On the outskirts of the village of Artziniega, in Álava, on a hill where robust trees shelter us under their branches, is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Holm oak. According to the findings found in the archaeological excavations carried out in the sanctuary we can know that in the place there were settlements of Roman culture in the centuries IV to VI. A pre-Romanesque temple and later a fully Romanesque one were the predecessors of the sanctuary. The current construction was carried out between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. According to the inscription, it was solemnly inaugurated in 1498. The historical and devotional relevance of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Holm oak has meant that successively its structure has been enlarged, even having a hostelry for abandoned pilgrims and children.
The altarpiece of the main altar of the sanctuary is a precious jewel of the early sixteenth century, flamenco Gothic style. One of the most beautiful ensembles in the Basque country that houses an image of the Virgin carved in wood in the 14th century. A Romanesque image of the Virgin is on display in the Sanctuary's Sacred Museum. When entering through the south door we are surprised in front and over the north door an incomplete mural painting and under it an illegible inscription. The beautiful paintings of the vaults are made in oil. Covering the lateral walls we see eight altars, in the style of Churriguera, highlighting the one of Christ, inaugurated in 1608, the Virgin of Carmen, or the one of Nuestra Señora of Guadalupe, donated by an indiano. From the choir emerges the pleasant sound of the organ while a postmedieval baptismal font keeps in the memory of its carved stone centuries of history.
The temple, which has an architectural style between Gothic and Renaissance, is surrounded by a beautiful and well-kept garden. Walking through it we can see a stone column crowned by an image of the Virgin seated standing on her lap to the Child. An inscription tells us that "The image of Our Lady appeared here". Hanging from a stone pedestal topped with an iron cross, some hanging chains recall, together with the royal coat of arms sculpted in one of the arches of the southern portico, that Emperor Charles V was here. The monument to the Junta de Ordunte is located in the shadow of the famous, hundred-year-old holm oak, more than five hundred years old, which was declared a Special Protection Tree in 1995, one of the 25 unique trees in the Euskadi This is a sovereign institution of medieval origin which, under the holm oak, met to settle common issues such as the use of mountains and pastures. We can end the visit to this emblematic place by spending a fun time enjoying nature in the recreational area of the Field of the Holm oak which is just in front of the sanctuary.
The festivity of the Virgin of the Holm oak is celebrated on the 8th of September.
The sailors called Montenegro the hill where the sanctuary is located and used it as a visual reference when approaching land with their ships. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries were many sailors who after a trip by high sea came on pilgrimage to the shrine to thank the Virgin for their protection against the dangers that had occurred in their journeys. Offerings, alms, votive offerings were deposited by them at the feet of the Virgin of the Holm oak. Such was the devotion that even some ships bore the name Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Holm oak.
The Virgin of the Holm oak was declared co-patroness of Alava by the General Assembly in 1812. Later, in 1942, due to the hurricane unleashed in these lands, a large part of the sanctuary was demolished, the Holy Virgin was lowered to venerate the parish of Artziniega while the temple was restored thanks to the generosity of the inhabitants of the town. The Virgin returned to her restored sanctuary on September 8, 1942. And in 1954 she was crowned in a multitudinous act.
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Oral tradition has it that formerly the village of Mendieta, belonging to the Ayala town hall, disputed with Arceniega for possession of the sanctuary. Both villages were involved in these disputes and Mendieta was so interested in the sanctuary that he hired a scribe to certify this fact. When with a pen and documents in his hand he was preparing to ratify this belonging, he suddenly became blind. Then the people present there saw in it a miracle and the desire of the Virgin that the place be under the jurisdiction of the town of Artziniega.
Artziniega can be reached from Vitoria-Gasteiz via the N-622 and A-624 roads, while Bilbao can be reached via the BI-636 and BI-2604, or the AP-68. Artziniega also has bus services that connect it with Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz.
The detour to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Holm oak is well signposted, the sanctuary is on the road that connects Artziniega with Balmaseda. In the surroundings of the Sanctuary, which is a short distance from Artziniega, there is a parking area where you can park your vehicle.
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