The Adventures of Berrio-Otxoa
On this trail you will be walking in the steps of Elorrio’s
best-known son. The route takes in the Philippines and Vietnam, with six exciting stopping points.
Have a good trip round the world!
Casa en que nació
The house of his birth –the Arriola mansion
Basilica of La Purísima Concepción
The Berrio-Otxoa Museum
The Pelota Court
The house of his birth – the Arriola mansion
In the town square in Elorrio.
Saint Valentine Berrio-Otxoa was born on 14 February 1827 in this mansion house, which is now the tourist information office. He was christened at the parish church with the name Valentín Faustino de Berrio-Otxoa y Aristi.
The Baroque style mansion dates from the 17th century, and was commissioned by Juan Otxoa de Arriola. His family coat of arms can be seen on the overhanging balcony with its unusual wrought iron railings.
The inscription on the first floor balcony translates as follows: “Valentine Berrio-Otxoa was born in this house on 14 February 1827”. The distinguishing features of the building are its sombre design and high standard of construction.
His family home
This is the house where Berrio-Otxoa lived with his parents Juan Isidro de Berrio-Otxoa (1801, Elorrio) and María Mónica Arizti (1797, Antzuola, Gipuzkoa). They were a humble family who made their living from carpentry.
At the age of 18 he entered the seminary in Logroño, but was forced to set aside his studies and return to Elorrio to help provide for his family. With the help of his friends he later managed to return to the seminary and was ordained as a priest in 1851. He was subsequently sent to the missions in Asia, first to the Philippines and then on to Vietnam.
At that time King Tu-Duc was engaged in a bloody persecution of Christian missionaries, who were forced to hide out in caves and huts. The King believed that they were conniving to help European governments to occupy and colonise his kingdom.
Basilica of La Purísima Concepción
En la Plaza de Elorrio.
The Basilica in Elorrio is the biggest in Bizkaia. It stands out for the fine quality of its construction and its impressive interior furnishing. Building work on this 29 m high gem of late Gothic architecture began in 1464 and took over 200 years. The magnificent bell tower is a replica of the La Giralda tower in Seville. It was built with the aid of donations from devoted townspeople. But now it is time to continue the tour.
The mausoleum altar
It is worth taking a detailed look at this altar, which was erected in 1906 on the occasion of the beatification of the town’s favourite son: Berrio-Otxoa. As you can see, its style is more modern and oriental in inspiration, and completely different from the rest of the furnishings in the Basilica. The mosaic on the altar represents the death of Berrio-Otxoa during his missionary work. He is depicted as held in a tiny, individual cage where there was only room for him to crouch. He was killed along with other missionaries in Vietnam after refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
On June 7, 1886 his body was brought back to Barcelona, where many people from Bizkaia awaited him, including Sabino de Arana, the founder of the Basque Nationalist Party, who had this inscription drawn up: "Berrio-Otxoa Barzelona'ko Euzkaldunak. 1886'garren urtean Bagillan" [“Berrio-Otxoa. Basques in Barcelona. July 1886”]. From there he was brought back to Elorrio, where he was welcomed with a celebration in which the whole of Bizkaia was represented. His remains currently lie in the central area of this altar.
If you walk around to the rear of the church you will see a monolith.
This bronze monument was made by José Luis Valenciaga, to a design by Matilde Roca de Togores.
It was erected in 1988 following the urbanisation of the area behind the church, and commemorates the canonisation of Berrio-Otxoa.
Learn more details about the BASILICA OF LA PURÍSIMA CONCEPCIÓN
Letters to his mother
While he was away from his home and family Berrio-Otxoa corresponded frequently with his mother in Basque. This correspondence is a valuable source of written documents in Basque dating from 1840, showing local features indicative of how the language was spoken in Elorrio at that time. One of his letters can be seen framed on the wall to one side of the altarpiece.
His letters reveal that he had his own peculiar sense of humour: he tells his mother that he lived in a “magnificent palace” with a straw roof, earthen walls and cane doors.
Convent of Santa Ana
Elizburu kalea, 4
From the age of 10, Berrio-Otxoa spent five years as an altar boy for the nuns of the convent of Santa Ana.
The convent complex was built in 1699 and originally comprised a church, the convent per se, classrooms where Greek and Latin was taught (Berrio-Otxoa studied here) and a house for the chaplains, the ground floor of which now houses the Berrio-Otxoa Museum.
The cloistered Dominican nuns who now occupy the convent specialise in sweet baking. Don’t miss the chance to try their macaroons, known as mostachones. If you pull the bell cord hanging from the ceiling they will respond by saying "Ave María Purísima" [“Hail purest Mary”], to which you should answer "Sin pecado concebida" [“Conceived without sin”].
They will be delighted to sell you some of their delicious baking, which includes not just mostachones but also numerous other types of cake. They have been sweetening palates here for more than 30 years.
Take a look at the statue in front of the convent, which represents Saint Valentine Berrio-Otxoa himself. It was made by Alberto Foraster in 1991 to commemorate the saint’s canonisation in 1988.
For more information about the sweet bakery products sold by the nuns of Santa Ana, click here.
The Berrio-Otxoa Museum
The museum dedicated to Saint Valentine Berrio-Otxoa is housed in one of the buildings of the convent complex. It features a unique collection of objects and documents connected to his life.
It was opened in its current location in 2003, and shows the life of the saint in his early years in Elorrio with his family and his training at the seminary in Logroño and his later life when he was sent to the Philippines and on missionary work in Tonkin (Vietnam), where he was martyred in 1862. His remains were subsequently brought back to Bizkaia.
The visit concludes with information panels on the process of his beatification and canonisation.
The tour is illustrated with documents, photographs, maps, texts in his own hand, paintings, silverwork and textiles as well as various belongings directly related to the life and work of Saint Valentine Berrio-Otxoa, who is also the joint patron saint of Bizkaia.
Address: Elizburu nº 4 - 48230. ELORRIO
Tel. nº: 946 82 04 55 / 629 65 34 18
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 - 13:00 and 16:00 - 18:00
For guided tours book ahead by telephone.
The Pelota Court
Saint Valentine Berrio-Otxoa loved the Basque sport of pelota, especially its bare-handed version, known in Basque as eskupilota.
As a child he played the game at the old pelota court in Elorrio, on the site where three fine arches now stand. In spite of appearances, these arches are not actually part of the old defensive wall.
A new pelota court was built in 1933. The sport was hugely popular in the town, and Hilario Azkarate, Felipe Lejarazu and José Antonio Álvarez, all of whom were born around that year and lived on Errekakalea, grew up to be champions in the various leagues and categories.