Gipuzkoa’s coat of arms

"Coat of arms of Gipuzkoa” (Eugenio Azcue.1854)
Images of the coat of arms of Gipuzkoa depicting the shield's three emblems (Jerónimo de Larrea y Goizueta, 1596-1599)
Present-day coat of arms of Gipuzkoa

A coat of arms is the ideal way for an institution or a family to express its idea of itself. For this reason, it is a symbol that tends to change over time.
The Gipuzkoa coat of arms was designed in 1466, a very important moment in the history of the province. Only three years earlier, the embryonic provincial institutions had demonstrated their power with the new Cuaderno de Hermandad (a set of laws) which, along with the usual measures to deal with the belligerent Parientes Mayores (clan chiefs), established the beginnings of provincial institutions. It was at this time that the Juntas Generales de la Hermandad adopted the basic coat of arms, comprised of two half: in the upper part the king sits on his throne with a sword in his right-hand; the lower part depicts three trees, generally considered to be yews, above the sea.

In other words, the design incorporated the political and ideological elements that had been developed over various decades. On the one hand, there is the Crown, which backed the institutional development of a Gipuzkoa Hermandad. Although it is not clear which monarch was depicted, most indicators point to it being Alfonso VIII – who took over the region in 1200 in the context of Castile’s offensive against Navarra - or Enrique IV, who was fundamental in the establishment of the Juntas and his opposition to the Parientes Mayores. On the other hand, the three yew trees symbolized the intrinsic nobility of the people of Gipuzkoa which was the basis of their direct relationship with the monarchy. According to tradition, the ancient Cantabrians preferred to poison themselves with yew seeds rather than surrender to the Romans. The people of Gipuzcoa were the descendents of these Cantabrians who never recognized the superiority of any foreign nation nor mixed with them and saw themselves as noble by origin. Nor is it an accident that these trees stand above the water, because the coastal villas played a vital role in the relationship between the monarchy and the province, and were the kingdom’s main maritime access to Europe.

In 1513, what appear to be a dozen captured cannons were incorporated into the upper part of the coat of arms. They apparently relate to the battle of Belate a year earlier, a battle in which local Gipuzkoa leaders fought for Castile during the conquest of Navarra. Seen by some as an act of heroism, others point out that this artillery was simply abandoned so that the allies of Navarra could flee. Whatever the case, the 12 cannons were incorporated into the coat of arms.

The next attempt to update the corporate image of the province according to the interests of the day was in 1931, with the decision to remove the image added in 1513, a decision that was ratified with the removal of feudal and monarchic symbols in 1936. However, due to the Civil War, the decision taken during the Second Republics wasn’t carried out until 1979.

There are four reliefs of the Gipuzcoa coat of arms made between 1596 and 1599 by the Tolosa artist Jerónimo de Larrea y Goizueta in the Gipuzcoa Records Office in Tolosa.  They were commissioned by the Juntas Generales for the façade of the records office, which was then in the old sacristy of the church of Santa Maria in Tolosa. They were carved in high relief in walnut and then later painted and gilded by other artists. These four reliefs represent the origin of the three emblems of the coat of arms as they were understood at the time. For this reason the sculptor took his ideas of Cantabria from his contemporary Juan Martinez de Zaldivia, ideas that were widespread of the time but without any historical rigor.

2011 Department of Culture and Euskera - Deputation Foral of Gipuzkoa
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