This article was translated by John R. Bopp
When, on February 13, 1612, a group of Basques in Lima, Peru decided to meet and start up a brotherhood that brought together all of the “children of the Basque nation” who lived in that place, I’m sure they weren’t aware that they were beginning to write a story that would be fundamental in the history of our People.
We’ve already spoken about this institution, very specifically so in an entry that helps understand who Southern Basques are based on what history tells us. Those people from Araba, Biscay, Gipuzkoa, and Navarre who decided to join together to attend to the material and spiritual needs of their compatriots did so as brothers, as equals, and as members of the same vascongada nation.
The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Arantzazu in Lima took its first steps of a long journey, on which it would live through all kinds of hardships, with a spirit that has reached our times, and which is kept alive in the Basque-Peruvian community.
The city had been founded less than a century prior, on January 18, 1535, and the Basque community started moving in. Some of them got the idea that the time had come to start up an organization that would give some structure to this community and defend its interests, which pushed them to create organizations that, following the custom of the time, took the shape of guilds and brotherhoods.
Those Basques in Lima decided to create a brotherhood, an organization that, without forgetting its clear religious mission, would focus on the fundamental part of its goals in the work of bringing its members together to provide mutual support. But this support extended beyond, to include all the members of the “vascongada nation” that were living in Lima, should they need aid. Moreover, there’s an aspect that is necessary to understanding their foundation and their history: they created an organization that in no way depended on the Church or the civil authorities. It was created to govern itself and to depend wholly and only on the will of its members.
The Brotherhood had some democratic principles that were uncommon in other places and other realities, principles that were undoubtedly based on the Basque Country’s traditional decision-making process. This organizational style was impregnated in Basque tradition: the foral system; the meetings of townspeople in Basque towns at the gates of the church to discuss common matters; or the Auzolan system in which everyone collaborated to attend to common needs. All these unique traditions, which are different to those of other places, marked the Brotherhood’s system of organization and governance.
The Basques in the Americas were, for obvious reasons, a clear minority with special and very specific social and economic characteristics. They were aware of that, and that was one of the reasons they decided to create the brotherhood. A few years later in Potosí, the 1622 War of the Vicuñas and the Basques showed that this self-organization was a need.
A key element of that whole Basque associative structure is the preponderance of guilds and brotherhoods dedicated to Our Lady of Arantzazu. There are deep reasons to understand this constant reference. Firstly, the mountainous place of the apparition of the figure of the Virgin in the middle of the 15th century had huge repercussions throughout the country, which had been destroyed by the War of the Bands and by drought. This was seen as a sign by people who were tired of the assaults, battles, pillaging, and thefts ordered by the local nobility. From its beginnings, the Sanctuary was a center of pilgrimage and devotion for Basques from the four Southern territories (of note is the sanctuary’s very central location within the four territories). Secondly, it continued the long tradition, so like the Basques, to get organized in brotherhoods and guilds, dedicated to the Virgin, which became important tools in the struggle of the vast majority of Basque society at the time to stop the outrages of the banded clans.
Alongside this is a clear common thread that seeks to create an element that links all the members of this vascongada nation throughout the Americas, a symbol that integrates and identifies them. There’s a clear will to create a unique, differentiated reality that responds to the very special characteristics of the Basques and their traditional forms of governance.
As Miguel Irízar Campos C.P (Passionist father, belonging to a deeply-rooted Basque order, and bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Callao; it was he who organized the mass) stated in his homily at the mass celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the fraternity:
It’s surprising, the influence the Sanctuary of Arantzazu has ended up having in the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries. In most of the cities of this vast continent, altars and chapels were raised to the Basque ‘Andra Mari’ and, under her patronage and with her name, several fraternities and guilds were organized.
It was in the Americas that the first works that talked about Our Lady of Arantzazu were published, and the first time was by Friar Juan de Ayllón in 1648 in Lima; he was followed by those in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
There are two facts that explain the expansion of Arantzazu in the New World.
The first is that the Sanctuary was served, since 1501, by religious belonging to an eminently popular and missionary Order, the Franciscans. The presence of the sons of St. Francis born in the Basque Country has had a huge impact on the work of proselytizing in our beloved Peru.
The second fact is related to Basque emigrants. These, upon settling in the main cities of the New World, joined together in fraternities and guilds dedicated precisely to Our Lady of Arantzazu. This is a significant fact, as it reveals the devotion to the Gipuzkoan ‘Andra Mari’ had not only extended the length and breadth of the Basque Country, but that it had indeed become a religious sign of such importance in the Basque conscience that it was able to represent the deepest aspirations as regards ethnic identity and Christian solidarity when joining their brethren from Latin America.
The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Arantzazu in Lima was a role model and guide for this process. It inspired the Basques in the rest of the New World colonies and its model, with local adaptations, was the guide for other groups, such as those of Santiago, Chile or Mexico City. But, in any case, the Peruvian version maintained its own unique characteristics that freed it, for over two centuries, from the control of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and their attempts to take it over.
The meeting point and axis of this Brotherhood in Lima was at the Church of St. Francis, in a chapel and a burial vault, which became the heart of this community. In the book Nueva visión de San Francisco de Lima (New Vision of St. Franciso of Lima), by Antonio San Cristóbal Sebastián, we can find a chapter dedicated to this chapel, with a detailed description and its history, where the earthquakes that have shaken the city have played a large role.
The virgin that occupies the place of honor in the chapel’s altarpiece is a copy of the one crowned in 1646 that was later destroyed, like the altarpiece, in an earthquake. It’s interesting to see how the chapel in Lima is living a “parallel life” to that of the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, which was destroyed by fire several times. For its part, the Peruvian chapel was destroyed by earthquakes on several occasions, too. The image that is shown bears no resemblance to the small statuette of the Virgin venerated in the Gipuzkoan sanctuary. The first, which reached Lima in 1646, did, but it was destroyed in a fire in 1899. In 1911, the current woodcut took its place. At that time, it was in dire need of a full restoration in which some of the Basques of the city would have key roles.
The vault, a key piece of deep symbolic value, was closed in 1808 due to the order that prohibited burials inside churches and inside cities. This closure marked one of the two hardest moments in the history of this Basque brotherhood. José de la Puente Brunke, the director of the Rivas Agüero Institute, in a magnificent article on Euskomedia about the history of the Brotherhood, tells what it was like and with what great ceremony this place destined to the burial of the members of the Brotherhood was closed:
Following those orders, the administrators of the Brotherhood removed a bronze tombstone that had been there for over a century—it had been installed in 1693—upon which appeared the following inscription: “Here lie the very noble and very loyal sons and descendants of the Province of Cantabria”. What was interesting was that on the same document, a series of precise instructions were written to those who in the future might want to re-open the vault, which ended thusly: “This explanation and notice is placed here for those who follow … should it be necessary, it is easy to remove it and enter the vault.” This all indicates that, in effect, the closure of the burial vault in the chapel of the Brotherhood was completed with great sorrow by the same, and those who performed it showed their desire that in the future it could be re-opened.
This sorrow can be felts in the Brotherhood’s documentation, which alludes to the niches that were reserved in the General Cemetery: to in some way repair the lack of the vault of Arantzazu in its chapel, niches were taken to the graveyard … distinguished with the inscription that they belonged to the Distinguished Brotherhood of Our Lady of Arantzazu.
This vault, sealed in such a way that it cannot be opened without affecting the structure of the Church, has stayed closed to this day.
The other great blow the Brotherhood suffered was in 1865, and it was the decision by the government of Colonel Prado to nationalize it. The goods and documentation of the group were seized and moved to the Lima Public Beneficence Administration.
The rebirth of the Brotherhood
This, which seemed the end of the story, was nothing more than a parenthesis. Basque institutions are immensely resilient, and have the amazing ability to overcome hardship and survive the most traumatic situations.
The spirit that had pushed those Basque to found the Brotherhood was still alive, despite the blow from the 1865 government intervention. A group of members decided to keep the idea and the spirit of the Brotherhood alive by meeting at the Lima National Club, which had opened in 1855. It was there that they, in 1912, celebrated their 300th anniversary.
A hundred years later, also on February 13, and also in the Lima National Club, the Aratzazuko Eusko Etxea of Lima was born as a cultural association with the goal of commemorating the 400 years of the Brotherhood.
This vast project was promoted, and financed, by Julio Pablo Bazán, (who passed away just a few months ago) who took on the incredible task of recovering the whole legacy of the Brotherhood of Arantzazu in Lima, and also of those created in other New World cities.
In 2012, the Eusko Etxea organized an academic event at the Riva-Agüero Institute (IRA), consisting of a conference by José La Puente Brunke, Oscar Álvarez Gila, Elena Sánchez de Madariaga, Elisa Luque Alcaide, and Diego Lévano Medina.
The event had some very interesting collaborators:
Euzko Etxea of Santiago, Chile. Haize Hegoa Basque Center of Montevideo, Uruguay. Archbishop of Santa Fe, Argentina. Passionist Congregation of Spain. Carmelite Congregation of Spain. University of the Basque Country, Spain. University of Navarre, Spain. University of Deusto, Spain. Juan Carlos University of Madrid, Spain. Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. State University of New York, United States of America. University of Postdam, Poland. University of San Martin de Porres of Lima, Peru. Autonomous University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pontificate Catholic University of Peru. Pontificate Catholic University of Chile. University of Veracruz, Mexico. Greater National University of St. Francis Xavier, Chuquisaca, Bolivia. From Mexico came the Barraxa family, direct descendants of members of the Arantzazu Guild of Mexico. And the “Oiga Journalistic Fund” of Oiga magazine in Lima.
The conferences were opened by Father Antonio María Artola Arbiza, another Passionist priest (like Bishop Irizar, another Basque member of this congregation we mentioned earlier). Father Artola is a Basque, a priest, a Passionist, a world expert of the Holy Scriptures, and one of the great men who’s had the virtue to influence the world without the world realizing.
Aita Artola, as the video tells, was joined, since 1969, when his stage as a professor at Deusto University began, by a reproduction of the Andra Mari of Arantzazu. That image of the Virgin was with him in 2003 when he was sent to Lima, and there he gave it to the Bishop of Yurimaguas, who was another Basque Passionist priest, José Luis Astigarraga Lizarralde. It was given on one condition: that it be sent to the jungle.
Since 2003, until 2012, it was in the hands of the Carmelite Mothers in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon jungle. That year, the 400th anniversary, the statue traveled over 1,000km (600mi) by land from Yurimagas, in the middle of the Upper Amazon, to Lima, to preside over the events of such a special anniversary. That’s a trip that takes over 20 hours, crossing the Andes.
At the event, Professor Elisa Luque Alcaide offered a conference about the Basque merchants in the Viceroyalties of Peru and Mexico, which analyze the history and evolution of the Brotherhood of Lima and its influence on others that developed throughout the Americas.
We also include a .pdf summary of her talk, which she provided the Lima Arantzazuko Eusko Etxea, in response to the request from Isabel Barraxa, the granddaughter of Pedro Barraxa Gutierrez and a member of one of the Mexican families that belonged to the Brotherhood in that country, so that it could be a part of the book that would be published to remember the 400th anniversary.
The event was closed by the reading of a very special letter. It’s part of the book Sentimientos Compartidos (Shared Feelings), written by Josu Legarreta, who used to be the Director for the Basque Community Abroad in the Basque Government. The letter was written to Basque-Peruvian journalist Francisco (Paco) Igartua (about whom we’ve spoken before). Mr. Igartua, in the 1999 World Congress on Basque Communities broke to the representatives of all the Basque organizations reunited there the existence of this 17th century Basque organization. That made it, without a doubt, the oldest Basque center in the world. This was accepted by the assembly.
In these commemorations organized by the Arantzazuko Eusko Etxea in Lima, UPV historian Oscar Álvarez Gila has played a key role. In addition to collaborating in the organization of the Lima conferences, he also organized, in Vitoria in 2012, the International Congress of Devotion and Laypeople, in which these organizations in the New World colonies were studied. This UPV professor leads a research group within the Basque university focused on the Basque Country, Europe, and the New World: Links and Atlantic Relations.
Alongside the academic and religious acts typical of a commemoration of this importance, there was an act of supreme symbolism which is repeated wherever a group of Basques organize: the plating of a sapling of the Tree of Gernika. This oak, symbol of Basque freedoms, and of the freedoms of the Basques, has been spread around the world, thanks to its saplings, as a fulfillment of the charge of Iparraguirre the Bard in his “Gernikako Arbola”:
Eman ta zabal zazu munduan frutua (Go forth and spread its fruit around the world)
We’ve collected in our time as a blog many of these acts of spreading the spirit of the Basques around the world.
In this act, the meaning was double, however. The sapling of the sacred tree was sent from Santiago, Chile, the home of one of the Brotherhoods of Arantzazu, but the Eusko Etxea in that city. It was Pedro Oyanguren, the president of that Basque-Chilean group, who made possible this small miracle of spreading the roots of the Tree of Basque freedoms to Peru, literally. For the Chilean Basques, this year was also very special: not only did they get to directly participate in the 400th anniversary of the Peruvian brotherhood’s celebrations, they were also celebrating the centenary of their own Basque foundation in Santiago.
We never cease to be amazed by the strength and vigor with which the Basque-descendant community maintains throughout the world. There’s something deep and magical in that commitment that survives the years, and the centuries, keeping the roots that join them to their history and their origins alive and well. We’ve been writing now for a while about how the “willingness to be” has become the best ally to keep strong that connection between Basques and the world.
From this “immersion” in the Basque community of Peru, we’ve found many things that had to be left on the cutting room floor, as much as we’d like to develop them. We’re referring to such extraordinary matters as that of the role of the Passionist Fathers in the Peruvian jungle, or many aspects of the Basque colony in that country, or the support from the government of that country in our darkest hours as a nation.
Euskonews – 23/3/2012 – Euskadi
Faith from among the thorns. The Basque presences in the Americas is also reflected in the worship of Our Lady of Arantzazu, which turns four centuries old this year
The Basque diaspora around the world shows up not only in the laboriousness and stubborn sense of independence of those who were conquistadors like Pascual de Andagoya, explorers like Pedro Enrique Ibarreta y Uhagón, or simple regular, hardworking people dedicated to commerce and work with the engraved memories of the old symbols of the missing homeland, but also in the case of the faith and worship of Our Lady of Arantzazu, which this year turns four hundred years old.