According to a tradition, during the night of May 25, 1085 some shepherds of the Navarrese town of Abárzuza were surprised by the meteor shower and the luminosity that focused specifically on a part of the hill where they took care of their cattle. As they approached the place and set aside some bushes and thorns, they found a cave and, inside, they found an image of the Virgin corresponding to the advocation of the Puy that is worshiped since ancient times in France. The Virgin of the Puy appeared the same day in which the king of Navarre, Sancho Ramírez, along with the king Alfonso VI of Castile, were participating in the transcendental taking of the city of Toledo.
When Don Sancho heard of such a providential coincidence, he became excited. He went to the place of the apparition to pay homage to the Virgen del Puy. The King ordered that the image was moved solemnly to the nearest church, where it could be properly worshiped. The church turned out to be the San Pedro church, in the village of Lizarra, now part of Estella-Lizarra. The transfer could not be completed, because the image showed obvious signs of not wanting to go down to the plain (we do not know in what way). The truth is that the decision was to erect a hermitage in the place; so that the image stayed where it wanted to be.
A French source offers a different version of the origin of the image: In the year 950, a Frenchman named Gotescalco, from Velay, the French region of the Auvergne, led a pilgrimage to Compostela and carried with him a copy of the image of the Virgin who was worshiped in his city of origin. For unknown reasons, the image of the Virgen del Puy and some of the pilgrims would end up staying in the town of Estella. At that time, the town included a few houses located in a place of obligatory passage for the pilgrims. It seems that, during some Arab incursion, the inhabitants hid the image so that it would not fall into the hands of the Muslims, thus being forgotten until their providential discovery occurred. In 1090, five years after the apparition, Sancho Ramírez granted Estella fueros (exemptions from taxes and other privileges) for its inhabitants, as well as the category of village. This was a great impetus for its development. Some people say that the apparition was a trick of the merchants settled in the town to attract the attention of pilgrims who crossed the river Ega two kilometers south of Estella, to go to Puente la Reina.
The image of the Virgen del Puy would make them deviate in the way and the fueros would attract more population. About the time of the current image there is some controversy, some consider it Visigothic and others date it in the 14th century.
The main miracle that is attributed to the Virgin took place on September 7, 1638. During the siege of the French to the fortress in Fuenterrabía, several hundred stellicas, which were part of the regional fora, were placed in one of the positions of greatest danger. They entrusted themselves to the Virgen del Puy -some of them even went so far as to affirm that she appeared to them- and this one protected each and every one of them. After the siege, they returned safely to their town. The miracle greatly increased the devotion to the image of the Virgen del Puy and several of the survivors donated important pieces to beautify the temple. There is no trace of the original old Romanesque hermitage, which would later be replaced by a wider Baroque church.
The building of the Virgen del Puy has been linked forever to one of the most gruesome episodes of the First Carlist War.
In the autumn of 1838, the war between the central government – of liberal ideology – and the Carlist faction – of fundamentalist and traditionalist ideology – had taken a very negative turn for the cause of Don Carlos, who wanted the crown of Spain, which then had its niece, the queen-girl Isabel II. General Guergué, who was the supreme military chief and representative of the most intransigent Carlism, was defeated in the battle of Peñacerrada and was dismissed by Don Carlos. A few weeks later, the Pretender conferred command to General Rafael Maroto, a military man of great experience and a more moderate ideology. The substitution in the command outraged the more radical Carlists, who branded Maroto as lukewarm, freemason and prone to surrender to the Liberals. In the following months, Maroto reorganized the demoralized troops and mounted an organized defense of the territory of the Basque Country and Navarre that controlled the Carlist army (the mountainous areas mainly, not including any of the four capitals). It also improved the living conditions and the army’s equipment to make it more operational.
After six years of war without having managed to occupy any relevant city, with a shortage of arms and money and under increasing pressure from the army, the Carlist side was divided between those who wanted to negotiate an honorable peace and those who chose to continue the struggle. Maroto was inclined to dialogue and was subject to all kinds of attacks by the intransigent. At one point, he received documentation from several high-ranking Carlist commanders who were trying to arrest him.
On February 17, 1839, General Maroto sent a messenger to one of the conspirators, General Francisco Garcia ordering him to appear at the entrance of Estella with his troops. When the Generalist Carlist entered the town with his escort the trained troops did not wait for him. General Garcia watched his entrance from the balcony of his house, without taking the trouble to greet his superior. That same afternoon Maroto ordered the arrest of the conspirators and the generals Guergué and Sanz Baeza, Brigadier Carmona and the intendant Úriz were locked in a room of the Sanctuary of the Virgen del Puy.
General Garcia hid and disguised himself as a priest but was recognized and captured when he tried to escape through the Puerta de Castilla. The three generals and their subordinates were summarily tried by Maroto and his officers, who showed them the incriminating letters and sentenced them to death. At dawn on February 18 the five condemned were taken to the back of the sanctuary where they were shot, they were placed kneeling with their backs to the platoon of soldiers, a formula that used to be applied to traitors.
The following performances of Maroto during the known as “Abrazo de Vergara” (Vergara Hug) took to think to the generations of carlistas that Maroto was a traitor and the shot ones were heroes. For this reason, a series of memorial tombstones were erected and the so-called Pantheon of the Generals was built in the Estella cemetery. The truth is that Don Carlos, after an initial reaction of stupefaction and to issue a letter of dismissal from Maroto, rehabilitated him and confirmed him in office, exculpating him from any irregularity in an action aimed at stifling a conspiracy to end his life (being, in addition, hierarchical superior of the streamlinings).
The deterioration of the temple in which the generals were imprisoned and next to which they were shot deteriorated considerably, was closed to the cult and was redesigned and extended between 1949 and 1951, with a very different layout. However, the history of the events that took place there is preserved in tombstones.
Text by Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga and illustrations by Ximena Maier.
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