SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE

In the municipality of Bermeo, between Matxitxako Cape and Bakio, there is a coastal section on which the land and sea battle it out, where the sea shows its power in caves and natural arches and the land is victorious, leaving small islands of hard reef limestone. This erosion model draws a landscape of unique beauty that, along with the area’s historical interest and the quality of its waters, have made it very deserving of its protected biotope classification. In the heart of this space is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a peninsular shaped rock on the middle of the Cantabrian Sea upon which a small hermitage dedicated to San Juan stands, which is accessed by 241 steps that climb the rocky hillside until they reach the small hermitage situated 262 feet above sea level.

It is a dominant rock that looks like a castle in the water that in ancient times was called Gaztelu-aitz (rock of the castle) or Gaztelu-gache (rugged or difficult castle).

HISTORY, LEGENDS AND FESTIVALS

It is a strategic place for dominating the coast. In fact, Gaztelugatxe was for centuries the scene of battles between the Lord of Biscay and the King of Castille, of acts of plundering and looting by buccaneers and pirates. Also, witchcraft and covens found a haven in Gaztelugatxe.

The hermitage crowning this small island was founded in the 10th century under the name of St. John the Baptist and was a convent of friars for two centuries (12th-14th century). But it declined over the years until it was finally demolished in 1886 and completely rebuilt.

There is a LEGEND about this place that recounts that St. John, after disembarking in Bermeo in three steps that left a mark on the way, arrived at the hermitage. The first mark is located below the “San Juan” arch in the city of Bermeo itself. The second mark is located in the Arene neighbourhood, next to Itsasalde country house, just before the fountain. The third mark is located upon arriving at the final access step to the hermitage. This mark is also the most interesting because in addition to being able to see the mark, we can also read the inscription “SAN JUAN” that someone wrote with a chisel.

At the San Juan Festival on 24th June, a TRADITIONAL PROCESSION is held, where crowds from the vicinity, especially Bermeo, arrive in a pilgrimage on foot at the hermitage to fulfill promises made or to give thanks to the saint. A floral offering is made to the image of the Virgin, immersed in the depths of the sea under one of the natural arches that emerge at the foot of this fantastic island.

San Juan Degollado (29th August) is another festival very much celebrated at the hermitage.

There is a tradition in which, at the start of the Spanish white tuna fishing season, the fishermen and womenfolk usually go to Gaztelugatxe to ask for health, good weather and good fishing. The ritual of asking is also made from the sea. This is why the sailors/fishermen take their boats to the vicinity of Gaztelugatxe to “do what has to be done: three turns to port and three to starboard.”

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe became Dragonstone during the filing of Season 7 of Game of Thrones..

On 24th June, a traditional de San Juan procession is held, where crowds from the vicinity, especially Bermeo, arrive in a pilgrimage.

In 1334, Don Juan Nuñez de Lara, Lord of Biscay, resisted the army of King Alfonso XII of Spain in Gaztelugatxe..