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The Sanctuary of Estíbaliz
The sanctuary of Estíbaliz, located just ten kilometres away from Vitoria-Gasteiz, represents one of the most emblematic places with the longest tradition in the whole Álava. Despite the fact that the Virgin of Estíbaliz has officially been the patron saint of Álava since 1941, her devotion is traceable since the Middle Ages. Throughout its history, the enclave has had different uses and functions: it has been a tenement with a fortress that today no longer exists, it was conceived as a monastery, it had a hospital for pilgrims and travellers of the Way of Saint James, it was a hermitage of great devotion and, in its years of decline, back in the 19th century, it became an agricultural warehouse and private house of a resident of the area. Despite all the vicissitudes of time, the sanctuary of Estíbaliz continues being a reference site for all the alavaise people and one of the Romanesque jewels of the Basque Country.
The basilica of Santa María de Estíbaliz
Despite the intense restorations that the temple went throughout the 20th century, it still preserves most of the medieval elements. For example, the west facade, current access to the church, was moved and rebuilt again six metres away from its original place to expand the church space during the 1927 restoration, but the materials that it is composed of and the design were mainly maintained. We can observe the sobriety that this facade shows and that contrasts with the decorative profusion of the south facade, called Puerta Speciosa.
The “portada Speciosa”
This facade is named after an ancient psalm that was sung to the Virgin before entering the interior of the church during the pilgrimages. The sculptural quality of the workshops that carried out this facade is astonishing. The column shafts are composed of a basket pattern and a reticle with flowers and dots, and on the capitals we see different vegetable themes among which some figurative element appears. On the doorjambs, somewhat damaged by the passing of time, a series of vegetable rinceaux can still be guessed, which, in the case of the right doorjamb, accommodates a series of characters on uncomfortable and impossible positions. At the top of both doorjambs two characters stand out: a possible prophet, sometimes identified as Saint John the Baptist, and a Christ Pantocrator or Christ of the Last Judgement who is judging humanity after his Second Coming.
There are a number of elements on the main facade of Estíbaliz that, given its location and style, reveal that they have been placed there at a later date. Among the most interesting remains we find an Annunciation, with the angel Gabriel and the Virgin placed on a wavy surface between columns. Behind this scene, we can see various incongruous elements on the corner, like a scene with two women raising their skirts, a capital with acanthus leaves and a beautiful representation of a centaur throwing an arrow and piercing a harpy with it. On the other side of the facade, on the corner, there is also an Atlas holding a capital with great effort.
Estíbaliz preserves a truly interesting set of corbels, although some of them are difficult to interpret due to the erosion. Over the Puerta Speciosa we find a line of corbels with representations of human faces, geometrical elements and a wolf. Most notable on this set is a hideous image with sharp teeth that shares the corbel with a male head with a moustache. The corbel that holds one of the small columns of the bell gable deserves special mention, in which we can see a round head on which an enormous serrated smile stands out. On the apses, most of the corbels are plain, except for the central one, in which we see a series of representations of animals, both fantastic and real, among which a capital with the figure of a siren used as a bracket stands out.
De las fotografías actuales: © Alava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba
De las fotografías antiguas: Archivo Municipal de Vitoria-Gasteiz.