When Mike and I were newlyweds his father would always tell me about a small village in Spain named Ciriza. Miguel, Mike’s father, wanted us to know his ancestry. I never forgot his stories about this small village in Spain; I neatly tucked them away in my mind for another time. Mike and I had been to Europe several times before we considered visiting the land of our ancestors. A cousin of Mike’s took on the task of tracing the family name back to the Moors. His cousin Chris blessed us with this thick report but because, it was mostly written in Spanish, it was too time consuming to read. I filed it away for safekeeping. We had arranged to meet Chris, but something came up and we had to cancel our meeting. After all that painstaking research, Mike’s cousin took his own life. We never met, and, sadly, Chris left behind a young wife and child.
When we sold our business Mike needed to rejuvenate. Larry, one of Mike’s dear friends, has a buddy named Jose who has family in Spain. While he was visiting he went to “Ciriza” and texted a photo of a sign with the word Ciriza to Larry. Mike received the text that same day. This stirred up something sentimental in Mike, so before long a trip to Ciriza was planned. I’m a missionary, so if I’m going to Europe, it’s going to be for a religious purpose as well. I remember looking at a map of Spain; there in the tiniest font was Ciriza. I looked to the north and about three inches away was Lourdes, France. Now I needed to convince Mike that if we traveled up three more inches on the map, we could go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Mike was not having it, so I started to pray. Finally, after much pleading, he agreed.
When we arrived at our quaint hotel in the heart of Pamplona, we inquired about hiring a guide to visit Ciriza. It was as if God’s hand was used in the details of the trip. We were told about a lady, Maria (Tota) from Pamplona, who was an excellent guide. The irony was that she and her family have a home in the village of Ciriza. We arranged to meet with her the following day. Tota picked us up in her car and we drove to Ciriza. This small village is about 20 minutes from Pamplona. Since our tour guide is from this village of less then 150 inhabitants, everyone knows each other. In Ciriza the main street leads to San Miguel Catholic Church. We were privileged to have the sanctuary opened for us by a friend of Tota’s. As we passed through the over- sized wooden doors we were in awe of the simple, unscathed beauty of this tiny church with cathedral ceilings. We walked up to the balcony, breathed in the holiness and prayed for our loved ones. In the village’s recreational room, casually hanging on the wall is the Ciriza Coat of Arms. Mike took several pictures but accidentally deleted them. Ciriza produces its own wine, but the winery was closed on the day we visited. This village is surrounded by windmills set high on top of the Echauri mountain range. Its pristine scenery was left in my memory bank, so when I close my eyes it all comes back to me.
I was piecing it all together: Mike’s father Miguel was a bullfighter who loved the sport and wanted us to experience first hand where his family tree originated. In his youth Miguel was a brave bullfighter in the large arenas in Chihuahua, Mexico. When Mike was younger his father took him to Spain on several occasions to watch the bullfights. Mike can still name some of the famous bullfighters he and his father saw in Madrid: Paco Camino and “El Cordobes.” El Cordobes had long hair, and the fans would waves their combs while cheering him on when he came out to the arena.
On the route of the running of the bulls in Pamplona is a statue of San Fermin. Before running with the bulls the participants ask for the saint’s protection by touching his permanent icon set in the old city walls. St. Fermin is the patron saint of Pamplona. He was the first bishop of Pamplona during the time of the Roman persecution of Christians. San Fermin was beheaded in Amiens, France. The connection between St. Fermin and the Running of the Bulls stems from his master San Saturinus’ martyrdom, not St. Fermin. the legend says that San Saturinus was arrested and condemned to death because of his faith. Saturinus was tied by his feet to a bull and dragged through the city until he finally died. Another legend: the farmers needed to transport their bulls to market, so in order to make the bulls move faster, they coaxed them into running. This soon became a contest as whose bulls could reach the stalls first.
We ate wonderful paella and for several days strolled through this town made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”
Both Mike and I have ancestral roots in Spain, so I am still researching my maiden name Urquidez. This name also has a Basque heritage, originally it was spelled Urquidi.
When we are aware of our background, we can understand who we are. According to Ancestry. com I am 46% Spaniard and 46% Mexican. My family’s background has always been Catholic on both sides. Father Arturo Lozano Ciriza, Mike’s uncle, was a Jesuit priest. From Chris’s research, I found the baptismal records of Mike’s grandfather in San Miguel Catholic Church in Ciriza. The time and effort that Chris Ciriza put into his research is greatly appreciated. I wish I could thank him and tell him that what he accomplished for the Ciriza family was an unselfish act of love.
The beauty in this discovery is that you do not have to come from nobility to be engrafted into the family of God. In the end we are all His children, and this is the only place where you will find peace. God called us from every race and creed and welcomed us into His family. I sing praises to Your Name, Lord, and give You the glory for You are my Heavenly Father.
My Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray for the repose of the soul of Christopher Aaron Ciriza. Father God, Chris was searching for his identity but did not find it on earth. Embrace this precious soul and allow him to feel Your loved. Lord, I pray for all lost souls contemplating suicide. Father, speak to them in night visions and give them a reason to live. Surround them with people who will help them find meaning in this crazy world. Comfort their brokenness and allow them to hear Your powerful, still small voice. Amen.