The Basilica of San Gregorio Ostiense stands on tope of a hill near the village of Sorlada, 20 kilometres south west of Estella-Lizarra
in the Central Zone of Navarre. It offers a magnificent view over the surrounding area, as far as the villages in the Berrueza and Valdega valleys and the mountain ranges of Codés, Lokiz, Andía, Monjardín and Montejurra.
San Gregorio was probably one of the first people to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. He arrived in the Kingdom of Pamplona towards the end of his life, sent by Pope Benedict IX. Thanks to his great vision of what the Pilgrim's Way should be, he dedicated himself to the construction of bridges such as those in La Calzada o Burgos. This Cardinal and Bishop of Ostia was also the man who ordained Santo Domingo de la Calzada into the priesthood
Despite the fact that the old church was built after the discovery of the saint's tomb in the 13th century, later reforms have created a church of extraordinary proportions. The present basilica was built during the 17th and 18th centuries, with the nave, façade and belfry being built in the first phase. The Rococo phase, in the third quarter of the 17th century, saw the construction of the crossing and the header and Lady Chapel. Finally (around 1831), the decorative reform of the nave was undertaken in the neoclassical style, together with the raising of the chorus stalls.
On the outside
it has solid building stone walls and buttresses on the side of the Gospel, accompanied by an interesting play of volumes. The most striking part, however, is the spectacular façade, which is located on the wall of the Epistle. It is the first Baroque work in the basilica and is inspired by the nearby church of Santa María in Viana
. It has a structure of apses, with two salomonic sections and is rounded off by a sphere. Its abundant decoration gives it great richness, making it a great altarpiece in stone. The niches in the first section house sculptures of San Pedro and San Pablo (St Peter and St Paul), and there is an image of San Gregorio Ostiense in the second. In the side sections of this part there are two reliefs alluding to the life of the saint. Inside the church
there are murals
that tell of San Gregorio's intervention in a plague that decimated the area in the 11th century. The most notable feature by far is the header of the church, with a basket handle structure. The crossing is crowned by a monumental octagonal dome in the Rococo style and gives the presbytery a theatrical-like light.
The raison d'être of the church-sanctuary of San Gregorio Ostiense is the relic of the saint, his skull, which is conserved under a rich lining of silver plating. The legend tells how San Gregorio, an 11th-century monk, freed Navarre from a plague of locusts. Buried in the basilica, he soon became the protector against locusts, aphids and other insects. Hence the tradition of carrying the relic through several villages and watering the skull before pouring it over the fields with the aim of ensuring a good crop. This explains the set phrase: "Travelling more than the head of St Gregory".
On Sundays in May, villagers from the valleys of Valdega and Los Arcos
make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary and then enjoy a picnic in the open air.The monoliths of San Gregorio
If you would like to see a place of particular beauty not far from the basilica, some surprising 'natural monuments' emerge from the earth. Impressive 'stone towers' are scattered over the hill that evoke the mysterious and famous statues of Rapa Nui on Easter Island
The most striking monolith lies one kilometre from the church. A five-minute walk along the path that starts in the car park of the basilica will take you there. Although its origin is unknown, it appears to be an unfinished work gouged out of the stone by hand, because it is unlikely that this huge, 20-metre-high block is the work of the forces of Nature.