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San Juan Bautista Parish Church

From the ecclesiastic point of view, Pasai Donibane belonged for a long number of years to the lower archpriest's office in Hondarribia, in turn dependent on the Bishopric of Bayonne. Despite the fact that in the 16th Century Pasaia Donibane had 240 inhabitants and Lezo only 85, and that the strongest seafaring, fishing, trading and shipbuilding industry took place in the first of these places, from the parish point of view, Pasai Donibane belonged to Lezo. After a great deal of discussion, the neighbours succeeded in obtaining from Pope Paulo III a Bull on 2nd June 1545 permitting creation of the Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist in what was then the council of Pasai Donibane, hence achieving its independence from Lezo.

San Juan Bautista Parish Church has a single nave in the shape of a Latin cross of outstanding proportions. It was built by Miguel Beldarrain and Simón de Pedrosa in cut stone and opened its doors for worship in 1643 according to the caption beneath a painting of Saint Charles of Borromeo, restored in 1880 by Brother Serrano and which still exists to the right of Saint Roch altar, although some of the original wooden vaults were replaced by others of Gothic lines in 1700.

Its exterior aspect is marked by the severe facade made by Juan de Herrera in a pure, mathematical, austere and monumental style, the archetype of which is San Lorenzo del Escorial Monastery, topped by a steeple. Above its linteled door, on two Doric columns, is a niche containing a stone image of Saint Jean the Baptist, work of the French sculptor Juan de Lane, made, it would seem, in 1731. Framing the facade is an archway announcing the interior nave, in the centre of which is a circular stained glass window allowing intense light into the temple.

The church is entered through the foot of the cross, passing beneath the basket-handle arch supporting the choir. When opened to worship, the church only contained the altar of the Holy Christ in the centre, and two side altars, that of the Rosary and, across from it, that of Saint Sebastian, subsequently substituted for that of Saint Roch. The artistic feature of this church is the high altarpiece, work of the man from Gipuzkoa, Sebastián de Lekuona (Oiartzun), made around 1708. The images and paintings of the altarpiece deserve special attention. Presiding over the whole, in the centre, is a fine image of Saint John the Baptist by Felipe Arizmendi (Donostia-San Sebastián), who was also responsible for the sculptures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul standing to the sides of the central sculpture, slotted between lovely Solomonic columns. Looking upwards a little, in the centre we can see a painting representing the Visitation of Our Lady by the artist from Bilbao, A. Cuadra. Turning our eyes to either side of this central altarpiece we will see two oval pictures representing the Baptism of Jesus and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, to which Ugarte put the finishing touches in 1791.

The tabernacle is of later construction by Lekuona. It is an extremely beautiful work in Baroque Neoclassical style, now enriched with the addition of a Solomonic column canopy, the upper capitals of which support volutes resting on a roof in the centre of which we can see the symbolic dove of the Holy Spirit.

The altar was gilded by the artist from Los Arcos in Navarre, Santiago de Zuazu, in 1748. To do this, Alejo de Martiarena had 1,000 books containing 100 sheets of gold leaf each shipped from Buenos Aires.

The most remarkable side altar is that of Our Lady of the Rosary. On either side of the central image are two lovely images of Saint Joachim and Saint Ann.

The wax image of Saint Faustina was a gift made in the first decades of last century by Cardinal Zurla to Juan Manuel Ferrer. According to the legend, Faustina, daughter of a noble Roman, had her throat cut by her father when he discovered that she was Christian and refused to abjure her faith. The bloody cut on the girl's neck reminds us of this event.

Outside the church we will find a stone head incrusted in the containing wall in front of the entrance. This sculpture, of unknown origin and meaning, is dubbed by the locals as the "Mascarón de Iriberri", emphasising an ancient and mysterious event, today unknown, which could have taken place in a hypothetical ancient Iriberri house existing at that time. You can walk right round the church, enjoying interesting views from the stairway making its way up the side of its east face. Victor Hugo refers to this as "the mysterious sculpture".

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