THE ROUTE OF THE WAYSIDE CROSSES
THE WAYSIDE CROSSES OF ELORRIO
Elorrio has nine wayside marker crosses, all of them date from the 16th century and reflect the different periods of the Renaissance style, except for the Kurutziaga cross, which is Late Gothic.
The Kurutzebarri, Kurutzondo, Ganondo and Txanberi crosses stand on roads that lead out of the town, and mark the “frontier” between the urban and rural areas. The Santa Ana, Kurutziaga and San Juan crosses were originally erected on outlying land, but that land has been absorbed into the urban area of the town.
These marker crosses may have been used on occasions as reference points for establishing a cordon sanitaire in case of epidemics, but their first and foremost use was as devotional images to which travellers could pray for blessings on leaving the protection of the town walls.
Records concerning the precarious condition of these crosses, which are exposed to the full force of the weather, can be found dating back at least to the 18th century. Some descriptions say that in the case of Kurutzebarri, the cross on top of the column was lost altogether, though part of it was recovered in an action taken in 1957. Work was done on all the crosses in 1983 and 1984. Further restoration work was carried out between 2009 and 2016 to consolidate, clean and conserve them.
A unique group
The wayside crosses of Elorrio are the biggest group that survives in the Basque Country. They account for ten per cent of all the crosses of which records exist in the region. They are not as ornate as some of those found in Brittany or as numerous as those in Galicia, but for the most part they are older than either of the other groups. Some of them such as the Kurutziaga, Santa Ana and Iguria crosses, are also of outstanding quality. Their unbroken history makes them an exceptional group, and the theme for an interesting tour featuring developments in sculpture in the 16th century.
The Kurutziaga cross
Tha Santa Ana cross
The Kurutzebarri cross
The Ganando cross
The Santa Elena cross
The Iguria cross
The San Juan cross
The Txanberi cross
The Kurutzondo cross
THE KURUTZIAGA CROSS
This cross stands in the outlying area of Suso, on a column decorated with patterns depicting vines interspersed with birds and monsters, symbolising the struggle between good and evil. The inscription on the base of the capital reads “Esta obra ma[n]do hazer Ju[a]n[e]s de Elgueta que sancta gl[or]ia aya. Hizo el año de milldXXll”, which means “This work was made by order of Juanes de Elgueta, may God hold him in His glory. Made in the year 1522”. The cross features numerous niches containing figures of interceding saints: St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. John the Baptist, St. Marina, St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. James the Pilgrim.
On the front face of the cross is a figure of the dying Christ crucified, wearing a thick crown of thorns and dressed in a short loincloth. On the back the Virgin Mary holds the Christ Child on her hip, tenderly stroking his foot.
THE SANTA ANA CROSS
This cross stands opposite the convent of the same name. It has a fluted column which has been renovated more than once, and a splendid circular capital bearing figures of the four gospel writers (St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John) accompanied by the elder saints of the Latin church (St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose).
The inscription below the capital (…obra hizo Juan Miguel de Ossa, año de…, which translates as “…made by Juan Miguel de Ossa, in the year…”) is incomplete, so the date of its construction is unknown. However, the expressive dynamic style of the carvings, suggests that it dates from around 1550.
The anatomy of the crucified Christ depicted on the front is more powerful and less stiff than on the Kurutziaga cross, and on the back is a dramatic figure of Mary holding the body of Jesus.
THE KURUTZEBARRI CROSS
This cross stands beside the road to the church of San Agustín. It is in very poor condition: both the figure of the crucified Christ and the Pietà have lost their heads and part of their limbs, though a cherub survives at the base.
Its style is similar to the cross of Santa Ana, but it stands on a monumental base decorated with drapes, scalloped niches and winged cherub heads. These elements are typical of the early Renaissance period, around 1550.
THE GANONDO CROSS
This simple cross with its plain column stands beside the road to the chapel at Argiñeta. The figure of Christ is a replica of the original, and dates from the restoration carried out in 1984. The figure’s hips are tilted towards the left, where the loincloth is tied in a large knot. It stands on a capital decorated on all four sides with beautiful plump-faced cherub heads with small wings, a motif typical of the early Renaissance style. It is thought to date from between 1540 and 1560.
THE SANTA ELENA CROSS
The Santa Elena cross stands behind the cemetery. The column is finished in a capital decorated with the Tetramorph, i.e. the symbols of the four gospel writers (the eagle of St. John, the angel of St. Matthew, the bull of St. Luke and the lion of St. Mark) together with strips where their names would have been placed. The figure of the angel is strikingly dynamic.
The crucified Christ is in a position similar to that of the Santa Ana cross, but has a loincloth knotted after the fashion of that of the Ganondo cross. It dates from around 1560.
THE IGURIA CROSS
This cross stands by the link-road to the by-pass running towards the hilltop of Kanpazar. It has large volutes on its arms and a hexagonal capital on which there are figures of the four gospel writers bearing books, quills or phylacteries, along with depictions of St. Paul holding a great sword and St. Peter, apparently holding a large key, though the figure is badly damaged.
The crucified Christ is depicted as powerfully-built, dressed in a loincloth with folds that look highly flexible. The posture of the figure is one of dejection, unlike the vigorous figure of Jesus cradled by Mary on the other side of the cross. It is thought to date from 1550-1560.
THE SAN JUAN CROSS
This cross was erected in the outlying district of San Juan or Saldosin. It features a plain column topped by a sober Tuscan-style capital.
The powerful anatomy of the crucified Christ, the twisted shoulders, the over-large hands and the thickness of the loincloth are all features of the Romanist style, typical of the second period of the Renaissance. The same style can be found in the figures on the rear: a short-bodied Mary and a stocky, curly-haired Christ Child, all dating from around 1560-1570.
THE TXANBERI CROSS
This cross can be seen to the left of the road towards Elgeta. By the turn of the 20th century it had lost much of its cubic capital, which was much like that of the Kurutzondo cross. The figures on the rear of Mary cradling the Christ Child are also badly damaged. As on other crosses, the figure of the crucified Christ has its right knee set forward and its head tilted to the right. Its expression is one of fatigue. The loincloth is tied with a finely-detailed knot on the left hip. It dates from around 1570.
THE KURUTZONDO CROSS
This cross, which stands beside the road out of the town towards Berriz, is the only one that currently lacks any figures. The plain column is topped by a fine Ionic style capital decorated with spiral volutes with baluster sides, decorated with acanthus leaves. By contrast, the cubic cross-base features rough bas-reliefs of the gospel writers seated at desks, accompanied by their symbolic attributes. It probably dates from around 1570.
Photo: Santi Yaniz Aramendia
Written by: Jesús Muñiz Petralanda