Basque Fact of the Week: The Collegiate of Zenarruza

Just outside of Munitibar, not far from the baserri that my dad grew up in (only 3/4 of a mile as the crow, or crowned eagle, flies), lies the Monastery of Zenarruza, also known as the Collegiate of Zenarruza or Collegiate of Ziortza. It’s a beautiful spot on the edge of Lea-Artibai, a great place to take a break from all of the family lunches and dinners… I mean, all of the sight seeing.

The courtyard in the Monastery of Zenarruza. Image from Wikimedia.
The coat-of-arms of the Monastery, featuring the eagle and skull. Image from Museo de Arte Sacro.
  • The precise origin of the name Zenarruza is not clear. One theory says it is related to the Basque word zihaurri, meaning dwarf elder, and the suffix –tza, which indicates an abundance. However, another theory relates it to tzear otza, meaning cold hillside or slope. The Collegiate is also known as Ziortza, which is thought to be another evolution of the same original name.
  • The Monastery was founded in the 900s. The story goes that, at the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, 968, the people of Gerrikaitz were celebrating mass when an eagle swooped in to the ossuary of the cemetery and seized a skull in its claws. The people followed it as it flew until it reached the slope of Zenarruza, in the foothills of Mount Oiz, where it dropped the skull. The skull fell into a thick patch of dwarf elder. The people took this as a sign that they should build a hermitage to the Virgin on that slope. The coat-of-arms of the Monastery features the eagle and skull.
  • At the end of the 14th century, as the importance of the Camino de Santiago grew, so too did that of Zenarruza. In fact, the church hosted a hospital for pilgrims. The local families pooled resources and hired a group of clergymen to administer to the people and give worship to God and the Virgin. This elevated the church from a Parish to a Collegiate Church, which, while not overseen by a bishop, was still able to offer some of the same services as a cathedral. This happened in 1379. It was the first Collegiate Church of Bizkaia.
  • After its heydays, the Collegiate began to slowly deteriorate and it lost its status as a Collegiate Church in 1851. In 1948, the church at the heart of the Collegiate, renown for its beauty, was named a national monument of Euskadi. In 1988, a group of Cistercian monks, from the abbey of Santa María de la Oliva, in Navarra, moved in, turning the former Collegiate into a monastery.
  • Today, the Monastery pertains to the town of Ziortza-Bolibar. Bolibar, of course, gives its name to Simón Bolívar, the Liberator. And, the name Zenarruza is familiar to Idahoans, giving its name to the Idaho politician Pete Cenarrusa.

Primary sources: Monasterio de Zenarruza; Wikipedia

5 thoughts on “Basque Fact of the Week: The Collegiate of Zenarruza”

  1. what a beautiful church! thank you for sharing!
    Well–Mr. Cenassura’s idea of making Idaho the 8th province of the Basque country would not just open a can of worms but rather a vipers nest. The Basques have enough problems now to try to unite the seven provinces! It is human’s nature to hope and dream.

    I want to go home!–I could take an over load of food and fun now–no problem.

    1. Certainly worth a visit next time you go!

      Actually, it wasn’t Pete that suggested Idaho as the 8th province, but the then-president of the Basque Autonomous Community. And it was, of course, a symbolic gesture.

      1. Greetings,
        Thank you for correcting the facts–but Mr. Pete was an astute political person and to win votes from some of his constituents he most likely embraced the idea even though he may have suspected that it was a pipe dream.
        There is a difference in thought and attitude between Basques American and Basques from Spain and France, moreover and difference between the Basques from France and the one from Spain.
        That is not to say that the difference is better than the other–it is just different.
        That being said, that difference, not always detected by most of the people as we go along with our delay life, but it is noted and often exploited by smart politician– and it goes both way.
        So much for my opinion.
        It would be lovely to see a beautiful green grass lawn. I was thinking about this on my way to Silver City!
        Keep up the good work!.

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