill and on this day, so it was called the Fair of the Desagravios. To do this during the celebration of mass and in front of the Virgin of Estíbaliz neighbors were urged to reconcile peacefully, if they did not do so, when leaving the temple should start a fight with first blood in which the first to infringe an injury to his opponent was the winner of the dispute. At the end of the afternoon and sunset all challenges and setbacks had to wait until May 1 of the following year when the Virgin of Estíbaliz would again act as mediator. Hence the traditional pilgrimage that every year brings together a large number of Alaveses in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz on 1 May.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz was cared for from the 17th century until the 19th century when the Hospital of Santiago took charge of it, by a peasant known as el Páter, who was commissioned to clean and maintain the site. This settler lived in a house built and supported on the temple, completely covering the main nave and the western façade of the same, but for the use and enjoyment of the place also had to pay rents to the Hospital.
It is said that in the 13th century, pilgrims arrived at this place of passage on the pilgrimage route to Santiago through the Basque lands, attracted by the humble beauty of the church of the monastery on the hill of Estibaliz, they entered to prostrate before the Virgin. On seeing the sweet and soft features of the Romanesque image of the Virgin, one of them exclaimed "Ezti balitz! Since then the Virgin of Estíbaliz is also known as the Lady of Honey.
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To reach the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz take the A-132 road, which links Vitoria - Gasteiz with Estella - Lizarra, and in the village of Argandoña a detour brings us, after about two kilometers, to the Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estíbaliz has a large and spacious car park where we can leave our vehicle.
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