Basque Fact of the Week: Teodosio, the Knight of Goñi

Many rulers try to legitimatize their power by establishing connections to heroes and legends of the past, sometimes all the way to divine figures. The same has occurred in Basque history. In an effort to connect their lineage to an important mythical figure, the Kings of Nafarroa established a genealogy that connected them to Teodosio de Goñi, a knight who built the Sanctuary of San Miguel that sits in Aralar. However, the story of Teodosio begins with a dark series of events.

Teodosio killing his parents, by Padre Tomas de Burgui. Image from Wikipedia.
  • The story goes that Teodosio, a knight from Goñi, a small town in Nafarroa some 30 kilometers from Pamplona, was called to fight in the war with the Arabs. One day, while in the town of Errotabidea, not far from Goñi, he encounters Satan himself, who is disguised as either a hermit or even a Basajaun. The devil tells him that his wife, Constanza, is having an affair. Enraged, he rushes home only to find two people in his bed. In his rage, he kills them both. He then makes his escape, only to bump in to Constanza in the street as she is returning from church. Realizing that he must have killed his parents, who were living with his wife and who had graciously been given the bigger bed, he flees, seeking absolution.
  • He eventually makes his way to Rome, where the Pope tells him he must wander the region of Aralar, wearing chains until they fall off. Only then will he know God has forgiven him. Alone, he wandered the peaks of Aralar for seven years, until he encountered a dragon that threatened to eat him. In fear, he called out to Saint Michael the Archangel to help him. The angel both killed the dragon and freed Teodosio from his chains. Teodosio then built the sanctuary of San Miguel en Excelsis on that very spot, where he then lived with his wife and which still stands today. In reality, parts of the buildings that comprise the current sanctuary date to the 11th century.
  • Though the story is said to take place in the 700s, it has its origins in the 17th and 18th centuries. While it doesn’t seem that Teodosio was a real person, his legend was promoted as a means to connect royal lineages to a mythical and important figure. He appears in the genealogies of the nobility of the kingdom in the 16th centuries. The legend gained extra popularity when it was featured in the story Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII by Francisco Navarro-Villoslada. Published in 1877, it mixed legend and history to tell the story of the first king of Nafarroa.
  • An interesting aside relates to the sanctuary itself. The altarpiece is a masterpiece of Romanesque art, containing crystals that date to the 12th century. The altarpiece was stolen in 1979 by the infamous art thief Eric “the Belgian.” Over the next few years, most of the pieces were recovered and the altarpiece was restored and reinstalled in 1991.

Primary sources: Perales Díaz, José Antonio. Teodosio (o Theodosio) de Goñi. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Theodosius of Goñi – Teodosio de Goñi,; Sanctuary of St. Michael of Aralar, Kingdom of Navarre.

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