Video excerpts for each site were recorded in 2015

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

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.

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 Saint 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 group leader James Cappabianca

“The pilgrim is always seeking.”

Today at Arantzazu, the “God of surprises” showed Himself in the beauty of Arantzazu, a town in Northern Spain.

When we encounter the story of Saint Ignatius, we typically don’t reference Arantzazu. Often, we read about the Battle of Pamplona where we was injured, Loyola where he was born, recovered and began his conversion, Montserrat where he “laid down his sword for Christ” in front of the Black Madonna and Manresa where he was inspired to write the Spiritual Exercises realizing that “God is in all things.”

The sanctuary of Our Lady of Arantzazu, a Franciscan sanctuary located in the Basque Country in Spain about 25 miles south of Loyola, was visited by Ignatius as a young pilgrim soon after his recovery from the injury at Pamplona.

The Arantzazu sanctuary is located in the site where, presumably, the shepherd Rodrigo de Balanzategui encountered a Marian apparition in 1468. In the sanctuary we learned is that Our Lady was found by Rodrigo in the form of a small statue in a thorn bush. It’s amazing that this original statue is still on full display in the sanctuary.

The name Arantzazu stems from arantza, which means thorns, and  zu, which means you.” The name of this place is an echo of the search for Mary: “Thou, among the thorns?

Isn’t there so much beauty to this?

Ignatius’ experience of Christ “among the thorns” changed everything, and I couldn’t help but think that this place was instrumental in how he was called to change the world. Was it here that Ignatius realized God is alive and laboring in all things, especially among the thorns and in places we would least expect?

This kind of belief, this kind of love, requires trust and fearlessness in believing that God is going to meet us where we are and how we are. I’m grateful that Our Lady of Arantzazu showed herself to me here, too.

Pray: Can you allow Jesus to ask you: what are you looking for? Think back to the moments of awakening in your life: when you realized a deep desire, or that something was not quite right, or that you wanted some change. Can you talk with God about that?

Further Reading 
An excerpt from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James Martin, S.J., on St. Ignatius’s injury during the siege of a castle by the French military in Pamplona and subsequent recovery:

…. During his subsequent convalescence, Ignatius was unable to find books on what he most enjoyed reading: adventure stories and tales of chivalry. The only things available were a life of Jesus and the lives of the saints. To his surprise, he found that he enjoyed the tales of the saints. Thinking about what the saints had done filled him with a sense that they would be “easy to accomplish.” Keep reading here.