The Gothic Church of Santa Maria
Church of Santa Maria
The oldest building in Gernika, witness to more than 5 centuries of history.
The first reference to the elizate or parish of Lumo dates back in time to the 11th century. In actual fact, it refers to three temples:
- San Pedro de Luno
- The church of Our Lady of Antigua, today the Assembly House, and
- Another church, not the old one, which we believe refers to the Church of Santa María.
Hence, we can affirm that there was a temple in the upper part of Gernika in the 11th century.
The church of Santa Maria de Gernika is strategically located in a prime setting at the top of the town, surrounded by the Assembly House and the Euskal Herria Museum (the Montefuerte Palace).
Built in Gothic style, the temple began to rise in the 15th century but due to its long and eventful history, it has ended up with a variety of styles that can be appreciated both inside and outside the church.
Just a few metres away from the Gernika Assembly House, on a steep slope that once marked the boundary between the urban area of the Chartered Town and the jurisdiction of the elizate or parish of Lumo, stands the Church of Santa María. Work began on the temple in the mid-15th century, following the prevailing Gothic model, but a century later the “Hallenkirche” or Hall Church system was adopted. Its blend of styles (Gothic on the façade, Renaissance in the interior) is one of the church’s most characteristic features.
Work on the church continued for another century: it was finally completed around 1660. The choir, respectfully executed in the Renaissance style, dates from this date, as do the contours of the last vaults to be added, the work of stonemason Antonio Ortiz de la Colina.
From the outside, Santa María de Gernika looms as an enormous and inscrutable compact volume, an immense mass of carved stone and masonry. Its great roof encloses an ample space arranged in three naves divided into five sections, ending in polygonal apses. Apses and naves soar to the heights and are adorned by ribbed vaults in the Gothic style - stellated in the first section and simple in the rest - supported by the walls and by eight imposing classical columns of the Ionic order, quite possibly the most beautiful to be found anywhere in Vizcaya.
The noble, north-facing façade is modulated by magnificent arches that connect the buttresses on that side. Gazing upwards, the axis is dominated by a large three-eyed Baroque bell gable which dates back to 1775, whilst at floor level, we behold the portal with its two pointed entrance arches separated by a mullion. All this is inscribed in a classic structure of jambs and splayed archivolts, enriched with carved images of saints. Although the tympanum may appear to be empty, it does in fact contain a text that is relevant to the biography of the building:
“Myll et cccc et IXL años Sanch / o de enparan”
According to this inscription, the master builder in 1449 was Sancho de Emparan. Inside the temple, the covered hall and columns, the choir at one end that spans the three naves, and the hallway recessed into the walls of the three chambers of the chancel inspire a sense of grandeur.
The church does not currently contain furniture of any note. It does however house several Rococo images recovered from one of its former altarpieces and, in the first chapel, there is an unembellished Baroque altarpiece, an interesting work by Juan de Azcúnaga, a master from Forua.
Before mass: 6:15 - 7 p.m.
Mass hours: Monday to Saturday at 7 p.m.
Sundays: 12:30 p.m.
Visit the interior of the Church of Santa María
The church of Santa Maria and the bombardment
Although the church of Santa María was not destroyed during the bombing of Gernika in April 1937, one of its chapels was however severely damaged and the sacristy burned down, resulting in the loss of numerous historically important documents.
It is located in the vicinity of the Assembly House, within the urban area of Gernika.