davFrom the 17th century onwards, farmhouses with stone arch porches began to be built

This technical advance enabled the farmhouses to gain height without their stability being adversely affected. Timber, so widespread in the buildings of the Middle Ages and at the start of the Early Modern Period, gradually gave way to stone.

This made it possible to gradually occupy the upper floor as living quarters halfway through the 18th century onwards. As time passed, some of these arches were walled up to be able to extend the quarters.

Zumarraga is shaped as an urban centre

At the end of the 15th century, the inhabitants of Zumarraga began to occupy new spaces. The population had grown and new resources for living were sought. That way a new population centre, the urban one, was to take shape.

Zumarraga had four rural neighbourhoods: They were called Soraitz, Aranburu, Leturia and Elgarresta. Each of them was, in turn, made up of scattered farmhouses. La Antigua was in Soraitz.

The Eizaga neighbourhood was halfway between La Antigua and the river Urola. Unlike the other neighbourhoods, it consisted of a set of houses grouped together.

The urban centre was given the name of street, a name used for centres that were located around a road.

The urban centre was located between the neighbourhood of Eizaga and the Urola river and included today’s streets of Kalebarren, parallel with the river, Piedad, Bidezar and Elizkale.

According to a report made on 12 April 1543, the inhabitants of Zumarraga had 220 houses and caserías, the name given to the farmhouses.

Zumarraga rebuilt its bridges and roads

Various streams that flowed into the Urola river criss-crossed the town of Zumarraga. Bridges that were originally wooden ones were built so that the streams could be crossed.

These bridges fell into continual disrepair owing to the climate and the constant coming and going of people and goods. To ensure they could be crossed they were built of stone.

Documents of that time confirm the existence of six bridges: those of Zubiaurre, Bustinza, Huegón, Echeberria de Lizarazu, Zubiberria and Matxain.

As time passed the means of transport changed. The animals on which the goods were loaded were replaced by carts of increasing complexity.

Bridges and roads had to adapt to the changes in transport. In the 18th century, it was necessary to establish the so-called the Royal Coach Road, a road suited to four-wheeled carts and carriages that departed from Madrid and headed to Irun.

On its way through Zumarraga this road led to the levelling of land and the widening of the Thoroughfares, measures necessary to enable the new carriages to travel along them.

davThe farmhouses also reflect the craft tradition

Timber was a material very commonly used in the architecture of the farmhouses. It was used not only to close the outer façade but also to separate the different quarters from each other inside the house. To join panels to each other, the same technique as in the choir of Santa Maria was used: the tongue and groove joint.

In Zumarraga today there are about 65 farms spread across the four neighbourhoods that make up the town. Some of them are veritable archives of past building techniques. Depending on the type of technique used, one can speak of one type of farm or another.

Many ancient farms in Gipuzkoa combined stone and timber on their façades. While the ground floor was built of stone, the first floor was built of timber.

Others were built using a timber-based façade with the gaps between them being filled with stone, mortar and lime.

The ground floor could be shared between people and animals, while the upper floor was only inhabited by people.

These rural buildings changed as the centuries passed.

The production needs at each moment and the quest for greater comfort meant that changes had to be incorporated into these buildings.

The first floor of the farms was the granary of the home. It was here that the products harvested by the farmers used to be stored.

Timber was not only a cost-effective solution, it was a material that helped to ventilate the storage area.

Wheat was the staple food. Apples were used to make a natural beverage, cider. In the 17th century, maize, also known as Indian corn, began to be consumed.

davWood craftsmen had extensive technical know-how

Once the tree had been felled, the timber had to be prepared in the desired shape and size.

Braces were designed to join the timbers that formed the roof.

The braces had a clear functional purpose: to fix the roof in place and support the structure of the choir.

They also constituted an aesthetic element. The shape acquired by this system of joining the timbers embellished the space.

To join the panels that formed the front of the choir, a technique known by the name of tongue and groove joint was used and which was very widely used in wooden buildings. Not a single metal nail was needed. This technique is used to this day.

The secrets of carpentry

The carpenters carefully selected the trees that had to be felled. They sought maximum quality.

The oaks provided strong beams more than 10 m long.

The quality of the timber not only depended on the tree but also on the moment it was felled.

The idea that the time of year and the moon phase influenced the quality of the timber prevailed among carpenters.

To obtain quality timber, when the trunk was felled it had to contain the minimum possible amount of sap, in other words, that little liquid should be circulating.

When the timber contained little liquid inside it, this caused the fibres to be more tightly packed, thus preventing a beam from cracking in the future.

Furthermore, the less liquid the timber had, the less likely it was to be attacked by fungi and insects that regard the sap as a succulent food.

The amount of sap circulating through the trunk is not always the same, it depends on the solar energy it receives and the phase of the moon.

The carpenters used to observe the cycle of the tree to obtain long-lasting timber. It was the secret of carpentry.

A dragon inside the church

Many corners of Santa Maria display the art of a past era.

Feminine faces and geometric figures were carved on the wood.

There was also space for painting: A winged dragon, a dog, a pig or bull, and a person holding a hunting horn were drawn although remained unfinished.

This decorative art belonged to a period of transition between the Romanesque and Gothic periods.

davWhen Zumarraga became modernised

From the 16th century onwards, Zumarraga went through a change that was both urban, economic and social. Its inhabitants adapted to the new times, so it "modernised" itself, and it all became reflected on the current heritage of the locality.

The forest enters La Antigua

At the start of the 16th century, the appearance of Santa Maria changed considerably. A choir and a large wooden ceiling were built inside it. This major work reflected a craft tradition, but it is also a sample of the changes taking place in the Christian west.

The choir was built as a space for the priests

It was at this time that when churches were built some spaces were given over to the clergy and were separated from the rest of the congregation, such as the elevated choir.

It was from the choir that liturgical texts were read, it was the place for the choir singers, a perfect view could be obtained, and what was more, more space was created in the churches.

The elevated choir combined functionality with symbology. An image of the clergy was projected through it.

- "So that the priests should not dance, or sing dishonest things, or preach profane things or dress up or go to bullfights".

The conduct of the clergy was beginning to closely resemble that of the lay people. Religious life had become relaxed and ecclesiastical reform needed to be introduced.

- "The priests must not only keep away from evil, but from any suspicion of evil and should set a good example so that their parishioners can properly imitate and follow them".

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain started the reform. A return to spiritual life was pursued and for this purpose the clergy needed to be kept separate from the people.

To maintain a distance between the lifestyles of each, the clergy were watched and dishonest behaviour was condemned.

But something more was done, they were also separated inside the churches. A symbolic image that would mark the difference between clergy and the laity was pursued.

Vaults covered the ceiling

  1. Santa Maria was covered with a large wooden roof. To do this a whole network of beams and panels was built.
  2. The oak trees in the forest provided the necessary raw material. These trees also guaranteed the quality of the timber.
  3. During the second half of the 16th century this huge timber frame was masked by a dome and two vaults, also of timber.
  4. The dome and vault were covered in plaster, which accounts for their white colour. The aim of this was to imitate stone structures.
  5. In the Basque Autonomous Community there are a total of 41 churches that still have wooden vaults. One of them is that of St. Martin of Tours, in neighbouring Urretxu.
  6. The building of timber roofs and vaults was in response to a strong carpentry tradition that had its greatest boom in the 16th century and gradually declined in the 17th.
  7. During this period the so-called dust covers were also built in wood. It was a structure that served to keep the dust off the chancel or presbytery. We have one example in Zumarraga in the chapel of San Cristóbal de Oraa.

davZumarraga traces its outline

Audiovisual sequence

"Scene One"

Hamlet of Zumarraga, Friday 11 December,1383

It was not very far from the house of María de Elgarresta to the meeting place. Accompanied by her maid Gracia, María took the road towards Eizaga.

Along the way she noticed that someone had torn down branches and bark without respecting the custom of felling flush with the trunk and without taking into consideration the time of year when they should be cut. The trees had withered.

Gracia knew that her husband Pedro had participated in that felling. For some time he had become the Lord of Lazcano’s lackey and protégé and that meant collaborating in the acts that he ordered. In exchange, Pedro was assured a salary with which to form a family.

"Scene two"

Eizaga, seat of Urrutia.

The signing of an important document.

Those who had congregated came from the country houses of Soraiz, very close to the parish of Santa María, and from the country houses of Aranburu and Elgarresta. They were important people in Zumarraga and wanted to escape from the domination of the so-called Elders.

  • Are you sure that this will be the solution?
  • I am confident of that. Some hamlets have already done it.
  • I am not prepared to see any more of my cattle stolen.
  • I want to think that with this agreement we can prevent the Lords, like the Lord of Lazcano, from exercising their own justice.

In the crowd, María managed to spot the scribe Juan Pérez de Otalora beginning to compose the document that would be turned into a neighbourhood agreement between the hamlet of Zumarraga and the town of Villarreal de Urrechua.

From that moment onwards, the inhabitants of Zumarraga would be tied to a number of obligations, such as paying certain taxes in Villarreal or submitting themselves to the justice of its mayor. But they would also enjoy a number of advantages such as being residents of a town, and presumably being beyond the control of the Elders.

"Scene three"

63 years later

That neighbourhood agreement failed to put an end to the control of the Elders. The appropriation of goods, the burning of lands and their private justice continued to exist. But apart from exercising this control over the people, the powerful ones fought each other in brutal gang warfare.

For years, Miguel, the son of Gracia and Pedro, had followed in his father’s footsteps.

He had no difficulty being admitted into the entourage of the Lord of Lazcano. Becoming the lackey of a powerful man was practically the only way to survive when someone had no property. And now, despite feeling old and tired, he was keen to take a different path, he had one final service to fulfil: to defend his lord in the battle in which he would fight Ladrón de Balda, the powerful feudal Lord of Azkoitia with aspirations over the territory.

Zumarraga lands, 29 December, 1446

One morning at the end of December, Miguel and the other men summoned by Juan López de Lazcano positioned themselves on the battleground. Beside the Lord of Lazcano was a nobleman from Zumarraga, Pedro de Legazpi. Opposite them the enemy band led by Ladrón de Balda was getting ready.

Juan López de Lazcano emerged victorious after a battle taking several hours. Zumarraga and Villareal de Urrechua remained under his control. The Lord of Balda fled to his tower house in Azkoitia. Miguel had emerged unharmed. Without further ado he could start a new life away from the power of the feudal Lords.

"Scene four"

Villarreal de Urrechua: seeking a future

The years Miguel had spent in the service of the Lord of Lazcano had made him not only a whole host of enemies but prestigious and respected friendships as well.

Juan de Aranburu, an influential cobbler who lived and worked in Villareal, had promised Miguel an income if he worked for him. And he had also promised that he would take on his son Peru as an apprentice, thus ensuring him a future that was different from that of his father and grandfather as lackeys of the Lord of Lazcano.

They set out from Zumarraga, crossed the river at Zubiaurre and passed in front of the Urretxu suburb, an area whose growth was bringing Villarreal closer to Zumarraga.

They went inside the town though one of its four gates.

It was 64 years since John I, King of Castile, had granted the place known as Urretxua a town charter, giving it the name of Villarreal. A title granted through a document known as the municipal charter and which Villarreal jealously guarded.

Miguel arrived at the cobbler’s workshop ready to embark on a new life. The past was left behind and the future would soon be in the hands of his son Peru.

"Scene five"

43 years later, 1489

Zumarraga had grown, it had long stopped being part of its neighbouring Villareal and had signed a new neighbourhood charter with the Grand Borough of Areria, an area inside the lands of Gipuzkoa made up of various settlements. The old rural hamlet was changing. New buildings made up the first urban grouping in Eizaga. The tower houses had lost their warlike appearance ever since they were cut down to size by royal decree.

This situation of growth drove Peru to return to his village. In Villareal he had managed to secure a good economic position as a cobbler which undoubtedly would open the doors of social advancement in Zumarraga.

For some time Zumarraga had been requesting from the king the right to have more priests. This choice was the responsibility of the Lord of Lazcano because since time immemorial the church was regarded as belonging to him. But the house of Lazcano refused to pay for more than two priests. After several years of lawsuits the Royal High Court of Justice ruled in favour of Zumarraga.

"Scene six"

Parish church of Santa María de Zumarraga, Sunday 23 August, 1489

Peru arrived at the church of Santa María early. He was impatient. For the first time the priests due to celebrate mass had not been chosen by the Lord of Lazcano.

The inside of the church was crowded with the faithful. Martín de Gurruchuga, the vicar, began the liturgy. All of a sudden, Bernardino de Lazcano and several armed men entered the church ready to demand their rights.

-I have not chosen Martín de Gurruchaga to say mass! This church belongs to me and I order him to leave forthwith!

The violent behaviour of those armed men caused the members of the congregation and the four priests to leave the church.

- We shall appeal to the King for justice!

Peru remembered the times his father and grandfather had described the robberies and battles they had taken part in on behalf of the Lord of Lazcano. Now in front of him he had Bernardino, the grandson of Juan López de Lazcano, the lord to whom his father had been a lackey.

But now there was no fear of losing one’s goods or being taken prisoner by the Elders. Now Peru, like the rest of the inhabitants of Zumarraga, knew there were mechanisms in place that would curb the use of force. Its inhabitants had the chance to defend themselves by going to the courts of justice. And that is what they did. The agreements and decisions made by the previous generations had not been in vain.

People like María de Elgarresta, Gracia, Pedro, Miguel and, now Peru had collaborated so that, in one way or another, Zumarraga could make its own voice heard. And, in one way or another, they were shaping the new Zumarraga.

davSanta María was owned by lay people: the Lazcanos

During the Middle Ages a church, whether a parish church or not, could belong to the ecclesiastical institution itself, to the monarch, or to any other kind of community, but also to private individuals. It was a privilege known as patronage and the group or person enjoying it was the patron.

The Lord of Lazcano was a man with privileges

Santa María had its patron, Francisco López de Lazcano, a member of the lineage that was later to become hugely important in Gipuzkoa.

Francisco López held the title of Lord of Lazcano, a designation that gave him a certain social importance at that time.

The Lord of Lazcano was the patron not only of Santa María of Zumarraga, but also of the churches of Idiazabal, Lazkao, Mutiloa, Olaberria, Segura, Legazpi and Zaldibia.

The Lord of Lazcano was the person who, for a fixed period of time (four months following a vacancy), used to present to the Bishop the priest appointed to celebrate the masses. He would always choose someone in line with his own interests.

Inside the church the Lord of Lazkano's seat was always in the best place. That is how he displayed his privileged position over the rest of society.

It is not known how many inhabitants there were in Zumarraga at the end of the Middle Ages. According to documentary sources, the population could have been in the region of 1,700 people. But according to some historians, the inhabitants would not in fact have exceeded 700.

Irrespective of the actual size of the population, all the people living in Zumarraga who obtained harvests or who had flocks were obliged to give a tenth part of their produce (the tithe) to the church.

The produce and rents were used to maintain the priests, attend to the liturgy and to look after the building itself.

The document signed by the king was proof of his privileges

In 1366 the Lord of Lazcano obtained the privilege of patron for having served the monarch Henry II during the civil war that ravaged the Kingdom of Castile during that period.

Thanks to the patronage, the Lord of Lazcano secured a number of rights over the church, but also some obligations.

He was entitled to receive the tithes that the parishioners handed over to the church. He was thus assured of a source of income.

Whoever inherited the title of Lord of Lazcano also inherited the patronage of Santa María. This right was passed down from one generation to the next.

davToday's stone bears the imprint of the past

Legend has it that the walls of this church were built using the stones thrown from afar by the "gentiles", giant mythological beings with massive strength. The presence of these fictitious personages helped to explain one of the mysteries of this church: how it came to be built in this location.

La Antigua was built in a strategic spot

As you yourself will have noticed, we are on a high point that looks out onto a broad swathe of land. And it is a fact that Santa Maria La Antigua was built in a strategic location.

It was built of stone. In the Middle Ages this material was reserved for the most important buildings in the community such as the church.

La Antigua has not always been the same size

At first the church must have been smaller than the present one. As time passed, the church was gradually extended until it acquired the appearance it has today. Owing to the type of stone and technique used, as many as seven building periods have been identified.

Different types of stone were used to build it

The type of stone and technique used varied in each building period. Everything depended on the availability of the material and the buying power existing at that moment.

Mostly sandstone and boulders were used in the first church. As the church grew, limestone was used.

The master quarryman was responsible for the works. He was in charge of the gang of workers who went to work and put the stone in place. Cranes, ladders and a varied set of tools were operated by these workers.

To produce a block of stone with the desired shape, the quarrymen used a tool known as a pitching chisel for Santa Maria. This tool used to leave a characteristic series of dots behind on the stone.

davForests had to be exploited in order to survive

The climate in the Urola valley was suited to the development of large forested areas that were used depending on needs.

The timber was necessary for living and working

It was the raw material. It was used as a building material, for manufacturing utensils, weapons, furniture, in an unprocessed state or else turned into charcoal.

At the end of the 15th century, stone began to replace timber in the building of houses. Until that moment only the tower houses were built of stone. The many fires of houses and the lack of timber led to this change.

Timber was used for furniture, domestic utensils, etc. but was also an essential fuel to withstand the damp, cold winters.

Wood was also used to make everyday objects and the agricultural implements essential in rural life.

Deforestation prompted the Crown to devote special interest to preserving the forests

Forest exploitation was regulated mainly from the 16th century onwards owing to deforestation: the Crown forced plantings to be made, and the council controlled growth and regulated the cutting and felling of trees.

The Crown was interested in the iron trade and shipbuilding. It therefore encouraged them by granting privileges to the ironworks and shipyards, which were two industries that consumed timber.

In Zumarraga, one of the main consumers of timber was charcoal, which was produced with numerous precautions and under tough obligations. An ordinance of 1646 prohibited "making charcoal freely".

The building of ships for the Royal Naval Force required large quantities of timber; that was one of the main reasons why the Crown was interested in forestry conservation.

In Zumarraga nearly all the wooded land was municipal property. The Town Council used to distribute plots of forested land among the farmers for their own use with a number of conditions.

The forests could be open (common lands), belong to the council, be communal (of the Town Council) or crown lands (of the King) or private (the smallest number). They were a huge source of resources.

The forest wardens, appointed by the council tried to ensure compliance with the forestry regulations. In Zumarraga they had to inspect the forests at least once every three months and report on any offences or defects that may have occurred. The position was renewed every year.

The council received income from the communal forests from the sale of timber and firewood but also from the leasing of chestnuts, acorns and walnuts.

Grazing animals posed a threat for the growth of the forest: they eat seedlings and new leaves or strip trees of their bark leaving them lifeless.

Various prevention methods were implemented to guarantee the conservation of the forest and the interests of shepherds and farmers. In 1457 an Ordinance on pastures was issued: grazing in the Urola valleys was allowed from sunrise to sunset, after which the animals had to return to the places they had set out from at sunrise.

The steep gradient of the land plus the clayey and slate subsoil meant that agriculture never stood out in the local economy. Despite that, cereals, legumes and turnips were grown.


davThe Urola river, a source of life that shapes the space

We are now in the small district of Urola-Garaia, which takes its name from the river that has its source here. Although today the Urola flows unnoticed through some parts of Zumarraga, its waters conceal much of its history.

The Urola river shapes the human settlement

The early inhabitants of Zumarraga settled on the middle slopes of the Urola valley, protected against river flooding. Later, towards the end of the 15th century, driven by commercial development and thanks to technical advances, the population moved and settled beside the river, a natural channel for trading purposes.

The orography, marked by its rugged relief, prevented the urban centres like that of Zumarraga from freely expanding its territory.

The channels of communication were restricted by this mountainous relief. That is why they are located parallel to the axis of the river.

Water power provides energy for working

In the Middle Ages hydraulic power began to be used to produce energy. The river provided energy, facilitated communication and transport.

A large number of ironworks and water mills were set up along the Urola river.

In Zumarraga there were two ironworks, one at Matxain and another at jauregui-Legazpi.

The ironworks were located away from the town centre but they provided work directly or indirectly: carriers, merchants, iron workers, etc.

According to documentary sources, the Matxain ironworks remained in operation until 1533. It was then turned into a mill.

Setting up the ironworks required considerable investment and that was why their owners used to be rich families. In Zumarraga, the Legazpi family had an ironworks on the outskirts of its palace (the current Legazpi Tower House).

This ironworks, which later became a mill, was demolished to make way for the building of the railway.

davZumarraga, the heart of La Antigua

You are right next to the chapel of La Antigua, the core, the nucleus and the warmth of this place.

And the fact is that throughout its history Zumarraga has been pumping stone and timber into La Antigua and feeding it; these materials together with iron have been shaping the landscape of this locality.

La Antigua, a reference of identity

During the Middle Ages La Antigua was known as the church of Santa Maria. Thanks to a reference to it in a document of 1366, we know it has existed from that year onwards. In 1388 it already enjoyed the designation of Parish Church, a status that endowed it with certain privileges. This is how this church became a meeting place and a reference.

  • It was the centre of religious life: People worshipped at Santa Maria and as it was the parish church the local inhabitants were able to receive all the sacraments there.
  • It was a point of cohesion: The inhabitants of the parish of Zumarraga were to be found at the church, called thus because its population lived spread out all over the area.
  • It was the nucleus of political life: As it was a place shared by the whole population, the inhabitants used to congregate there to make the decisions affecting the community.
  • It was a space for social ostentation: Inside, each member was assigned his/her own seat and the position depended on the social rank held by each one.
  • It was an important centre for rent collecting: The church received different types of income such as tithes, first fruits or offerings from its parishioners. The collecting of this capital was assigned to private individuals, who used to hand the income over to the church after keeping a percentage of it for themselves.