Sanctuary of Begoña. Art and faith.
Dear visitor, welcome to Bilbao and to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Begoña, patron saint of Bilbao and Biscay. This temple was built thanks to the deep faith and great devotion of the people of this noble town to their mother (In Basque: Amatxu). For centuries it has been visited by the people of Biscay and by countless travellers and pilgrims in search of moments of peace, recollection and prayer.
Enter the temple through the door on your right. Inside you can see the temple built on the remains of the previous buildings. The current structure is in the Gothic style with three naves divided into six sections. Being a building of great architectural robustness, natural light is insufficient, due to the small size of its windows. However, these have some interesting and colourful stained glass windows where you can distinguish, among others, the four evangelists, Saint Dominic de Guzmán and Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in the respective heads. We recommend viewing the stained glass windows from the opposite side during your tour of the temple.
In 1908 the Sanctuary of Begoña was elevated to the category of Minor Basilica, that is, it is attached to Saint John Lateran, one of the four major Basilicas located in the city of Rome. For this reason, as in all Catholic Basilicas, a plenary indulgence can be obtained.
When entering the temple, you may have noticed the commemorative plaque on the main portal that remembers it. It is above the allegorical figure of prudence that seems to hold her. On both sides you can see two medallions with the faces of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, while in the upper part, under the figure of God-Father, there is a relief of the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and earth. To the left of it, you can see the allegorical figures of Faith and Charity and, to the right of it, deteriorated by the time, Justice and Fortress. If you haven’t already, take a look at these curious details when leaving the temple.
“God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die”
Saint John 3, 16
We begin the visit by the right nave or nave of the Epistle. On its side wall we can see “The descent in procession” that commemorates the Amatxu’s processional descent to Bilbao on the occasion of the morbid cholera epidemic that devastated the country in 1855. From time immemorial the Virgin of Begoña has been present in life of Bilbao caring for and protecting its inhabitants.
An extraordinary Crucified Christ of great devotion among the parishioners is under this canvas. Throughout the Catholic world, the veneration of “Christ Crucified” is very common. The people have always known that the Christian proclamation is anchored on a cross, because in it Jesus freed us from sin and death. The Cross is not understood as a defeat, but as the prelude to the definitive triumph over death that will come with the Resurrection.
“No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit”
Saint John 3, 5
We continue the visit discovering the first four large canvases, from the pictorial series dedicated to Saint Joseph and the Holy Family. They belong to the Murillo’s school and arrived in Biscay in the early seventeenth century from Seville. We can appreciate those corresponding to “The Death of Saint Joseph”, “The Preaching in the Temple” or “Jesus among the doctors”. Among them, we can see the carvings of the patrons of Biscay, Saint Valentine of Berriotxoa, a Dominican native of Elorrio who was martyred in Vietnam in 1861, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the “Company of Jesus”. In the next painting we see the curious scene of “The Holy Family and Saint John the Child”. “The Flight into Egypt” and the carving of Saint John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ and one of the most fascinating figures in the Gospel are at the head of this nave. At its feet is an imposing baptismal font from the late 18th century made of marble of Ereño. Baptism is the foundation of all Christian life; it is the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door that opens access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and regenerated as children of God, becoming members of Christ and incorporated into his Church.
We continue to the apse of the temple. Before the stairs that go up to the main altar is the old and simple tomb of the patrons of the sanctuary.
To calmly contemplate the main altarpiece, we invite you to sit on the front benches. Once there, you can look at the altar made of a single piece of Carrara marble that is partially polychrome and with the crowned anagram of the Virgin. The altarpiece is a neoclassical work in the Elizabethan style with golden polychrome made in 1869. It has three streets separated by four imposing columns and structured in a high bench, body and attic. Presiding over the altarpiece we can contemplate the Gothic carving of the Our Lady of Begoña (Begoñako Andra Maria). It is a beautiful carving from the early 14th century made of polychrome wood. The carvings of her husband Saint Joseph with the child and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, -both from the 19th century- escort the Mother of God. In the attic, the figure of a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, crowns the whole, while two huge angels seem to guard it.
Legend has it that the image of the Virgin appeared on an oak on the hill of Artagan, where the sanctuary is located. Since then, countless believers visit this sanctuary; especially, on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary and on October 11, the feast of Our Lady of Begoña, popularly known as the “Day of the Amatxu”. Both days there are massive pilgrimages, full of devotion, that come from all over Biscay. In those days, the image of the Virgin wears a beautiful white cape. Less common is the celestial cape that she wears during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception or the garnet in the Feast of Pentecost. If your visit does not coincide with these festivities, you can see the capes in the image.
“I am the Lord's servant. May it happen to me as you have said”
Saint Luke 1, 38
Before continuing your visit, turn your gaze to the choir at the back of the temple, where you can see the lavish organ that has accompanied the life of the sanctuary since 1884. In a romantic style, it was made in Paris by Cavaillé-Coll, one of the most renowned organ builders in history.
After this stop, we continue the visit by going to the nave of the Gospel. At its head you can see the tabernacle, a late-Gothic work in the Hispano-Flemish style from the early sixteenth century made of stone with a semi-circular wrought-iron door from the parish of Nabarniz. The greatest treasure that we can find in this temple, the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle, is in this place.
The living Christ has saved and redeemed us; he has freely given us eternal life and is always by our side.
“Everything is a free gift from God and his love for us”
At the head of the nave we discover “The Nativity of Mary” and, on the side wall, “The Dream of Joseph -Conception of Mary-”, “Adoration of the shepherds”, “Epiphany of Our Lord” and “The Dream of Joseph -Killing of the innocents-”. These works complete the pictorial series of nine splendid paintings. In the last section we see the large canvas corresponding to the “Canonical Coronation of Our Lady of Begoña”, an act that took place on September 8, 1900, in which the liturgical vestments used for such an important celebration can be distinguished.
Finally, after the visit to the sanctuary where we have combined art and faith and before leaving the temple, we invite you to have a moment of recollection and prayer, to sit in silence before the welcoming presence of the Amatxu of Begoña, in whose honour this temple was erected, and to meditate on his life of dedication and gratitude, or to praise and glorify the Lord in his presence in the Tabernacle.
We put at your disposal some prayers that can help you in these moments of internalization and various links to learn more about the history of the sanctuary and the lives of the saints.
+ The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1, 26-38
One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David.
The angel greeted Mary and said, “You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant.
Then the angel told Mary, “Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen? I am not married!”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. Nothing is impossible for God!”
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”
And the angel left her.
This is the gospel of the Lord.
Consecration to the Virgin of Begoña
O Virgin of Begoña, Our Lady and Mother!
I offer myself completely to You;
and as proof of my filial affection I consecrate you on this day
my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my heart,
in a word, my whole being.
Because I am all yours, O Mother of Goodness!
Keep me and defend me as your thing and possession.