Santuario de la Virgen de la Balma

Santuario de la Mare de Deu de la Balma - Santuari de la Verge de la Balma


Useful Information

Location: Carretera CV-14, Km. 22, 2km north of Zorita del Maestrazgo.
(40.745264, -0.176436)
Open: All year Tue-Fri 10-17, Sat, Sun, Hol 10-19.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church SpeleologyErosional Cave
Light: electric.
Dimension:  
Guided tours:  
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Alardo Prats Beltrán (1929): Tres días con los endemoniados : la España desconocida y tenebrosa, Alta Fulla Editorial, 256 páginas, ISBN-10 : 8479001119, ISBN-13 : 978-8479001117. Reprinted 1999. Español - Spanish amazon
Address: Santuario de la Virgen de la Balma, Carretera a Aguaviva Ermitorio de la Balma, s/n, 12311 Zorita del Maestrazgo, Castelló, Tel: +34-964-17-70-95, Fax: +34-964-177-070. E-mail:
Restaurante La Balma, Santuario de la Balma, 10, CV-14, 2, 12311 Sorita, Castelló, Tel: +34-964-177-095.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1667 ermita or small church and bell tower erected.
1979 declared a Monumento Histórico Artístico (Historic Artistic Monument).

Description

photography
Santuario de la Balma. Public Domain.

A Balma is in Catalan an overhanging cliff face or escarpment, which forms a cavernous ledge. Those seems to be rather common in this area, so they have actually a name for it, and if the cave was used for a sanctuary it is simply called Santuario de la Balma (Sanctuary in the Cave). Balma is derived from the Celtic word for cave, and it is used in many areas of Europe, because the Celts lived all over central and northern Europe during the Bronze Age. There is for example the Grotte de Sainte-Baume in the Provence, France. This site actually has two names, the more common is Santuario de la Virgen de la Balma (Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Cave), the other is Santuario de la Mare de Deu de la Balma (Sanctuary of the Mother of God of the Cave), which is basically the same. Ine is the Spanish version, the other is the Catalan version. However, it is often mixed up, and even the official website of the region of Valencia made two pages for the same site. The site is located at the side of Mount Tossa, at the outside of a meander of the Bergantes River, which actually created the the cave with its erosion at the cut bank, also called river-cut cliff. It is two kilometer north of Zorita del Maestrazgo/Sorita on CV-14.

According to legend the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor shepherd in this place. The Virgin asked the shepherd to tell the citizens of Zorita del Maestrazgo that she was going to become a protector of the region and that she wanted a temple built for her right there. To give him a sign for the people hshe cured his arm. Some versions of the legend tell his arm os paralyzed, other say his arm was amputed. The shepherd also found a sculpture of a Virgin, which today is known as Virgen de la Balma. He went to the town and told his tory to the local priest, who accompanied him to the cave. The found the sculpture and the priest took it to his church in the town. But the next morning the had disappeared and was back on its spot in the cave. This is said to have happened around the 14th century.

The cave was built into the cave, the huge entrance was closed by a wall which is now the left wall of the church. On the eastern side there is a bell tower which was also built against the cave wall, and a small Renaissance-style façade with the entrance to the church. The right wall and the ceiling are formed by the natural rock. The ceiling is rather low on the right side of the church, but it is high enough to walk upright. There are actually two huge caves which are connected by a ledge. The road goes up to the right cave, where a monastery was erected, and from here it is possible to reach the church in the left cave by walking on a ledge. The buildings were erected since the 16th century during the Renaissance.

The church became a place of pilgrimage for a rather strange 18th century sect of women which thought to be endemoniadas (possessed by a demon) and believed they would be cured by Santa María Magdalena. Women from Aragon made a pilgrimage here for a cure of their "Els Malignes" condition, which was in most cases epilepsy or they were mentally ill. When the pilgrimages began they were approved by the Church and controlled by the parish priest. The sanctuary of the Virgen de la Balma became the main source of income for the region. But at some point it got out of hand, the balma was filled with witches, spiritists and other profiteers who took control of the alleged exorcisms. The healings happened according to tradition in the three days just before the procession of the Virgin. The sick were forced into the cave amid contortions, struggling and attempting to escape. Once inside, they were tied with ribbons on their fingers and toes, because the demon would leave the body for them. Ribbons on the eyes, ears or mouth, made the demoniac blind, deaf and mute. The witches who recited their psalms and the crowd was fascinated. When one of the bonds was released the demon left the body and the crowd became ecstatic at this undeniable triumph of good over evil.

The cult existed until the early 20th century. In 1929 the journalistAlardo Prats y Beltrán spent three days in the sanctuary and wrote an 1st person account afterwards. It was published in a book entitled Tres días con los endemoniados : la España desconocida y tenebrosa. It was reprinted in 1999 and is available on amazon.

At some point the pilgrimages ended and the church was forgotten, the monastery abandoned. After a period of decline the place was declared a Monumento Histórico Artístico (Historic Artistic Monument) in 1979. It was renovated with a restaurant and cafe in the monastery buildings. There is also a small museum dedicated to the history and renovation if the site. Both restaurant and church are open for free, as usual. In the church donations are welcome.