Dear visitor, welcome to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a temple of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Residence, because it is here the residence of the Jesuits in the capital of Biscay. It is in the heart of the town, in the Bilbao expansion area, and is one of the most outstanding examples of religious architecture in contemporary Bilbao.

Before starting the visit to the temple, we will explain the history of the Society in Biscay and its establishment in the town of Bilbao. It should be noted that the Society of Jesus was founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1534 and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.

The foundation in Bilbao was a priority, although in those days it was still a small town with less than 8,000 inhabitants.

The first news about the foundation of the Jesuits in Bilbao was very early. It is from the year 1545 and appears in the correspondence that Saint Ignatius had with the bishop of Calahorra, to whose diocese Bilbao belonged. In that letter the saint requested to send some companions to the village. Years later, in 1552 Saint Francis Borgia, one of the first companions of the founder, visited the town to carry out various procedures for the establishment of the Society in Bilbao. However, due to various circumstances, it did not happen until November 15, 1604, when Domingo de Gorgolla, a wealthy man from Bilbao and butler of the Archbishop of Toledo, allocated in his will an annual income of 1,500 ducats for the foundation in his native town of a school run by the “Society of Jesus”. They were years of enthusiasm, work and growth until in 1767, by royal order of Charles III, the Society of Jesus was expelled from Spain, abandoning the town of Bilbao and all its projects. For this reason, currently, in the old school of Saint Andrew, belonging to the Society, there is the Basque Museum, while the old students’ chapel is the parish of Saints Johns, where numerous Jesuit details can be seen.

In 1880, after an absence of 113 years, the Society returned to the town of Bilbao to settle in a humble flat in Santiago square, in front of the Bilbao Cathedral, until its transfer in 1888 to the new Residence on Ayala Street. At the same time, the church that you now visit began to be built. It was inaugurated on September 8, 1890; the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, with a solemn Mass presided over by the Lord Bishop.

The temple was erected thanks to the numerous contributions of the faithful which are a testimony of love and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and recognition of the commendable work of the Society in the town of Bilbao.

The church was projected by Jose Maria Basterra and executed following the neogothic style; very popular at the time. The design of this prolific Bilbao architect is influenced by the Parisian Sainte Chapelle. In addition, a British-inspired architectural influence can also be seen, both on the main façade and throughout the exterior, which creates a striking contrast with the combination of brick and white stone.

After a few brushstrokes of art and history, you can cross the threshold of the temple if you have not already done so, and thus begin the visit. Go along the central corridor towards the head of the temple and discover its striking interior and the various altarpieces and carvings that occupy the side chapels. If necessary, go to the chapels to see them in detail.

As you can see, it is a free-standing building with three naves, the main one being larger. The space is divided into six sections with the same number of polychrome columns with an original combination of green, maroon and gold, and they are decorated with floral and geometric motifs.

On the other hand, the roofs of the naves have a different polychromy. The vault of the central nave is light blue, giving amplitude to the sacred space, while the lateral vaults are coloured with a peculiar starry green.

In the first chapel of the right nave or nave of the Epistle, there is the altarpiece of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and patron saint of Biscay. The life-size carving is standing with its head held high and looking at the horizon. With his right hand he holds the pole of a golden flag that wraps around his body, while in his left hand he carries a book that could be «The Constitutions» of the Society or the «Spiritual Exercises». In the lower part of the set, a relief shows us the saint’s death that occurred in Rome on July 31, 1556, at the age of 65. His mortal remains rest in «Il Gesù», mother church of the Society of Jesus.

In the adjoining chapel, there is the effigy of Blessed Francisco de Garate Aranguren. «Brother Garate», as he is popularly known, was born in 1857 in the town of Azpeitia, like Saint Ignatius.

Once his last vows had been pronounced in 1888, Brother Garate was assigned to the University of Deusto to be a doorman. He remained in that position for 41 years until his death in 1929. He was an example of humility, simplicity and delicacy, leaving a notable reputation for holiness, for which John Paul II beatified him on October 6, 1985.

“I do well what I can; the rest is done by the Lord, the one who can do everything”

Blessed Francisco Garate

Next, there is the majestic carving of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Crucified. This work, by the famous Biscayan sculptor Ricardo Iñurria, was made around the year 1950 at the request of Father Andrés Arístegui SJ. Recently, in April 2024, the carving was donated by the Sacred Heart Charity.

Veneration of the Crucified is common throughout the Catholic world. The people know that his Faith is anchored in a cross and that, on it, Jesus freed us from sin and death by giving his life for us.

Right on the opposite nave, you can see the carving of the Immaculate Conception. It is a simple image of great popular devotion.

You have surely seen the reliefs with the 14 stations of the Via Crucis, distributed on the side walls. Many times it seems that the accompaniment of Jesus in his Passion and Death ends in the grave, forgetting that on the third day Christ resurrected and is alive among us forever. VIA LUCIS

You arrive at the head and in its apse is the main altarpiece. On its sides, there are two altarpieces of a similar style. In the altarpiece on your left, at the head of the Gospel nave, you can discover the representation of «Calvary» with its usual iconographic composition: the crucified Christ is accompanied by the Virgin Mary who looks up at her son, and Saint John, the beloved disciple rests his hands on his chest, a sign of his affliction at seeing the Lord dead.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life”

Saint John 3, 16

The set is completed with the images of two distinguished Jesuit saints. On the right, Saint Francis Xavier, who was part of the group of seven men who founded the Society. He is known as “the giant of the history of the missions”, sharing the universal patronage of the missions with Saint Therese of Lisieux. The saint from Navarre shows us his burning heart, a sign of his spiritual strength and his evangelizing impetus. Before the Society was officially approved he was sent to the East to announce the Gospel, reaching India and later Japan and China. He passed away at the age of 46 and has been an inspiration to many who have followed his example and joined the “Society of Jesus” to bring the Good News to distant lands.

On the left side is the carving of Saint Francis Borgia who carries a skull in his hands. He was a descendant of royalty, Duke of Gandia, governor, viceroy and advisor to Emperor Charles V. The death of Empress Isabella of Portugal made a deep impression on him, remembering that day as the day of his conversion. Years later, on the death of his wife, he renounced his immense power, wealth and privileges to join the Society of Jesus, later being elected as the III Superior General. Francis was not fooled by the world and knowing that it was nothing, he trusted everything in Jesus Christ.

“I also swear that I will never again serve a man who may die from me”

Saint Francis Borgia

At the head of the opposite nave is the altarpiece of the Holy Family. The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph accompany the Child Jesus who raises his arm and looks towards his Father who is on high. The effigies of two young Jesuit saints complete the set from left to right; Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and Saint Stanislaus of Kostka.

Luis Gonzaga, who belonged to a family of high Italian nobility, renounced in favour of his brother the principality that corresponded to him as the firstborn. Once freed from any earthly ties, he entered the Society of Jesus to surrender to the divine plan of Providence. He died at the age of 23 while attending contagious patients during the serious epidemic that attacked the city of Rome in 1591. He is the protector of life and patron of youth.

Stanislaus of Kostka is one of the few saints depicted with the Child Jesus in his arms. After travelling more than 500 kilometres from his native Poland to Rome, he was admitted as a novice at an early age, but it was only nine months in the novitiate, because he passed away at the age of 17. Still, he was a true model of holiness.

We arrive at the main altar located at the head of the temple. As usual in Christian temples, it faces east, because the sun, symbol of Christ, rises from the east. Christ enlightens us and gives us life.

The images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and her husband Saint Joseph holding the Child Jesus in her hands flank the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whose dedication the temple is consecrated.

At the bottom of this attractive altarpiece, the greatest treasure that we can find in this temple seems to go unnoticed, the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle. The living Christ has saved and redeemed us; he has freely given us eternal life and is always by our side.

We are finishing our visit to the temple where we have combined art and faith. We wish that your visit was pleasant. Before leaving the temple, we invite you to have a moment of recollection and prayer; or you can praise and give glory to the Lord in front of the Tabernacle. For this, we put at your disposal some prayers that can be useful and various links to learn more about the life of the Saints in the altarpieces.

“Our salvation is a gift of the blood of Christ. Everything is a free gift from God and his love for us”


“For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is LOVE.

(1 Cor. 13, 13)

If you can much; much. If you can little; a little bit. If you can't do anything; nothing.


Take, Lord and receive

Take, Lord, and receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours;
do with it what you will.
Give me only your love
and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from Christ’s side, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds, hide me.
Do not allow me to be separated from you.
From the evil enemy, protect me.
At the hour of my death, call me.

And bid me to come to you.
That with your saints I may praise you.
Forever and ever.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

To Brother Garate

God of life and love, you showed us with the admirable virtues of Blessed Brother Francisco Garate, how happy life hidden in humility, obedience and work is in your eyes: deign to glorify your servant before the Church, granting us the grace we ask for her intercession, if it is to be for your greater glory and the good of our souls.

Fall in Love!

Fall in Love!
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love
and it will decide everything.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ