America Media is going on an Ignatian pilgrimage to Spain, from Nov. 1 to 10, with Editor in Chief Matt Malone, S.J., and Senior Editor Ed Schmidt, S.J., as our guides. They’ll walk in the footsteps of St. Ignatius and visit Loyola, Aranzazu, Xavier, Manressa, Montserrat and Barcelona, seeking to find God in all things.
Here Edward W. Schmidt, S.J. offers a reflection from Arantzazu. Visit our special pilgrimage web site to follow their trip, watch videos, and submit prayer requests.
The Franciscan Sanctuary of Our Lady of Arantzazu is located in Oñati, in the province of Guipuzcoa, Basque Country, Spain. The people of Gipuzkoa are devoted to this shrine and its image of the Virgin Mary. Under this title she is a patron of the province, as is also St. Ignatius.
The location enjoys the peaceful atmosphere of the Aizkorri mountain range along with good roads, so the shrine receives frequent visits from local devotees and foreign tourists. At this site, according to very old legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd, Rodrigo de Balanzategui, in 1468. According to this legend, the figure of Mary was in a thorn bush, and Rodrigo cried out, “Arantzan zu?!” (Thou, among the thorns?!). This gave rise to the place’s name. An explanation of the word origin is that it stems from a combination of arantza and zu, ‘place abounding in hawthorn.’ Thus Mary is often referred to here as Our Lady of the Thorns.
Ignatius, resolved to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, set out from Loyola with his brother Pero Lopez, who was a companion of his youthful misadventures; Pero, now a priest, was going to visit their sister in Oñate. Ignatius persuaded him to spend the night in vigil at the shrine. They would never be together again. Ignatius had been deeply affected with devotion to Mary during his convalescence; either during his vigil at the shrine here or soon after, along the road to Montserrat, he made a vow of chastity. In a letter to Francis Borgia 1554, Ignatius referred to this night vigil as a time of great grace for strengthening his resolve on this journey.