On this day 118 years ago, a plaque with the text of the Lord’s Prayer in Basque was placed in Jerusalem. There were a couple of setbacks, but finally, ten days later, on April 25, it was unveiled. And it’s been there ever since.
This is a story we were not aware of. By that we mean that it’s yet another story of our People that we’ve learned about thanks to writing this blog and thanks to the reader who informed us of it. It’s a story we want to share with you, our readers.
The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is where the New Testament says Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to the apostles, and at the location where he is said to have ascended into Heaven, we can today find the Church of the Pater Noster. It was built to commemorate and honor the moment and the place where Jesus of Nazareth first taught the most important prayer in Christianity to his followers.
Among the stones that it’s built of, the church also carries the “eventful” history it has had, partly due to its location, where religions mix and oftentimes come into conflict. It was first raised in the fourth century as a Byzantine church. After that comes a long history of destruction and rebuilding, up to today, when we find a church that was built in the 19th century.
This place of worship also contains on its walls the Lord’s Prayer, as is fitting, is many of the world’s languages: at least 147! And that’s where we come to the reason why we’re talking about it in our blog: because one of those languages is Basque.
The story of how the Aita Gurea ended up on these walls, to commemorate the Basque Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome, from April 10 to May 10, 1902, is really rather interesting.
The organizers of this pilgrimage proposed installing a prayer plaque in Basque at that church. To do so, they organized a fundraiser in order to have it made and sent to the Holy Land. One thing we found very interesting is that the maximum donation one could give was just one real, or five cents. It had to be affordable to the majority of the population. Undoubtedly, the goal was to get as many people as possible to participate, and avoid one wealthy person (or small group) to cover all the costs of the plaque, and therefore “hog the spotlight”.
This plaque was also rather symbolic. In 1902, at the Pater Noster Church, 32 other languages’ versions had already been placed, which meant that the Basque plaque would be nº 33. And, as we all know, that’s traditionally considered to be the age Jesus had when he was crucified.
There were many setbacks on the journey to having the plaque installed. We’d like to highlight two.
First, there was a huge debate about how the text should be written. We can’t forget that at that time, Basque had not been regularized; spelling rules were even still quite flexible. For example, just after the pilgrimage, in September 1902, Sabino Arana and Resurrección María de Azkue (two very active participants in the debate on how the Our Father should be written) took part in a Congress to Unify Spelling, held in Hendaye. As a parallel anecdote, it’s worth noting that it was on his way back from that congress when Sabino Arana sent his congratulatory telegram to President Theodore Roosevelt, which was then published in the New York Times.
The other was how this project, this plaque, which had been done on tiles, didn’t reach its destination in time to be installed during the planned pilgrimage on April 15, 1902. This, obviously, quite saddened the pilgrims. In the end, it was put up on the 25th, when the pilgrims had already left Jerusalem. Since then, the plaque can be found to the right of the church’s main entrance.
So, when the pilgrims and tourists who visit Jerusalem come to discover this church, just to the right of the entrance, they can find a small piece of Basque history.
If you’d like to know more about this story, we’ll leave you with the article by José Antonio Arana Martija which was published in volume 24, in 2006, by the Sancho el Sabio Foundation.
JOSÉ ANTONIO ARANA MARTIJA. Sobre el Aita Gurea de Jerusalén.Sancho el Sabio, 24, 2006, 169-191
Header photo: the Church of the Pater Noster. Courtesy Madelien Knight