No one knows who built this octagonal chapel in the middle of the countryside and outside of the surrounding villages. Eunate is dedicated to Mary and the name, eunate, in Basque means “one-hundred doors.”
It is an octagonal chapel unusually surrounded by an cloister of 33 arches that circle it like a ring of Saturn. Beyond the arches is a stone wall that encloses the entire structure but that retains its exposure to the outside and sky above. The countryside here is remote, peaceful, and far off the beaten path but for pilgrims who make this small detour to visit this chapel.
Eunate’s name, shape, and number give us some hints about who may have built this chapel. Beginning with the name, we have Saint Mary of One-Hundred Doors. Doors are interesting. They are threshold places that always imply passages from something known to something unknown. One hundred doors suggest a lot of doors, a lot of passages, entrances and exits. It seems to imply a deeper initiation into spiritual practice.
The octagonal shape suggests that Eunate may have been built by Templar Knights, or those inspired by them, given their practice of replicating the 8-sided form of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the most holy of Christian churches. Two other octagonal churches in Spain that follow this legacy are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Torres del Rio, and the Iglesia de la Vera Cruz in Segovia.
What makes this 12th century church of Santa Maria de Eunate all the more enigmatic is the 33-arched, external cloister that surrounds the church.
Eunate’s mysteries begin to make more sense when we consider the mixed ancestry of the Camino. The craftsmen, patrons, and builders on the road were from many spiritual and religious traditions, not only the one official Catholic one, and some carried on the more esoteric teachings of their traditions, including that of mystical Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Furthermore, the bonds of brotherhood of a craft guild—whatever the members’ backgrounds—were often more powerful than any allegiance to a faith group.
In Christianity, 33 is sacred because it is the age Jesus was when he was crucified. Some monasteries in Spain limited the number of nuns they took to 33 for this reason. In Islam, this is the usual number of beads on a strand of prayer beads, and a traditional meditation is to reflect on the 99 names of God by cycling bead by bead three times on the strand.
Among Sufis, the mystical branch of Islam, this meditation frequently adds one to arrive at one-hundred, the number of entering union with God.
Similarly, 33 is the number of knots in a Christian Eastern Orthodox prayer rope.The 33 arches that surround Eunate’s chapel are surrounding a place of one-hundred doors.
It seems like an invitation to walk the cloister three times, like the prayer beads, and enter the final door, the main entrance to the chapel, the one-hundredth door, and the one for entering into union with god, in the center, where at the altar Saint Mary of Eunate greets you.
The number eight is another clue here, in Eunate’s octagon. In Islam, an eight-pointed star is called the Seal of the Prophet and considered the doorway to paradise. In Christianity, the eight-armed star or flower represents resurrection, redemption, and rebirth, which sound a lot like entering paradise. In Hebrew Gematria, Jesus’ Hebrew name holds eight as its numeric and symbolic value.
In Greek Gematria, it is a triple eight, implying a trinity. Here at Eunate it seems to imply a triple rotation around the eight-sided church, thirty-three times three. Then, plus one, and enter through the chapel door to eunate. Stepping inside the chapel, through the hundredth door, reveals a Romanesque-style sculpture of Santa Maria de Eunate seated on the altar.
The convergence of these symbolic aspects from different sacred traditions suggests that those who built Eunate were versed (and comfortable) in the deeper spirituality of the universal imagery found in all the faiths. Eunate is a spiritual microcosm of the Camino itself.
Much like other churches that offered a walking meditation on a labyrinth (such as in Chartres cathedral in France), Eunate offers a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage. Perhaps this was a method for deepening one’s sacred experience beyond the confines of the exoteric tradition into which one was born, a place to meet the divine directly without intermediaries.
The Camino continues to Obanos and Puente la Reina.