Sanctuary of Loyola – Loiola

The Largest Reliquary in Spain

Located in the municipal district of Azpeitia and built around the birthplace of Saint Ignatius, the Sanctuary of Loyola is an extraordinary monument filled with interesting works of art and hundreds of relics, which make it one of the main pilgrimage centres in Spain.

Plan your visit to Loiola

The visit to the church and sanctuary museum can be done in three hours; its gardens and surroundings can completed in the morning. Its location in the middle of the Urola valley makes it a base for excursions to the towering Mt. Izarraitz and other nearby sights. Only a few kilometres away are the villages of Azpeitia and Azkoitia, with their imposing palace-houses and churches, and the seaside resort of Zestoa, with its archaeological site at Ekain. At the end of the G631 road that leads to the coast is the village of Zumaia and its flysch park and beach. If you plan on staying there, you can choose to sleep and eat in Azpeitia or in the nearby Azkoitia.

Do you want to visit this place?

At the end of the fourteenth century, the Oñacino fighter Beltrán Ibañez de Loyola constructed a tower of ashlar stone in attempt to control the inhabitants of a rich village in the valley of the Iraurgui (now Urola): Azpeitia.

In 1456, a grandson of Beltrán, the elder relative of the Oñacino Juan Pérez de Loyola, challenged the villains of Azpeitia to fight for the supremacy of the area. Shortly afterwards King Henry IV entered Gipuzkoa with the support of the Brotherhood of Gipuzkoa, formed by militias from the villages, and they defeated the capturers of Loyola. They condemned the capturers into exile and dismantled their towers, transforming them into residences. In 1460 the tower was rebuilt and the workers, who were possibly Moorish, built the upper half with bricks and in Mudejar style, with large windows and defensive designs on its corners.


In 1491, Juan’s son, Beltrán Ibáñez de Oñaz, and his wife, María Sánchez de Licona, a native of Ondarroa, had their eighth and last son, Iñigo López de Loyola, who would become Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He went on to work for the Count Major of Castile, Juan Velázquez de Cuellar, and after that he served as the knight of the Duke of Nájera.


On May 20th, 1521 the French and Navarrese troops of the Albrettes besieged Pamplona. Present were the Castilian troops, the Navarrese supporters of Castile and a sampling of Gipuzkoa’s Oñacino troops, which included among its ranks Iñigo. He was stationed on a wall that lacked proper defensive structures when a cannonball passed between his legs, breaking one of them and fracturing the other. Iñigo was seriously injured for three or four days, until the square was surrendered and he was allowed to be transferred to his ancestral home, located in the Urola Valley between Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his rest, he read books about the life of Christ and had a vision of the Virgin Mary. After this experience, which took place in 1521, he decided to dedicate his life to God. In 1534, after recovering from his wounds,  he founded the Society of Jesus by swearing “to serve our Lord, stopping all the things of the world.” After his death, he was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622.

Fotografía antigua del Santuario de Loyola
Palacio de Loyola

Some sixty years later, in 1681, the birthplace of St. Ignatius was given to the Jesuits, who decided to build a great sanctuary there to honor its founder. It stands on the banks of the Urola River, in the municipal district of Azpeitia, and covers an area of ten thousand square meters of land. The initial project was commissioned to the Italian architect Carlo Fontana, who designed a majestic work that enveloped the birthplace. Thus, the sanctuary was conceived as a great shrine that sheltered the birthplace of Saint Ignatius. The works of art were directed by Martín de Zaldúa who, perhaps taking advantage of the fact that the architect Fontana never went to Azpeitia himself, introduced some changes to the project. The works began in 1688 and the first stone was laid on March 28th, 1689, but were not completed until the twentieth century, as several problems were encountered along the way. Special setbacks in the history of the Sanctuary of Loyola meant the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain between 1767 and 1816 because of the Matxinada de Azkoitia.

In 1921, the sanctuary was recognized by the Holy See as a Minor Basilica.

The Sanctuary of Loyola is, along with the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, the great Catholic pilgrimage center of the Basque Country. It built in the seventeenth century and is preeminently Baroque, following the design of the Italian architect Carlo Fontana, with the basilica in the center flanked by two rectangular wings. It was built using limestone from the nearby Mount Izarraitz. Three are the main parts of the sanctuary:

The Main Building of the Sanctuary of Loyola shelters the saint’s birthplace, is the seat of the Royal College of Loyola and is developed on both sides of the basilica. Its walls give golden reflections when the sunset light hits them. There are two imperial staircases adorned with statues of pontiffs and saints that adorn the floors around the courtyard of the two wings of the building. Both were later added to the original plans. The octagonal fountain in the ante-refectory is also remarkable.

In the center of the main building is the Basilica, the main part of the Sanctuary of Loyola. It has a circular floor plan and is dominated by a large dome that sits on a  Churrigueresque style portico with three openings that serves as an entrance. It can be reached by means of a staircase that emphasizes the size of the space by running directly towards the central opening. The dome is undoubtedly the most striking element of the building. It is a double structure, made of sandstone internally due to it being easier to work with, and limestone externally. Fontana’s original design was for it to be supported by a wall, which would open up to a series of radial chapels. But this idea was modified by Zaldúa, who eliminated the chapels and conceived a circular nave around the space of the dome, which managed to give a greater sense of grandeur to the temple, although it also led to a series of still-present structural problems related to the thrusts of the dome. The interior is ornately decorated with the shields of the Austrians and the Bourbons, dynasties who witnessed the erection of the temple. The striking main altarpiece is in churrigueresque style and was designed by Ignacio de Ibero with a variety of noble materials. It contains the silver statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, which was made in Rome by the sculptor Francisco de Vergara in 1741.

Behind the basilica are the gardens of the Sanctuary of Loyola, but these are for private use by the Society of Jesus.

Parte frontal del Monasterio

Finally, the Casa Natal (birthplace) or Casa Santa de San Ignacio is presented as the authentic relic of the ensemble that surrounds it. It is a four-storey tower house built in medieval times, so its appearance as a defensive fort still prevails, especially in the first two floors. The last two floors are the family’s rooms. At the highest point we can visit the Chapel of Conversion, where Ignatius of Loyola had the vision of the Virgin and decided to change his military life for a priestly one.

The Sanctuary of Loyola also offers a visit to the interesting Sacred Art Museum located in the north wing of the complex. Inside you can contemplate various furniture and liturgical objects, including an altar made using the damascene technique, one of Plácido Zuloaga’s main works.

Must see

Detalle de la entrada
Escultura y entrada al Santuario

Practical Data


43° 10′ 28.01″ N, 2° 16′ 58″ W


Donostia-San Sebastián 43 km, Bilbao 71 km, Madrid 421 km


On the sides of the Sanctuary


80 m

Feast of the Society of Jesus (1st of January); St. Ignatius (31st of July)

Parade of authorities (31st of July)

Other Places to Visit

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