Hotel Exteberri has its own chapel and we began the day with Mass there at 7.00am. After breakfast we continued our walk along the River Urola valley. Then we began a very difficult climb from the village of Brinkola up to the Franciscan Sanctuary of the Virgin of Arantzazu. The Sanctuary is located on the site where it is said that the Virgin of Arantzazu appeared to a shepherd named Rodrigo de Balanzategui in 1468. According to legend, the figure of the Virgin was in a thorn-bush, and the shepherd’s exclamation “Arantzan zu?!” (Thou, among the thorns?!) gave rise to the name of the place.
Today was tough. Very tough. In May-June 2011 I walked the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The 21.5km first stage from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles was very tough, perhaps the toughest stage on the Camino Frances. The stage from Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro was tough too. But neither was as tough as the unrelenting climb up the mountain and down the other side to Arantzazu today.
I wondered if I would make it, and whether or not it had been wise to invite people to make this pilgrimage. In my darker moments I thought, “What if one of the party dies up here on the mountain?” In fact after a couple of hours walking two of our party decided to go back and take a taxi Zumárraga to Arantzazu. Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman SJ kindly escorted them back. It was a wise move.
We know that Iñigo would have taken this route across the mountain to Arantzazu and I wondered what sort of footwear he had and how he coped seeing that he had one leg shorter than the other as a result of being wounded in battle at Pamplona.
The noises you hear on the sound track are the bells which the cows, sheep and horse wear up on the mountain. In unison they sound like some sort of eerie symphony.
Arantzazu is a centre of Marian devotion and pilgrimage (as Saint Ignatius stated in his Autobiography). It was here that Inigo meditated through the night and took vows of chastity. Little is left of the primitive sanctuary. The current complex is a wonderful example of contemporary Basque art.