La Antigua Hermitage

Antio: Andre Maria Ermita

The La Antigua Hermitage is one of the three main sites along the Three Temple Route, together with the Loiola and Arantzazu Sanctuaries. It is a clear example of Basque Romanesque, and it's considered the Cathedral of Hermitages due to the unparalleled beauty of its interior, made of stone and wood.

1The first documents that mention this hermitage are from 1366. It was, until 1576, the first parish of Zumarraga, but from this date, it conceded the prime spot to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Church of Our Lady of Assumption). The Nuestra Señora hermitage is commonly referred to as La Antigua or Antio. There may be two reasons for this: its impressive antiquity, or the fact that it became the old parish of that urban centre after the new one was favoured. The Hermitage houses a carved Gothic statue of the Virgin, who is the patron saint of Zumarraga.

The temple is made up of just one nave, which is divided in three parts by six thick cylindrical pillars. The roof is gabled. The choir and side galleries, composed of a wooden floor, over base beams, follow the traditional arrangement adopted by many typical churches in this region, especially the Basque-French area.

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In part of its interior timberwork (base heads, corbela and beams) you can find characteristic carvings used normally on stelas, tabernacles, lintels, etc.: wheels, swastikas, of Celtic origin, representing the sun and fire. You can also appreciate decorative motifs of the Late Middle Ages, such as women's heads or geometric shapes.

The La Antigua Enclave also has a family recreation area with trees, tables and stone benches. From there, one can go on a nice walk to Mount Beloki. The place lets you enjoy beautiful views of Legazpi, Zumarraga, Urretxu and Mount Irimo.

The Saint Isabel festivities (July 2) are very interesting; the inhabitants of the town and region go up on a pilgrimage, very early in the morning, to this place, where they celebrate a mass, and the dantzaris (dancers) of the region, after a short procession around the temple, perform the ancient Dance of Swords, the Ezpata Dantza de Zumarraga before the altar.

Important moments of La Antigua, by centuries:

  • 16th Century
    In 1576, it stopped being the parish and all the liturgical items were taken to the new parish. Thus, when it stopped being the parish, the temple was officially abandoned.
    Also, experts believe that Miguel López de Legazpi was baptised in this temple. Moreover, it is believed that San Ignacio de Loyola prayed here in 1522, on his way to Arantzazu.
  • 17th Century
    The hermitage was abandoned for years, but this century witnessed important changes.
    In 1605, the patrons of the temple bought the house and the land adjacent to the hermitage, so that the caretaker nun can live there. The caretaker nun was the person closest to the hermitage as she was the one who looked after and cleaned it.
    In 1607, the altarpiece that covered the main wall of La Antigua came into the hands of the hermitage. This altarpiece was commissioned to urretxuarra sculptor Domingo de Mendiaraz in 1597.
  • 18th Century
    In 1743, the altarpiece of San Felipe Neri was installed on the left wall of the presbytery.
    But by 1746, the building was in a very poor condition. The hermitage needed renovation as soon as possible. Thus, the construction of new vaults and the rehabilitation of the entire building commenced.
  • 19th Century
    In addition to the religious acts, the hermitage and the house of the caretaker nun served other kinds of activities: caring for patients with contagious diseases such as cholera or in order not to pass it to other people in the town. The vaults of the hermitage were used to store weapons wartime.
  • 20th Century
    Major changes happened during this century. Firstly, the road that leads to the hermitage was built. Later, in 1976 extensive rehabilitation was carried out: the false vaults that were built centuries before were removed and thus exposing the original ceiling of the current La Antigua hermitage. Moreover, the altarpieces there were badly damaged were removed and the sacristy and the house of the caretaker nun were demolished.
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