On the last Sunday in September, Iñaki Extebeste, who Claire and I had met at the recent IUFRO conference in Banff, Alberta, Canada, picked me up in the morning. After a detour back to Arrasate aka Mondragon (attention Uprising Breads and CRS Workers’ Co-op alumnae!) to collect his partner Amaia Pavon, we headed deeper south in Basque Country to Arantzazu where there is a monastery, basilica, conference centre and hostel.
They explained that this site has been very important in the history of Basque culture. For one thing, it was a safe place to meet. And if I understood correclty, it fostered a renaissance of art, language and identity. Think of Solentiname in Nicaragua.
The combination of architecture, sculptures, murals, and paintings with the location on a precipice in a wooded, mountainous valley, creates a powerful impression. I found myself thinking of my late father-in-law, Zeljko Kujundzic. His kind of place.
The Misterioa is a unique feature uphill from the basilica. Outside and inside are paintings of saints, heroes and martyrs, including Mandela, Gandhi and King. It takes effort to recognize them, because they’re painted on the back surface of glass in a gauzy manner. Reflection and mediation are required.
We headed up past the site on a trail many hikers were descending, then we veered off into the woods to take a roundabout loop. Beautiful, and of course, very enjoyable to have the opportunity to walk among trees with a forest scientist!
Eventually we arrived at a saddle in the mountains at the top where there’s a cider house/bar/restaurant. Iñaki & Amaia got us drinks and we sat down at a picnic table outside to share our various goodies. They had brought a delicious assortment of food, including; grilled peppers! What a wonderful lunch. They kindly drove me all the way back to Zuloaga Txiki before heading home themselves – a lot of driving. I am very grateful to Iñaki and Amaia for deepening my introduction to Basque culture.
What a fabulous experience. That Basque country has some incredible gems and this looks like one of the greatest. It seems like a staggering monument to endurance.
It’s worth reading up on Arantzazu (Google etc). I told friends I found the tower’s architecture to be a bit uncomfortable, that I felt I was being poked by all those pointed stones. Turns out the origins go back to a shepherd’s vision of the virgin Mary in a hawthorn bush. Thorns are literally embedded in the etymology of Arantzazu.