Video excerpts for each site were recorded in 2015

Today we purposefully moved at a much slower pace. We visited only one site and spent time in silent reflection at the Franciscan Sanctuary of Our Lady of Arantzazu in Oñati, in the province of Guipuzcoa, Basque Country, Spain. At the time of St. Ignatius the shrine was only 50 years old and much smaller than the current building, now famous for its modern architecture featuring the works of many basque artists.

The people of Gipuzkoa are devoted to this shrine and its image of the Virgin Mary. Even today, the combination of the peaceful atmosphere of the Aizkorri mountain range and good roads, allows the shrine to receive frequent visits from local devotees and foreign tourists. At this site in 1468, Rodrigo de Balanzategui, a young basque shepherd, heard a bell in the distance. Expecting to find one of the animals he encountered a figure of Mary near a bell in a thorn bush. Rodrigo cried out, “Arantzan zu?!” (You, among the thorns?!). This gave rise to the place’s name. Thus Mary is often referred to here as Our Lady of the Thorns.

The figure of Mary discovered in the thorn bushes by Rodrigo de Balanzategui in 1468.

The figure of Mary discovered in the thorn bushes by Rodrigo de Balanzategui in 1468.

Ignatius, resolved to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, set out from Loyola with his brother Pero Lopez, who was a companion of his youthful misadventures; Pero, now a priest, was going to visit their sister in Oñati. Ignatius persuaded his brother to spend the night in vigil at the shrine. They would never be together again. Ignatius had been deeply affected with devotion to Mary during his recovery; either during his vigil at the shrine here or soon after, along the road to Montserrat, he made a vow of chastity. In a letter to Francis Borgia 1554, Ignatius referred to this night vigil as a time of great grace for strengthening his resolve on this journey.

From the “Autobiography” of St. Ignatius

Ignatius, starting from his father’s house, set out upon his journey on horseback. About this time he began his habit of taking the discipline every night. His brother desired to accompany him as far as Ogna [Oñati or Oñate] and during the journey was persuaded by the Saint to pass one night of watching at the shrine of Our Blessed Lady at Aruncuz [Aranzazu]. Having prayed some time at the shrine for new strength for his journey, leaving his brother at Ogna at the house of their sister, to whom he paid a short visit, he journeyed on to Navarre. Remembering that an official in the Duke’s palace owed him some money, he collected it by sending in a written account to the treasurer, and distributed it among persons to whom he felt indebted. A portion of the money he devoted to the restoration of a picture of the Blessed Virgin. Then dismissing his two remaining servants, he rode forth alone from Navarre in the direction of Montserrat, a mountain town of Catalonia in the northern part of Spain.



Photo Gallery (click to scroll)

Reflection by pilgrim Carol Mitchell

We rode up steep mountains to the shrine at Arantzazu in a comfortable bus. On the way there, Father Malone reminded us that Ignatius’s journey there nearly five centuries ago was not nearly so comfortable. He then invited us into some silence and reflection on the mountains and valleys we’ve faced in our lives.

While I’ve experienced many mountains and valleys in life, looking backward to the past did not hold much juice for me. Instead, I found myself looking forward to the mountain range I am already in the foothills of: aging.

Today's visit allowed for a much slower pace. Pilgrims were given many opportunities to meditate and reflect in the areas around the shrine.

Today’s visit allowed for a much slower pace. Pilgrims were given many opportunities to meditate and reflect in the areas around the shrine.

I’ve always heard aging described as the downhill slide. What came to me while gazing at the steep slopes we traveled through was that, for me, aging appears more like an uphill trek. Ordinary things seem to take more time and energy. I can’t effectively multitask anymore. I have to write down things that I used to easily remember. My mother used to say “Aging isn’t for sissies.” I know it was an uphill climb for her, too.

I found myself saying to Jesus, “You never had to experience this. It’s harder to imagine following you here.” But, I realized, Mary did experience it. Then, it was as if Mary, as role model, was inviting me to let go of some things. My sense was that she meant not just physical things, but especially internal dynamics that have the potential to weigh me down. It’s pretty hard to climb the mountain while carrying too much.

Today I ask for the grace to undertake the climb cheerfully, to know what to let go of and to actually do it.