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This sanctuary was built to worship two saints: San Antonio Abad (Anthony the Great) and San Antonio de Padua (Anthony of Padua). The sanctuary is also known as the “sanctuary of the Saint Anthonies”. It’s the most revered sanctuary in all of Biscay, as well as the oldest, and it’s famous across the region. There are hymns, verses and popular songs about the pilgrimages, celebrations and rituals held in the sanctuary, all of which have been preserved through the oral tradition.

Santuario de Urkiola: setting

The sanctuary is in the municipality of Abadiño, in the Urkiola col or pass in the Urkiola Natural Park, and is part of the historical trail that links the coast with Spain’s central plateau. Located in the geographic centre of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, the setting has been sacred since the first people lived here. The sanctuary also sits on the Urmuga dividing line that naturally splits the area in two from west to east. Water that runs off one side of the sanctuary roof flows towards the Mediterranean watershed, while water that runs off the other is destined for the Cantabrian.

Santuario de Urkiola: history

The building standing today was supposedly the third one raised in the area. There are records as far back as 1212 about a small hermitage in the place, as well as sources from 1567. One of the rectors claims the sanctuary dates back to between the 8th and 11th centuries, but there is no specific fixed date for when it was built. The neo-Medieval building complex includes a small bell tower, the rectory, the old hospital and a hostelry. There is a sharp contrast between the size of the building with its unadorned naves, and the small bell tower in front.

The grounds house two more small hermitages, a cemetery and the Stations of the Cross. The entire area is full of symbolism, added to which is the presences of Anboto, a mountain said to have mythological power.

Beliefs about a magical rock

Those familiar with the sanctuary will know about the stone in the small square at the front of the building. The story goes that in 1929, the then rector Benito de Vizcarra found the stone in the vicinity. It seemed to him a special stone, so he placed it in its current position. There are various interpretations of the story, including some that say the stone is a meteorite, but it’s actually iron ore. The stone is called “Tximistarri” and is said to possess great power. According to tradition, whoever makes seven turns about the stone will find (or keep) their partner. But take care! If you don’t turn about the stone in the correct direction, you run the risk of losing them.

Celebrations

The sanctuary is the venue for various celebrations throughout the year:

17 January celebrates Anthony the Great, patron saint of animals. People bring their pets to the sanctuary to receive a blessing.

19 March celebrates Saint Joseph.

13 June celebrates Anthony of Padua, protector of the needy. He is also the patron saint of lost objects and of finding one’s partner. This is the most popular and well-known celebration at the sanctuary. Throughout the day there are performances by bertsolaris (singers of improvised Basque verse), stalls with agricultural products, crafts and a religious pilgrimage.

The second Sunday of July is a day for blessing children.

The third Sunday of July celebrates married people and families..

The second Sunday of October is “Urrixena”, a day of thanks for fertile soil.

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