Gorbeia Natural Park


The cross of Gorbeia This famous cross was erected upon the recommendation of Pope Leo XIII to erect crosses on the highest summits throughout Christianity to commemorate the turn of the 20th century. Measuring 18 metres in height, the existing cross is the third one to have been erected. There is also is an orientation table next to it providing information on 106 mountains.

Mr. Iñaki GARCIA URIBE, the well-known journalist and Gorbeia expert tells us that: "Written documents of the time record the recommendation by Pope Leo XIII to all Christian faiths to commemorate the turn of the 20th century by paying homage to Christ the Redeemer. To that end, a religious commission took various initiatives, such as erect monuments on celebrated mountaintops, as a SOLEMN STATEMENT and TESTIMONY of FAITH.”

In 1899 the parish priest of Zeanuri, Father Juan BARTOLOME de ALCIBAR, organised a commission headed by the Archpriest of Zigoitia, the Very Reverend Jose Maria de URRATXA, which moved to erect a Cross on Gorbeia Mountain. The Cross was designed by the renowned Basque architect from Elorrio, Mr. Casto de ZAVALA, who left an impressive legacy of buildings ans constructions in the province of Bizkaia.

With the purchase of new hoes for the purpose, work began on 16th July 1901 to erect the first Cross of Gorbeia. Four months of effort produced a monumental, 13 tonne, 33 metre high iron Cross, one metre for each year of Christ’s life before crucifixion.

Accounts from the day announce that among attendees were representatives from the Municipalities of Zuia, Zeanuri and Vitoria-Gasteiz, as well as the Very Reverend Archpriest of Zigoitia accompanied by various priests from the local school at Murgia.

Gorbeia snowed

Well-known for his emphatic ecclesiastical speeches, the great and respected Franciscan preacher from Durango, Father Beartel, was called to lend weight to the inauguration by giving a moving sermon in both Basque and Spanish.

The written chronicles of the day of benediction on 12th November 1901, state the weather was good despite the high winds which shook the Cross violently. The sky eventually clouded over and probably also spoiled the ceremony.

The sheepherders, who also attended the inauguration, predicted that the Cross would not survive for very long. Indeed, this is precisely what occurred on 12th December 1901, one month to the day after benediction. The Cross did not make it through a during a severe storm, giving way at the 6 metre point of the left leg on the Biscayan side, what some refer to as the “Aldamin leg”.

As was expected, reconstruction on the Cross commenced immediately. The Cross had fallen due to an insufficient base to bear the weight of the iron, which was further complicated by the weight of hardened snow building up in the latticework. Finally, and after 23 months, work was concluded and benediction of the second Cross Gorbeia took place on 1st October 1903. This time the height was reduced by 10 metres, leaving it a little less close to heaven, not matching Christ’s age at crucifixion.

Over 1,000 mountaineers along with the relevant authorities of the day attended this second benediction, with water expressly brought from the legendary Jordan River in Palestine, where John the Baptist baptised Christ. In honour of the benefactors of the Cross and in dedication to the construction, a Mass was offered and the hymn Te Deum Laudamus was sung. Additionally, a touching poem in Basque was read, written by Poet Felipe ARRESE BEITIA, also in attendance.

Then, amazingly, once again the forces of evil conspired against this Christian symbol which fell to the ground a second time on 12th February 1906, after having survived 28 months.

From this point on, the history of the Cross of Gorbeia becomes obscured, with any pertinent dates being forever lost. What we do know is that the third and present Cross was repaired and re-erected in 1907, albeit in a style more reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, sans inauguration, benediction, completion date, costs, or even any other curious detail of interest recorded. Whether this information was intentionally omitted or hidden is not known, but what is clear is that time passed without much more to recount.

Notwithstanding this, it is to be noted that an orientation table was placed next to the Cross in 1931. This was the result of two-year’s painstaking work realized by Lucio LASCARAY, a mountaineering enthusiast from the Basque province of Araba. Mr. LASCARAY’s many months of taking an infinite number of photographs, measurements and notes culminated in the reproduction of a drawing being produced in the form of an enamel plaque, made in “Puy de Dòme”, France, at the cost, at the time, of 619 pesetas.

Finally, on 23rd June 1963, at the summit and near the orientation table, the Baskonia Mountaineering Group placed a stone sculpture of Our Lady of Begoña, Patron Saint of Bilbao and Bizkaia, by the Basque artist Mr. Vicente LARREA. Although the original sacred depiction was later desecrated, it was soon replaced by a bronze version on 25th June 1967, which continues to face the province of Bizkaia today.