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buber.net > Basque > Surname > Z > Zabaleta/Zavaleta
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by Antonio N. Zavaleta and James E. Zavaleta with Theresa Zavaleta

Basque Origins

Zabaleta is a Basque surname of considerable antiquity. Students of Hispanic heraldry indicate that, though the antiquity of the name makes it impossible to document an exact temporal origin, the name has appeared prominently in Iberian history for at least the last twelve hundred years. Basque surnames "are quite distinctive and most are derived from the ancestral country home's name or other prominent geographic feature." The Basque surname is a word by which an extended family is described and located, and is determined by a technique typical of tribal peoples. A Basque surname, for example, may describe a people "who live at the top of the hill" or "the people who live by the river."

In his work on Basque surnames, Fernando González-Doria described the name's meaning: "Zabaleta has its origin in the Basque country and while we do not know in which century it appeared, we do know that it is an ancient Basque surname." In the Basque language, the surname Zabaleta refer to a wide flat area. Thus, Zabaleta describes the people who live by a flat place in the mountainous Pyrenees. Another version translates Zabaleta as "the people who live by the mountain pass." When the surname-root, "Zabal,"" meaning a wide place, is combined with the maximizing ending "eta," it becomes "a very-wide place." Hence Zabal-eta is, "un lugar muy ancho."

The Basque practice of associating place designators with extended families also allows us to know the exact location of the Zabaleta family in the Basque countryside, through an oral tradition which pre-dates written records, or at least to the eighth century CE (Contemporary Era). It stands to reason that, since the Basque language describes a people's location, there could be more than one founding family called Zabaleta. In fact, this research has located two families, one in the Basque Province of Navarre (Navarra) and the other in neighboring Guipúzcoa. The two families are related, and together they form the progenitor base for the extended Zabaleta family both in Spain and in the Americas.

It should be noted here that the Zabaleta surname spelled with a "b" and Zavaleta spelled with a "v" have the same origin. With the sixteenth century emigration of Zabaleta's to the New World, this Basque surname, along with many others, was changed from the Basque spelling using "b" to the Castilian spelling using "v." Etymologically there is no difference between Zabaleta and Zavaleta. In fact, this change allows us to easily differentiate between Zabaletas born in Spain and Zavaletas born in the Americas (beginning around 1500). Simply stated, all Zabaletas/Zavaletas are members of the same family, separated by generations and oceans. For the purpose of this article, when Zabaleta is spelled with a "b" it refers to a Spanish origin, and when spelled with a "v" it refer to an American origin.

Zabaleta Family Origins

Tracing family history through time, over generations, and across oceans is both time-consuming and expensive. It was not until the advent of the Internet that more than fifty years of study of Zavaleta family history and genealogy could be more fully facilitated by a few simple keystrokes, but travel to historic family locations and national archives is still essential. Old World family records are often sketchy and, in antiquity, mostly non-existent. However, the nature of the Basque population, their geographic area of origin, and the uniqueness of their surnames make the records and references available beyond the ordinary. It is when families have had illustrious histories, or have played important historical roles, that familial reconstruction is easiest. For the sake of this article, only family history with the surname Zabaleta/Zavaleta is considered. Documented family history now approximates two thousand years of direct descent. Special thanks to doctoral student and friend Michael Scott Van Wagenen, who has, in the interest of my work on family history and the origin of families in Northeastern Mexico, spent more than 100 hours in the, Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is important to note that in the Mormon archives, Michael found numerous Zavaleta ancestors in Northern Mexico whose surname was recorded with an "S." Therefore, the search for Savaleta and Sabaleta revealed many heretofore unknown family links and answered many questions that the family had held for many years. As a result of his work and that of Tony Zavaleta, Jr., the Zavaleta family genealogy has a documented direct line of descent that now exceeds 60 generations and is placed in time at the year zero CE. Two thousand years of direct family descent.

The earliest reference we have to the Basque family known as Zabaleta comes from the ancient accounts of the military campaigns of Charlemagne and of his defeat at the hands of the Basques at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (French spelling) or Roncesvalles (Spanish spelling) in 778 CE. The ancient account of Charlemagne's only defeat provides us with a twelve-hundred-year-old description of the Zabaleta family home and of El Camino de Zabaleta (the Zabaleta road running through the forest and the Roncesvalles Pass), near the modern border between Spain and France.

Los cronistas carolingios universalizaron Valcarlos englobandolo en un pedazo del "Pirineo de los Vascones," que no conocˇan por si mismos, sino por relatos de supervivientes y, en mayor medida, de gentes que oyeron contar las historias de primera mano. Pero, como dudarlo, fueron enormemente precisos en las referencias topográficas... la hondonada subyacente por la que corre un rumoroso arroyo que no se deja ver hasta la borda Zabaleta" (in this case the word "borda" translates as a small country cottage).

Approximate translation: The Carolingian chroniclers spread the word of Valcarlos, locating it in a part of the "Pyrenees of the Basques," which they did not know personally, but had heard of in the stories of survivors and mainly from people that had heard the stories told first hand. However, how can one doubt it, as they were extremely precise in the topographic references...the underlying hollow in which runs a roaring stream that is not seen until reaching the Zabaleta's cottage.

The ancient account describes the battle in which Roland the nephew of Charlemagne was killed and provides a lyrical, even poetic, description of the home's country setting:

Con trazas de volver a pisar el trazado genuino, la senda gana la luz en otro claro del bosque, el a que forma un recoleto parado enmarcado entre gruesos castaños y dos caudalosos arroyos, conocido por Zabaleta (lugar ancho), un rincón cautivador por su sabor pastoral que preside una recia casona de piedra, hoy convertida en borda."

Approximate translation: With plans to return to walk along the actual layout, the footpath opens into the light in another clearing of the forest, one that forms a secluded stopping point, framed between thick chestnut trees and two mighty streams, known as Zavaleta (a wide space), a corner of the woods, captivating with its pastoral flavor that presides over a sturdy stone house, today converted into a cottage.

The Kingdom of Navarre and the Province of Guipúzcoa

It was not until the year 905 that Sancho Garcés I (a direct ancestor), organized the Basque region around a European-style regional dynasty. It became known as the Kingdom of Navarre. McAlister states that, "The Kingdom of Navarre was created in the tenth century by Romanized Basques in the western Pyrenees; and the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were both formed in the first half of the eleventh century, Castile from the east of León, and Aragon from a county of Navarre in the central Pyrenees."

The principality of Navarre enjoyed independence for several hundred years, largely due to the fact that it had no threatening neighbors. While the eastern half of the Basque country was drawn more and more into the French realm, the western half, today located in Spain, included the regions of Navarre and Guipúzcoa, home of the Zabaleta family.

Payne suggests that by the twelfth century this region had been mostly Christianized and was comprised of farms with strong extended families. Slowly, Guipúzcoa and the entire Spanish Basque region became part of the Castilian world, and the Basques were poised to play a major role in the expansion of Castile in its colonization of the New World after 1492.

The Zabaleta family has its origin in Guipúzcoa and Navarre, and, as such, all Zabaletas in the Old World and Zavaletas in the New World herald from the same general location. Map searches indicate that the distance from the Zabaletas of Lesaca, Navarre, to those in Urretxu, Guipúzcoa, to be no more than 50km or 30 miles.

Urretxu Villa Real, Guipúzcoa

The Royal Village of Urretxu is located in inner Guipúzcoa, equidistant from the four Basque capitals. Urretxu is part of the region of the Upper Urola River Valley, and was built along the Urola River located at the base of the steep faced Mount Irimo. Urretxu lies along a narrow and elongated valley with an undulating topography. One of the earliest known references to the Zabaleta family is associated with the establishment of the Basque village of Urretxu and its designation as a Royal town. Urretxu was designated a "Royal Village" (Villa Real) in 1383, and was designed in a manner typical of the Middle Ages. The first known historical document from the region is its City Charter, signed by King Juan I of Castile (1358-1390) on October 3, 1383. In the early centuries after its formation, Urretxu was a stopping point for kings and armies along a main east-west route from the capitals of Europe connecting the Iberian Peninsula. Today, the medieval antecedents of Urretxu "conserve the magnificence of the ancestral Basque gothic houses and palaces found there." One of the most distinctive Basque family country homes, or caserˇos, in the Urretxu region is the Caserˇo de Zabaleta, located on the approach to Mount Irimo, above the Hermitage of Santa Barbara.

Many references to the origin of the Zabaleta family point to this very precise and easily locatable area in Guipúzcoa. "Zabaleta" is a geographic place name easily locatable on Spanish geodesic maps. The Zabaleta family of Urretxu, who we know sent members to México around 1500, is directly related to the Zavaleta family of South Texas, and has its origin in the large caserˇo in Urretxu, Guipúzcoa. This Basque country casona maintains its coat of arms (escudo) on its fa‡ade to this day. En campo de sinople, una torre de argent; translated: a silver castle-tower on a green background (the tower is a clear allusion to the relationship with the Torre de Zabaleta in Lesaca). This house was the birthplace of many very illustrious family ancestors who were powerful regional lords and land owners.

It is because of the historical importance of this family site that we know that the Zabaleta family is one of the earliest of the region. We are indeed fortunate to have available to us, Lope de Isasti's 1625 description of the house. The house is described as "truly monumental," having been constructed by only the most "accomplished stone masons":

La casa Zabaleta se nos presenta ya próxima, mostrando su fachada de ladrillo rojo sostenida por recios muros de mamposterˇa y dos bellos arcos de sillares. Zabaleta sorprende por las medidas de su zaguán y sus establos, y la amplitude de las estancias en toda su primera planta. Pero es en la parte alta, en la gabarˇa, donde la casona deja ver su verdadera dimensión y la importancia que tuvo antaño, pues sus vigas y entramado, la estructura toda del tejado, en verdad monumental, no pudo ser obra mas que de consumados maestros.

Approximate translation: The Zavaleta house appears to us (walking along the road and toward the house)...showing its red brick fa‡ade maintained by strong walls of stone and two beautiful arcs of cast stones. The Zavaleta house surprises one with the size of its vestibule and its stables, and the amplitude of the rooms in the entire first story. But it is in the second story and above that the large house lets us see its true dimension and the importance that it had long ago, since its beams and framework, and the entire structure of the tile roof, which is truly monumental, could not have been built by anyone other than by consummate master builders.

Equally significant is the fact that the work of Jaca on the history of Urretxu documents the Zabaleta family descent line, beginning with the first "Señor" of the Caserˇo de Zabaleta, Joan de Zabaleta y Aguinaga, who fought in the war against France in 1524. He married Marˇa de Iturbe Irigoyenin in Zumárraga in 1526. The couple was given the country home as a wedding gift by Joan's father Pedro. Pedro and his wife Domenja had another son, Martˇn, who moved to nearby Legazpia, and married Marˇa de Aizaga y Lakidiola. The descendants of Martˇn and Marˇa began another branch of the family whose members still live in Legazpi. The gift of the house included "all the land, water rights, castañares, robledales, cubas, arcas, ajuar y bastago." Translation: orchards and house furnishings.

Marˇa Irigoyenin died in childbirth, and Señor Joan de Zabaleta y Aguinaga then married Marˇa Joaniz de Zabalo y Legazpi, the daughter of General Legazpi the commander of the Royal troops in the Philippine Islands. This marriage created an even stronger Zabaleta connection to Legazpi. Joan and Marˇa Legazip's firstborn son, Santuru, fought in the War of the Pyrenees in 1558, and he was designated by King Felipe II to escort the French princess, Isabel de Valois, from the border of France into Spain, via the camino real, which passed directly in front of his Zabaleta house. Santuru's son, Santos Zabaleta married Cathalina de Beydacar and became Capitán and payroll officer for the Royal Navy of Galleons. In 1613, he became Alcalde of Urretxu and then Alcalde of Bergara in 1615-1626. In 1615 he served as part of the official escort of King Felipe III through Guipúzcoa from the French border to Oñati.

The fourth Señor of Zabaleta was Joan de Zabaleta who married Marˇa de Galdos who also served as Alcalde. Joan de Zabaleta and Marˇa de Galdos had a son named Domingo. There exist two unsubstantiated versions of the descent line of Domingo de Zabaleta. The first, indicates that Domingo served as Capitán in the army of Flandes (Holland) and was killed at the battle of los Paises Bajos. In the second version he returns from war and produces an heir. The examination of both records suggests that the first is the most plausible, because there is no record of a male heir.

Assuming he had no male heir, the ownership of the Caserˇo de Zabaleta passed to his sister, Marˇa de Zabaleta y Galdos who married Miguel de Nocolalde y Barrenechea. Their daughter Marˇa Joséfa de Zabaleta married Cristóbal de Gaviria y Gárate, a member of the Order of Santiago, who was governor of the Spanish Guard and ambassador of the Court to France. His son, Juan Santos de Zabaleta y Gárate became the Royal court historian and author of numerous scholarly books on history, politics, and philosophy.

Juan de Zabaleta y Gárate married Antonia de Espinoza, and their son Antonio de Zabaleta y Espinoza married Juana Lafuente, who was born in San Sebastian in 1705. Their daughter Doña Marˇa de Zabaleta y Lafuente moved to México, most probably to meet her brother Antonio, who had established residence there. In Mexico, she married Antonio de Llobregat. One of their sons, Marˇano, became Capitán de Dragones in Buenos Aires, while their other son, José de Zabaleta, married Francisca Sancho.

In the records of sixteenth century México, Pedro, Antonio, Juan, José, Santos, and other common Zabaleta "Christian" given names continue to reappear generation after generation, and well into the twentieth century. Second and third born sons also gave their children common family names, so it is quite easy to follow the family line through time to Mexico. For example, Juan de Zabaleta y Mondragón, a second son, married Marˇa de Salinas in 1595, and named his son Pedro de Zabaleta y Salinas. Pedro served in the Indias for many years as Capitán in the Royal Spanish navy. Manuel de Zabaleta served in Cuba as Coronel in the army. He died there in 1836, leaving a fortune to his native city of San Sebastian for the construction of hospitals. A street in San Sebastián (Donostia) was named in his honor in 1895.

Casa Torre de Zabaleta, Lesaca (Lesaka), Navarre

The Casa-Torre de Zabaleta, located in Lesaca, Navarre, was constructed in the thirteenth century or earlier. In 1364, Lesaca town records note that the tower was being reconstructed: "A Tomas de Gárriz, maestro balador, 100 carlines prietos por restaurar las almenas del Palacio de Zabaleta.40 Translation: Pay to master estimator, Tomas de Garriz 100 coins for the restoration of the Zabaleta Palace.

In 1444, Señor Ochoa López de Zabaleta defended the region of Navarre against the Guipúzcoans, who sacked and plundered his home. For his service to the Crown, the Zabaleta family was recognized by the monarchs of Aragon, and the funds to "restore" the casa-torre, damaged during the siege, were provided by King Juan II, in gratitude for Zabaleta loyalty and support. Around 1450, López de Zabaleta was granted a Captaincy, becoming the regional military commander, and was made responsible for the safety of Goizueta and "el Gobierno de las Cinco Villas," the Government of the Five Villas.

Mosén Felipe Zabaleta the son of Ochoa López de Zabaleta became "El Señor del Mayorazgo de Zabaleta" and also the "owner" of the Palacio de Cabo de Armeria de la villa. Later he would receive the title of "Salvador de Lesaca y Capitán General de Filipinas". Felipe Zabaleta, who was also Señor de la casa-torre de Zabaleta, is recorded in Lesaca history through extant letters as having been the "Magnifico y Nuestro Especial Amigo," of Cardenal de Fox, Infant de Navarre, Bishop of Bayona and uncle to Queen Catalina.

The historical documentation of the Zabaleta family in Lesaca, Navarre, briefly predates the family in Urretxu, Guipúzcoa, but is generally contemporary to the family just a few kilometers away. It is probable that the Caserio de Zabaleta in Urretxu was the Lesaca family's country estate. Lesaca, located in the Basque province of Navarre, lists the Torre de Zabaleta as one of the two most important historical monument buildings in the town. The Torre, also known as "la Caxerna and as Labrija" was known to have housed the troops of The Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War or the Guerra de Independencia (1808-1814). The troops were likely housed in the casa-torre during Wellington's campaign to dislodge the French from San Sebastián (Donostia) in 1813, until the sacking and burning of San Sebastián at the hands of the Anglo-Portuguese Army, also in 1813. Bishop Zarándia, the owner of the casa-torre during the French occupation of Spain, was held prisoner by the French until he was freed by Lord Wellington's forces. An antique photograph of the Torre de Zabaleta, taken in 1916, shows a woman washing clothes in the O_in River which runs along the side of the tower.

The "primary" Zabaleta family coat of arms is shared by both the family in Lesaca and Urretxu, and is characterized by a silver castle-tower on a green background. There is no doubt that the two family locations in the neighboring Basque provinces of Guipúzcoa and Navarre are directly related.

Zabaletas in Public Service to the Crown

With the establishment of the primary locations of Urretxu and Lesaca and their strategic importance to the Spanish Realm, the Zabaleta family began centuries of royal service, and established their social-economic and political dominance in the region. The Zabaleta family was established in this mountainous area by 800 CE., and played a major role in the formation of both Basque and Castilian history. One historian put it this way:

The Zabaleta family is both ancient and noble. "En el caso del apellido Zabaleta, todo y su antiguedad y desarrollo, posee tˇtulos nobiliarios, segun las fuentes bibliograficas."

Translated: The surname Zabaleta, both in antiquity and through the years, possesses titles of nobility, according to the bibliographic sources.

There is ample evidence in the historical record of the importance the Zabaleta family played. While the term Guipúzcoan "nobility" is merely an historical footnote, in reality the title opened the door for the Zabaleta family to develop social, economic and political status, and it facilitated family movement to the Indies in the sixteenth century. In 1499, a royal document authored by Queen Blanca and King Juan de Labrit confirmed and increased all the social, political, and economic privileges granted to the Zabaleta family by King Carlos, on October 1, 1202. Lesaca history notes that the town continued to thrive through the centuries because of these benefits to the Zabaleta family: "por los muchos servicios prestados por los vecinos de Lesaca a la Corona."

From the family's earliest references, the Zabaletas are described as having been formally educated. They attended preparatory schools and universities run by religious orders, studied Roman Catholic doctrine and the law, read the classic literature, and were among the first to write the history of their people and their region. It was this education that led to successive generations of public office.

Numerous sources suggest that many Zabaleta ancestors served as magistrates, "testigos," and "escribanos," and were witnesses and scribes for legal documents. In one recorded case, it is said that:

"Beltran de Larrain y Galarza testo en Aranaz ante Matias de Zabaleta el 27 de diciembre de 1682, declarando que es Señor de la Casa de Larrain y que esta en su sano juicio. Pero enfermo del cuerpo."

Translated: Beltran de Larrain y Galarza testified in Aranaz before Matˇas de Zabaleta on December 27, 1682, declaring that the Señor of the Casa de Larrain was in good health and mentally able to handle his affairs although he was physically ill.

From the history of the Basque town of Aranaz, another example describes three Zabaletas involved in a legal document, in which the parish priest, Don Pedro Luys de Zabaleta, is named as the executor of the estate of his nephew Lino de Larrain. The document was witnessed by Juan Fermˇn de Zabaleta and was notarized by Matˇas de Zabaleta. The author says that it was notable that all of the notaries (attorneys) in Aranaz were Zabaletas, and that the position was past on from father to son.

It is obvious from the records that the status of "nobility" or hidalguˇa provided great influence with the Crown and that the feudal lords maintained their status over land and people through the centuries. Beginning in the sixteenth century, families began to receive funds sent to them from the Americas. This newfound source of wealth further served to solidify family status at home in Spain with family in the colonies. As the years passed, it was important to maintain contact between Spain and the colonies for the purpose of arranging proper marriages. Marriages between Spanish families remained a popular and important business proposition at least until the end of the colonial era in 1820 and in many cases well into the nineteenth century.

Family records indicate that arranged Basque marriages were common through the middle of the nineteenth century. Basque families in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México and on the north side of the river, sought Basque men and women to marry from established Basque colonies up river at Camargo, Cuidad Mier, Revilla (now in Tamaulipas) as well as in Nuevo Leon, and throughout the Basque communities of México. In the eighteenth century, Matˇas Zabaleta made reference in his writing to the importance of "properly" educating the family members who leave Spain for the Americas so that they may have "proper marriages" with Spanish-born men and women when they came of age.

Records dating from the fourteenth century for the royal town of Urretxu through the present day indicate that the Zabaleta family played a substantial social, political, and economic role in the region and in the Americas. Basque and Spanish records list some of the positions and honors held by family members: Hidalgo, Military and Naval officer, Bishop, Monsignor, Priest, Familiar de la Inquisition, Royal Historian, Pagador de la Real Armada, Alcalde, Governor, Ambassador to the Court; Royal envoy; Professor, Author, Historian; Magistrate, Caballero de la Orden de Santiago, and Superintendent of Royal mints. Historical Basque notables born at the Zabaleta family home in Urretxu include General Gaspar de Jauregui, "el Pastor;" Francisco Domingo de Zabaleta, professor of the University of Alcalá in the seventeenth century; and Santuru de Zabaleta y Zabalo, special envoy of King Felipe II in 1565. As noted, the coat of arms from the house of Zabaleta de Urretxu is shared by Zabaleta families in Lesaka, Navarre, as well as with families in Durango, Bizkaia, Elduain, and Tolosa, further indicating that all of these branches of the family are related.

Other branches of the family display coats of arms which signify their individual accomplishment and membership in military orders. For example, in the Zabaleta houses in Irun and Mondragón, family members are known by the following coat of arms:

En campo de oro, un árbol de sinople con un jabalˇ de sable empinado a su tronco; also, En campo de oro, cuatro escudetes de gules cargados de una cruz a todo trance de argent y colocados en dos palos. Entre ellos tres panelas de sinople colocadas dos en los flancos y una en punta; tambien, En campo de argent, un águila de sable. En campo de gules, cinco veneras de oro colocadas en sotuer.

Approximate translation: On a field of gold, a green tree with a black boar with raised tusk. Also: On field of gold, four small red shields with silver crosses with two wooden clubs. Among them three green trees two placed at the sides and one at the top; Also: On a field of silver, a black eagle, on a red background, with five gold scallop shells arranged in a bent cross.

Over at least the last 1,228 years of recorded history, Zabaletas are documented to have served the Realm as nobles, adventurers, religious, military, politicians, and intellectuals. They were called to serve the Kings of the house of Aragon, and to escort Queen Isabel through Guipúzcoa. When it was time to adventure out to the New World, Zavaletas are known to have been among the first to dare.

Ermita de San Juan and La Virgen de Zabaleta

The Caserˇo de Zabaleta was located on one of the principal pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. From the twelfth century to the present day, the family has maintained the hermitage of San Juan, located on family property and along the road that the pilgrims walk. At some point in the distant past, the hermitage acquired the sacred object of a "Black Virgin," known also as the Virgen de Zabaleta. Beginning in medieval times, the Zabaleta country house complex included a sanctuary for weary travelers, as well as a hospital for pilgrims. The Diccionario Histórico Geográfico, dating from 1802, lists a pilgrim's hospital located at Caserˇo de Zabaleta.

The family home was positioned along one of the most heavily traveled routes of the medieval world. Travelers of all social classes, including royalty, passed along this route and, visited the Virgen Negra de Zabaleta.

Since the time of their conversion, more than a thousand years ago, the Basques have been fervent Catholics. Today, the Basque Country is characterized by the duality of sophisticated large cities, with first class universities, modern industry and wealth, along with the pastoral countryside where little has changed in a thousand years. In the rural areas, life continues to be based on the changing of the seasons, and Catholicism has been frozen in time very much as it has in rural México. In 1610, Fray Felipe de Zabaleta, the priest at Zugarramurdi and the Monastery of Urdax played a major role as inquisitor in the famous Witchcraft trials of Logroño.

Three hundred years later, in the 1930s, an anti-clerical fervor swept over Spain, very much as it had in México. In 1930, the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera ended, followed in 1931 by the abdication of King Alfonso XIII and the declaration of the Second Republic. By May of 1931, Basque Bishop Mateo Mugica of Vitoria had been expelled, and, in June of 1931, the Primate of Spain, Cardinal Pedro Segura, was expelled as well. The rural religious backlash began when, in late June of 1931, a little-known but important hysterical craze befell the inner mountain communities of Guipúzcoa.

Described in William Christian's book Visionaries: The Spanish Republic and the Reign of Christ, by July 1931, crowds of more than 50,000 persons gathered in remote and rural Guipúzcoa to see visions and miracles. As in Fátima and Lourdes, first children and soon adults began to have visions of the Virgin Mary, to fall into trances, to communicate heavenly messages. This hysteria brought international attention to this remote corner of the earth and was roundly condemned by the Church, but, curiously, it was seen as useful by the government. In México, less than a decade earlier, President Plutarco Elias Calles made his famous visit to El Niño Fidencio at Espinazo in the desert of northern México. In November of 1931, the Basque seer José Garmendia was similarly requested to visit Spanish President Macˇa in Barcelona.

The center of the "seer" phenomena was Ezkioga, a village very near to Urretxu and Zumárraga, and one of the "permanent seers" was León Zabaleta, a humble farmer from Oñati, located only a few miles from Ezkioga. As in México, eventually the government joined the Church in condemnation, fearing the emergence of a new socio-political-religious movement that they could not control. In early 1932, the Spanish government, in an attempt to separate government from religion, demanded the removal of all religious images from government offices in Guipúzcoa. This is most likely when the icon of the Virgen of Zabaleta was removed from its permanent shrine at the Caserˇo de Zabaleta in an effort to protect it from destruction by the anti-clerical secular movement. In 1933, the Vatican denounced the agglomerations of religious fanatics in Guipúzcoa, and the cult was forced underground. In 1936, three years of turmoil across Spain led to the overthrow of the Second Republic, to the Spanish Civil War, and to continued reprisals against Basques by General Franco, including, in 1937, the Nazi bombing of the Basque national symbol, the Tree of Guernica.

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