Hondarribia is the starting point for the northern route of St. James’s Way, which travels right across the Cantabrian coast.
We can travel along the Way to Compostela as it passes through Hondarribia. The path arrives at the La Marina neighbourhood, where there used to be a church dedicated to Magdalene. The fishermen lived around it. The city’s old parish church was closed to worshippers and put up for sale. A housing block was built in its place. The structure of the current church is similar to that of the primitive one.
Through txakoli vineyards
The path continues up to Madalengain, a toponym that refers to the church of La Magdalena. On the path to Saindua the Masti house was located, an important producer of txakoli wine that was even exported. Then we reach Saindua, whose name indicates that this sacred location is very old. The chapel is a small stone building with a large barred door through which the interior is visible.
A farmhouse called Botika
The path continues towards a farmhouse called Botika. The meaning of this word is ‘merchant’s shop, deposit or point of sale’. In this case, somewhere for pilgrims to get provisions. A few metres further up, the Galtzaraburu farmhouse and then, Santiagotxo.
La Lonja, a mooring spot
It can also be approached from the south. The fortified city was practically an island, surrounded by the huge estuary. The buildings located between the chapel of Santa Engracia and the Convent of the Capuchins, built under the mountain, form a neighbourhood called Costa. The water reached as far as there and the current cultivated plots are reclaimed marshland. Boats went up to Costa, to Santa Engracia, the popular name for the small temple dedicated to Ntra. Sra. de la Gracia. Tides and river currents created a sandbank on the eastern side that was called El Puntal. That also became a mooring spot.
The Cross of San Marcos
A cross disappeared from the La Lonja neighbourhood, after being placed elsewhere. The cross was known as the Cross of San Marcos because the day of the saint’s celebration, 25 April, the clergy used to walk in procession, singing the litanies, to bless the fields. Children and youths took cakes given to them by their godmothers, who had to fulfil the tradition until their godson was married, to have them blessed too. That stone cross that had ‒and still has‒ a crucifix on one side and a statue of the Virgin on the other, was paid for in 1604 by the incumbent archpriest of Hondarribia, Juan Ochoa de Alcachoa, to be placed beside Casa Lonja in the field behind. From the El Puntal quay to Santa Engracia, there was nothing but sea. A large dyke was built to cross over and to retain the sea water which was used to move a mill.
The path still in use
Beside the mill was the chapel of Santa Engracia, which is not really its name nor is it presided over by a saint, but by the Virgin Mary. Its official name is Nuestra Señora de la Gracia. The old path is visible right there. To the right of the chapel there is a stone stairway that rises behind and above the small church, leading walkers to a section of path. This path runs beside the Zuloaga Haundi palace. It was the country estate of one of Hondarribia’s most powerful families: The Zuloagas. They also had a home on Calle Mayor, a building that now houses the archive and municipal library.
One of the festivities with the deepest roots is the delivery of the Kutxa (chest). It is a ritual that the Fishermen’s Guild has to perform. Every year they climb to the parish church to report on its management and activities. As documents used to be stored in chests, the chest had to be carried to the church. A fisherman’s daughter carries it on her head. After approving the accounts the guild’s new managers are sworn in. This happens on 25 July, the festivity of Santiago Apóstol.
Monitoring fake pilgrims
Relations between the kingdoms of Spain and France were not good back in the 15th century. Therefore, there was the need to watch the crossing at the Bidasoa river to prevent Frenchmen, disguised as pilgrims, from crossing over. This was ordered by queen Isabella the Catholic.
Chapel of Santiagotxo
Resuming the path, the chapel of Santiagotxo is nearby. Before reaching it, the farmhouse on the right is worth mentioning. Today it is a picnic area. It used to be the home of the crossbow maker. Thus its name, Ballestania (from ‘ballesta’, ‘crossbow’ in Spanish). The farmhouse is very old; although it has been extensively refurbished we can still see a Gothic window that tells us of its distant past. Right there, in Ballestania, you can ask for the key to access the chapel of Santiago. It can also be seen from the outside. This chapel is popularly known as Santiagotxo, in its diminutive form, because of its small size. We are now in the Arkolla neighbourhood. The inhabitants of the farmhouses that make up the neighbourhood are very devoted to the saint of this chapel where mass is held every Sunday and festive holiday of the year.
The stolen statue
Inside there used to be a statue of Santiago Peregrino (St. James the Pilgrim). It was called Santiago Beltz because it was entirely black (‘beltz’ is Basque for ‘black’). They say it was made of applewood. It had always presided over the altar until a generous family gave the chapel a new statue representing Santiago. But nineteen years later, in the early hours of Friday 15 December 1978, the statue was stolen after forcing the door open. It was never seen again. Thanks to the fact that there were photographs of the statue, one of them was enlarged and framed, and it now presides over the small altar.
The strange name of Ipiztiku
Now the idea is to climb halfway up Jaizkibel, to an imaginary straight line linking Guadalupe and Gaintxurizketa. There is a path there. The walker following it will realise that back in time it used to be a road, and will see that there are still sections where stones laid by the hand of man still remain. Go behind and above the Esteutz and Arrutela farmhouses, to continue by the Alarguntza farmouse and Larrako, at the boundary with Lezo. The mid-height path is reached easily. There are several ways to do it. One is going up to Guadalupe and following it from there. The area around the Sanctuary has always been a gathering place. From Santiagotxo to Guadalupe you climb the path that runs beside the Mugarri, Martintxenea and Sanzigarrenea farmhouses. From here you can also reach the upper path. This is done by passing by a farmhouse that indeed has an enigmatic name: Ipiztiku, which means ‘bishop’.
Cross of San Marcos
Sanctuary of Guadalupe
Chapel of Santa Engracia