Our regular readers will remember the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima, as we’ve mentioned them several times.  If you’re not familiar, have a read of our article about their 406th anniversary, where we go into greater detail about their importance and history.

Today, this Basque community that got started in Peru and is now throughout all of the Americas is trying to keep alive the memory and goals of the Brotherhood founded in 1612 by the “noble gentlemen of the Basque nation” in Lima.  The brotherhood has even started up an eusko etxea, Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea.

Both the Brotherhood and the Euzko Etxea have been working hard for years to share not only their own history as a group of organized Basques, but also to maintain the memory and recognition of those members of our country who have done so much for Peru: the Basque Passionists who have been hard at work for over a century in the Amazon jungle, helping the local population grow.

And the brotherhood itself has been working for over four centuries, defending the fundamental imprint the Basques have left in Peru.

That’s why it’s so easy to understand the indignation they feel upon seeing that that vault under the Chapel of Aranzazu in St. Francis’ Church, where the Brotherhood buried their dead for two centuries, has been opened up so as to become part of a tourist attraction for visitors to the Lima catacombs.

Los restos de los enterrados se convierten en una atracción turística y son expuestos
The remains of those buried there are now on display for tourists

The chapel and sepulchral vault were acquired from the Franciscans by the Brotherhood at the beginning of the 17th century.  For the price of 10,000 pesos, the Basques who had organized in Lima took over the ownership of the chapel and crypt, and that is where the members of the Basque nation who died in Lima were buried.

And so it was for two centuries.  A statue of Our Lady of Aranzazu, brought from the Basque Country, was placed in the vault where Basques, whether or not they were members of the Brotherhood, were buried, all in tombs that were alike, as was stated in the Brotherhood’s statutes.

Things changed in the 19th century.  First, in 1804, burials were forbidden in side the city, causing the Brotherhood to acquire a pantheon in the new cemetery in order to continue giving a dignified burial to the Basque who died in Lima.

Then, in 1808, another step was taken.  An order was given to close and seal church burial sites, including the elimination of any indication that there had ever even been a burial there.  The Brotherhood obeyed the order.  They removed the bronze gravestone from the door to the crypt, which had been installed in 1693, saying “Here lie the very noble and very loyal sons and descendants of the Province of Cantabria”, and sealed the vault.  They also, however, left behind a document giving precise instructions to anyone who might come in the future to reopen the vault by eliminating the seals.  These instructions end by saying, “This explanation and notice is placed here for those who come…should it be necessary, it is easy to open it and create an entrance to the vault”.

Since then, the vault has been sealed, and the Basques who were buried there could not be visited anymore.

Public petition by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima to cease desecrating this burial place of the Basques
Public petition by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima to cease desecrating this burial place of the Basques

But now, the situation has radically changed.  The Franciscans have decided to turn the catacombs into a tourist attraction, and, in their desire to attract as many as possible, have opened up the Brotherhood’s vault, turning it into part of that tourist attraction.

As is evident, this is undue expropriation of a good that does not belong to either the City of Lima or the Franciscans.  And in addition to being a violation of the agreement the Franciscans sealed with the Basque Community, this decision is now responsible for a place of rest for these Basques to now be repeatedly desecrated by tourists.

The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima has already begun taking actions in order to have the “Vault of the Basques” re-sealed and removed from the tourist visit.  Among these actions are asking Basque institutions and representatives to collaborate and concentrate their petitions to the Peruvian authorities as well as the Franciscans in order to have the vault sealed anew.

We’re joining in with that movement, and we ask the City of Lima and the Franciscans of Lima to reconsider their decision and to restore the respect and dignity the Basques buried there deserve to them, removing them from the tour and remembering, once again, that the vault actually belongs to the Basques of Lima.