Basque gravestones, FranceAs someone who loves history, I’ve always been drawn to old cemeteries when I visit places. I grew up outside of Boston, and always enjoyed visiting pilgrim cemeteries when I was a kid.

In Europe, many of the church cemeteries are quite picturesque and interesting – and this was also true of the little towns I visited this summer in France’s Pays Basque – France’s southwestern most region, along the border with Spain, which has its own sizable Basque community.

Basque gravestones, FranceTo add to the picturesque nature of these cemeteries, the traditional Basque gravestones are not only filled with crosses, but also with a type of round stele with symbols that trace back to pagan rituals practiced by the Basques before their conversion to Christianity.

What is interesting is that these symbols and practices lived on and played a prominent role in their Christian beliefs throughout this region.

The typical symbol you see on may of these gravestones is the one most closely related to Basque identity – the Lauburu, which means ‘four heads’ and is said to represent the Basque provinces.

Basque gravestones, FranceThis symbol is seen all over Basque country, so it’s not surprising that it’s common on the traditional gravestones, too.

It’s interesting to see these traditional Basque, circular gravestones interspersed with the crosses – maintaining both traditions in these peaceful, country cemeteries.

Don’t miss a wander around some of these beautiful, traditional cemeteries when you are next in Pays basque.

For other tips in this region, see my earlier posts on the seaside town of Guéthary and hiking along the coastal trail.

Basque gravestones, France