History of Santa Maria

Santa Maria has a history stretching back at least 7 centuries, (the 1st known reference is in 1248). It is listed in the 15th century "Libro Armeria de Navarra" with its coat of arms of two black lions (adopted by the village of Helette). There are records of the Santa Maria nobles being present at Navarran coronations, fighting in wars, and constructing roads etc… until the revolution.

Book of family tree Santa Maria

Book of family tree Santa Maria with two black lions

From the Xth Century the Basque country became important with the increasing numbers of pilgrims on the road to Compostela, (3 million per year at its peak) who needed protecting from brigands. Santa Maria located on the border between the kingdoms of Navarre and Aquitaine (English ruled for long periods) and on the road from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied de Port was strategically placed.

The ground floor walls are constructed of massive granite blocks and probably dates from the XIIth Century. The 1st floor was built during the XVth/XVIth Century judging by the Renaissance style cross windows on the North side and the carved main staircase which is still in remarkably good condition. The 2nd floor, which was used for Hay and Grain storage, was added later still.

Main staircase

The South side was renovated again during the XVIIIth/XIXth Century. After the revolution the fortunes of the Santa Maria family declined and records from the beginning of the XXth century describe Santa Maria as ready to fall into ruin. However it was very solidly built and survived with tenants in the front part and animals in the back until 1961 when my parents and another English family bought it and started to care for it again. Through the 60's and 70's it came to life in August with 20 - 30 of us staying most years.

By 1995, standards and expectations had risen, basic sanitation and dubious electrics were no longer acceptable, so I came to live here with my family and started the long process of renovation. My goal, as well as improving the accommodation was to provide function rooms and workshop space for running residential courses or for our guests in the gîtes to use if the weather turned.

The south facing attic – a superb space 70 M2 and 6M high at the apex is an arts/yoga/dance etc... workshop for residents.

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