We’ve always found the presence of brotherhoods and guilds throughout the Americas which had been organized by the Basque community in the 17th and 18th centuries to be absolutely fascinating. And that interest is based on how they represent the will, the ability, of the Basques to get organized wherever they ended up moving to in the Americas, and their capacity to create networks, based on those organizations and other, that would act as a support structure for the Basque Community at home and abroad.
Today, October 18th, is the commemoration of the 376th anniversary of the day the icon of Our Lady of Aranzazu was placed in Lima. It was commissioned by the members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Lima to occupy the center of the chapel that they acquired from the Franciscans at the Church of St. Francis in Lima.
This brotherhood, founded at the beginning of the 17th century, may be considered the first Basque center in the Americas, as stated by Francisco “Paco” Igartua at the First World Congress of Basque Collectivities Abroad, held in the Basque Country in 1995. “Paco” Igartua, founder and director of Oiga magazine, and the son of a Basque, was invited to attend by Lehendakari Ardanza, and there the former carried out important work and secretary and composer of the event’s conclusions.
It just so happens that a few days ago, the magazine Laboratorio de Arte, at the University of Seville, published a work by Josu M. Zulaika Hernández which cleared up some of the still unknown doubts that surrounded the whole process whereby this figure was commissioned and created.
An icon of Our Lady of Aranzazu for the chapel of the Basque nation
As the researcher himself explains in the introduction:
T he Brotherhood of Arantzazu of Lima ordered in 1644 in Spain the carving of an icon of the Virgin venerated in the sanctuary of Arantzazu in Oñati. Relación de la grandiosa fiesta que se hizo… a la colocación de la milagrosa imagen de N. Señora de Aransazu, published by Ayllón in 1647, brought some details about the vicissitudes of this story. But neither Ayllón nor later authors were able to offer information about the identity of the artificer of the sculpture. T he discovery of the contract signed in Seville between some members of the brotherhood and the sculptor Juan Bautista del Castillo will let us supply some of the voids that Ayllón was not able to reflect in his Relación.
There’s no doubt it is very good to know that it was Andalusian sculptor Juan Bautista del Castillo who was commissioned to create this figure according to the instructions laid out in the document “Memoria de la forma en que se ha de hacer la imagen de Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu para la capilla de la nación vascongada de la ciudad de los Reyes del Perú, siendo testigo Miguel Vélez de Ulivarri“. This document can be consulted at the Basque Historical Archives (AHE/EAH).
It is also good because it helps us know which Basques took part in this project to prepare the Aranzazu Chapel, the heart and soul of the Brotherhood for civil and religious matters, which first began in 16191, when it was purchased from the Franciscans of Lima for 10,000 pesos, and culminated on October 18, 1646, when the icon arrived from the Peninsula and was enthroned.
But we find it especially interesting because it show us how those nuclei of Basques organized outside their homeland, outside the “Basque nation,” collaborated and supported each other with the goal of offering mutual aid.
When the author of this incredibly interesting story sent it to us, we thought that today would be the perfect day to share it with our readers.
Recalling the memory and heritage of the Basques in Lima
It’s also a great day to recall that this chapel, purchased by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Lima, is no longer in the hands of the Basque community in Lima, and the icon of Our Lady of Aranzazu contained therein, dating from the 19th century because the original was destroyed in a fire, has lost its connection with its roots, and is now an “Our Lady of the Apple,” converted into something totally different to what that icon should represent, given its origins, for the believers and for those interested in the history of Lima who might go to the Church of St. Francis.
Similarly, it is sad, and offensive, to see how the Basques’ vault, acquired by the Basque in Lima in the 17th century alongside the chapel and meant to bury the bodies of the Basques who died there, has become part of a tourist attraction meant to turn a profit (just like all the activity currently taking place around the figure of Our Lady of Aranzazu).
The situation in the vault is completely unacceptable. This burial place was closed in 1808, when the authorities issued an order to seal the burials in the churches in Peru. This order included eliminating any sign that anyone was buried there. The Brotherhood obeyed by sealing it and removing the bronze tombstone at the crypt’s entrance, which had been installed in 1693 and read, “Here lie the very noble and very loyal sons and descendants of the Province of Cantabria”. That meant that the living could no longer visit their deceased loved ones there.
Now, two centuries later, the heirs of that Brotherhood have had to watch as those burials, to which they were not allowed to go to pay homage to their ancestors for over two centuries, can now be visited by tourists who pay an entry fee.
Honestly, we find it hard to understand the current leaders at St. Francis’ of Lima and their lack of sensitivity, respect for history, and fulfillment of the agreements reached and contracts signed and paid for. They should respect the agreement reached four centuries ago by their Franciscan brothers and recognized the ownership, even if just moral, of the Brotherhood of the chapel of the Basques, the Aranzazu Chapel, and of the vault where the Basques of Lima were buried for almost two centuries.
This situation must deeply hurt and offend the current members of the Brotherhood, as well as the members of the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea, the Basque center created by the Brotherhood.
We’ll leave you with an article covering the research of Josu M. Zulaika Hernández which, as we said, shines new light on some important details about the commissioning, creation, and arrival of the icon of Our Lady of Aranzazu to the City of the Kings in the 17th century.
Juan Bautista del Castillo, creator of the icon of Our Lady for the chapel of the Brotherhood of Aranzazu of Lima. Josu M. Zulaika Hernández
Last Updated on Mar 23, 2023 by About Basque Country