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The Virgin of Begoña. Pilgrimage to the Basilica photo

Devotion to the Virgin of Begoña is widespread in Bilbao and Biscay; she is not unsurprisingly known as la amatxu (an affectionate term for ‘mother’ in Basque).

This devotion has given rise to a deep-rooted tradition among families from Biscay: the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Begoña.

Every 15th August -the Day of the Virgin- more than 150,000 people make a pilgrimage to Begoña from all over Biscay, some of them walking through the night.

From Bilbao, after crossing the Old Part and seeing the Basilica de Begoña from the only point it is possible to do so from above (above the star between Santa María and Pelota streets) we go up to Begoña by the Calzadas de Mallona steps.

The church stays open all night for the pilgrims who arrive, together with the brotherhoods of Begoña. The pray a Novena and accompany ‘la Amatxo’. Mass is sung every hour, with the one at 12 noon standing out; it is attended by the authorities and an Aurresku (ceremonial Basque welcome dance) is performed.

The tradition also includes the celebration of a full festive day in the square next to the Basilica, with txoznas (stalls) offering doughnuts, txakolí and talos (cornflour pancakes) with chorizo, together with others selling souvenirs and images of the Virgen de Begoña.

Popular legend: 

The present church was built in the 16th century over an early chapel. The work lasted a century and it was necessary to reconstruct the façade and the tower after the Carlist wars.

There are two versions of the discovery of the carving of the Virgin: one says that it appeared in the hollow of a holm oak, the other that a shepherd found it on a hawthorn bush. What the legend does agree on is the origin of the name ‘Begoña’.

According to the legend, the original chapel was built in the place where the carving of the Virgin was found, but later on, when they wanted to find a better site to build a church to venerate her, the image of the Virgin fell to the ground and pronounced the words “Bego oña!” in Basque (meaning ‘under foot’), so they had to build the new church on the site of the tiny original one.

Key dates:

Although it is possible to visit the Basilica and attend Mass on any day, there are two  dates on which the people of Biscay make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Begoña: 15th August (Day of the Virgin Mary) and 11th October, the festivity of Begoña.

Establishments nearby

Amatxo Bar

Virgen de Begoña, 45 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.04 km

Josune Bar

Virgen de Begoña, 47 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.06 km

Pagoa Bar

Virgen de Begoña, 43 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.06 km

Mañari Bar

Médico Pedro Cortes, 9 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.20 km

Thor Bar

Zabalbide, 75 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.21 km

Aitzgorri Restaurante

Iturribide, 70 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés | Restaurants

0.21 km

Sorginak Bar

Iturribide, 51 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.21 km

Ilargi Bar

Avda. Zumalacarregui, 105 (Bilbao)

Bars and cafés

0.23 km

Accommodation nearby

Lo Bilbao

(Bilbao)

0.43 km

Sirimiri

(Bilbao)

0.47 km

AliciaZZZ

(Bilbao)

0.48 km

NYX Bilbao

(Bilbao)

0.50 km

Plaza Nueva

(Bilbao)

0.51 km

7 Kale Bed and Breakfast

(Bilbao)

0.59 km

Basque Boutique

(Bilbao)

0.59 km

Begoña

(Bilbao)

0.62 km

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