Joanes or the Basque Whaler: Priest of Pirates

Joanes or the Basque Whaler: Priest of Pirates

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The final book in the Joanes or the Basque Whaler trilogy!

By Guillermo Zubiaga


The Church was an important patron of commercial whaling, and had great economic links with the industry. The first testimony referring to the Basque whaling industry goes back to the year 670 A.D. when Basques from Labourd shipped 40 barrels of whale oil for lighting to the Abby of Jumieges, on the banks of the river Seine, France. Later in 875 A.D. another reference to Basque whaling was Made in the Translations and miracles of Saint Waast. The church of Santa Maria de Lekeitio, built in the XVIth century, is a noteworthy example of the late Biscay Gothic style. The town of Lekeitio became a booming whaling and privateering port throughout the middle ages and the Renaissance. Bayonne’s cathedral, Sainte-Marie, was entirely funded by its whaling industry.


In the Basque Country alone there are 3 skull chalices. These Chalices are relics of 3 saints and are used as sacred goblets , filled with sacramental wine or with water as some other “miracle” work such as the treatment of head illnesses. These are: Saint Victor of Gauna, in Alava, and in Navarre Saint Gregory of Sorlada, and Saint William (Guillermo) of Obanos.


The word piraterie (piracy in English) may have its origins in the Basque biratari, later piratari: to navigate or better yet “navigator”. We see this Basque suffix in the words Bira(tu) (to) navigate in relation to Biratari (navigator) such as in other examples as in dantza(tu) to dance in relation to dantzari (dancer), sega(tu) to reap compared to segalari (reaper), Gida(tu) (to) lead to Gidari (leader) and so on. The XVII century staged the golden age for Basque privateers. During this century, many otherwise ordinary sailors, begin to employ themselves as corsairs making it a very lucrative business. Especially when whaling was off season.

ISBN 978-1-935709-40-4