Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gernika : The Assembly Chamber

This information comes to us thanks to EITb:

Fiestas & traditions

The "Casa de Juntas"

The Assembly Chamber of Gernika


It is, without a doubt, the place where the heart of the Old Laws of the Basque Country lies.

This is the very heart of the Assembly House, the Casa de Juntas, where the Plenary Meetings of the General Assemblies of Biscay are held. An ancient institution, the origins of the General Assemblies date back to the Middle Ages, when meetings were held, as tradition demanded, in the open air around the Tree of Gernika.

Originally, a small hermitage (Santa María La Antigua) was to be found nearby, where a religious service was held prior to political events and where the act of swearing to respect the Old Laws (Fueros) also took place. With the passage of time, the General Assemblies moved their meetings into that small ecclesiastical enclosure.

From 1826 onwards, seeking premises more in accordance with the needs of the institution, the initial church was demolished to make way for the construction of the current building, for which the architect Antonio de Etxebarria took responsibility. Maintaining that tradition of close relationship between public life and religion, the Assembly Chamber was designed as a space capable of combining both functions.

We are, therefore, before a Church-Parliament. Although the ecclesiastical aspect has currently been relegated by politics, both the altar and the holy water fonts are still maintained as witnesses of bygone days. The paintings in the Chamber occupy a place of importance in its decoration. On the one hand, we find a gallery of portraits painted by Sebastián de Galbarriartu and the Bustrín brothers in the XVII century, representing the different Lords or Seigniors of Biscay. Above these paintings, ten cartouches remember the dates when some of the Lords of Biscay swore to respect the Old Laws.

All these items refer not only to the existence of the authority of the Lord of Biscay but also his obligation to swear respect and observance to the set of Old Laws (Fueros) that the community had drawn up, based on usage and custom.

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