This article was translated by John R. Bopp
In the southern part of Soule, almost at the foot of the Mount of the Three Kings, which with its summit at 2,442m/8,012ft is the highest mountain in the Land of the Basques (at least the European part), is one of the most magical parts of our country, and in that beautiful environment is a place that must be seen to be believed: Urdatx-Santa Grazi/Sainte-Engrâce.
In this town, some of the points that any visitor to our land must visit can be found. On our “lightning” trip through the area, we visited two: the church of Urdatx, and Kakueta Gorge (which we’ll speak about in a later entry). La Verna Cave, which we passed on our way to Kakuetta Gorge, is an amazing place that’s still on our list of things to visit (we had to hurry up and arrive in time for the Masquerade in Bakoxe).
To organize a trip through this part of the Basque Country, we highly recommend visiting the Solue-Xiberoa website that the Communauté d’Agglomération Pays-Basque-Pôle Territorial Soule Xiberoa offers in French and Basque. Here, you can find a lot of useful information for your trip, both sightseeing and events.
It was supposed to take just half an hour to get from our “base of operations” in Sauguis-Saint-Étienne to the Urdatx-Santa Grazi church, as it’s only 25km/15mi away. It took us a lot longer. In this case, the journey was as important as the destination, and we can assure you that the route was extraordinarily beautiful.
Also, just as our route started climbing up, we came across the fascinating Sainte-Engrâce Dam (which you can see in the video), which marks the northernmost point of the river system that runs through the Kakuetta and La Verna area.
As you can see in our photos and video, the town where this church is located is made up of a small group of houses (some of which are inns) and a church that commands attention.
This history of this church, and this Basque town, sums up all the disasters our nation has gone through over the centuries: from the times when it was handed down from king to king, through inheritance and conquest, usurpation or purchase, to the incredible reality of its name being changed in the 15th century, through military occupations, sacks, religious wars, expropriations, and all the ills that the powerful brought to the Basques over the centuries (many of which, lest we forget, were brought upon the people by the Basque elite themselves, who created, supported, and betrayed kingdoms, selling them or negotiating with them, all in their own self-interest).
The last of these disasters, which is still befalling the whole of the inland part of our country north of the Pyrenees: emigration due to the lack of opportunities, which is emptying the area out. All of Soule has just 15,500 residents; Urdatx-Santa Grazi is down to 200, when in 1851, it had 1,337.
One can’t help but wonder what inspired people to build a church here 1,000 years ago. It’s true that it’s along the Camino de Santiago, but the story says that some thieves stole a relic of Saint Engratia of Saragossa and hid it in the trunk of an oak tree next to where the church now stands. The relic was discovered by an inhabitant of Urdatx, because one of his bulls would kneel before the tree every day with its horns aflame – a legend with an oak tree as the protagonist in the Land of the Basques can’t but indicate that this was a special place for the residents, special enough to warrant the construction of a church.
We’ll leave you with the video we filmed, which shows some of this special place, as well as some photos. We hope you enjoy them.