(the tree of Gernika in Basque) is an oak tree that
symbolizes traditional freedoms for the Biscayan people, and
by extension for the Basque people as a whole. The
Lords of Biscay (including the early kings of Castile and
Carlist pretenders to the throne) swore to respect the
Biscayan liberties under it, and the modern Lehendakari of
the Basque Country swears his charge there.
Bombing of Gernika, 1937
The tree of Gernika (Guernica
in Spanish) is one of the sacred trees under whose shade the
custom developed--and continues--that representatives
assembled. The significance seems to have pagan or
pre-Christian origins. These trees have a history
representing various deities whose names appear on
gravestones such as in Aquitaine Arixo deo ("God
Roble"); Arteche deo ("God oak"). While
there are several revered oak trees (e.g., the Malato in
Luiando, tree Krutzia, the Sobrarbe, the Aretxabalagañe that
of Abellaneda, Gerediaga oak of Durango, etc.), it is the
one in the Basque town of Gernika that has gained wider
significance as the modern symbol of Basque freedoms.
The known specimens or generations of the tree of Gernika
form a dynasty. The "father," was planted in the 14th
century, and lasted 450 years. This coincided with
Basque self-government in this area under the Basque
fueros or foral laws.
As symbolic tree of traditional freedoms, no Biscayan, for
example, could be arrested for crimes without prior notice
to him. The ancient oak of Guernica, says Laborde in
his account of Biscay, is a most venerable natural monument.
Ferdinand and Isabella, in the year 1476, after hearing mass
in the nearby church of Santa Maria de la Antigua, repaired
to this tree, under which they swore to the Biscayans to
maintain their "fueros" (privileges).
The tree of Gernika came to the attention of the
noted English poet William Woodsworth, who in 1810
had published his sonnet "The Oak of Gernika:"
OAK of Guernica! Tree of holier power
Than that which in Dodona did enshrine
(So faith too fondly deemed) a voice divine
Heard from the depths of its aerial bower--
How canst thou flourish at this blighting hour?
What hope, what joy can sunshine bring to thee,
Or the soft breezes from the Atlantic sea,
The dews of morn, or April's tender shower?
Stroke merciful and welcome would that be
Which should extend thy branches on the ground,
If never more within their shady round
Those lofty-minded Lawgivers shall meet,
Peasant and lord, in their appointed seat,
Guardians of Biscay's ancient liberty.
reasons, the oak of Gernika would go on to become the most
famous of these sacred oaks. In the middle ages, the
representatives of the villages of Biscay would hold
assemblies under local big trees. As time passed, the
role of separate assemblies was superseded by the Gernika
one in 1512, and its oak would acquire a symbolic meaning,
with actual assemblies being held (the current building is
Notice of the Tree of Gernika
grew in scope. The noted English poet William
Wordsworth published a tribute in 1810 that spoke of it's
"holier power." The Castilian poet Tirso de Molina wrote how
the tree symbolized the rejection of tyrants. But it
is arguably the Basque barb Jose Mari Iparragirre's(image at
left of a painting in front of the sacred oak) song "Gernikako
Arbola" that transformed the tree into a symbol for all
Basques. He first sang the song in Madrid in 1853.
Though it has many verses, it is the well known first stanza
that has become the defacto Basque national anthem; the
seven historical provinces have never been unified in modern
times. At many a Basque-American festival it follows
the singing of the American national anthem.
Eman ta zabaltzazu
Eman ta zabal zazu
|The Tree of
among the Basques;
Give and deliver
the fruit unto the world.
We adore you,
Location of Gernika;
interior of the "Casa de Juntas" from 1833 at the site of
This painting of the Gernikako
Arbola is on the back wall of the downtown Fronton (Basque
handball court) in Elko, Nevada.
Seedlings of the Gernika
Arbola are around the world; at left is one in the "Laurak
Bat" Basque club in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At right
is a recently planted seedling in front of the Basque
clubhouse in Chino, California.