It is well known that the San Mames stadium is where Athletic Club plays its matches and that its supporters also call it ‘The Cathedral’.You might think that it is only due to its location in Bilbao, as the land on which the old stadium was located belonged to the San Mames asylum located nearby. But the fact is that the true, original reason goes back to the Byzantine Empire. The name given to this area of Bilbao is nothing more than the incredible end of an ancient story. Athletic Club’s stadium owes its name to no more no less than a Christian saint, Mamés (Mammes). Maybe that’s why, for many fans of the red-and-whites, Athletic is like a religion. Legend has it that the martyr Mammes was born in about 259 in Caesarea in Cappadocia, into a family imprisoned for being devout Christians. He lost his mother and father at a very young age. It was then that a noble, rich widow would take care of him and leave Mammes heir to her estate and all her possessions. From then on, Mammes would be known as “man of God”. He would share his possessions among the poor and devote his life to shepherding, retreat and loneliness. Different governors would try to get him to renounce his faith by subjecting him to all kinds of torture. Legend has it that he was freed by an angel and respected by a group of lions that he managed to tame. However, in about 275, Mammes died having been skewered with a trident. From then on, the Cappadocians encouraged devotion to their countryman and centres that worshipped him began to spread throughout the world. One of these centres reached the municipality of Bilbao. Apparently, in 1447 there was an old shrine to Saint Mammes on that site, on a hillock next to the Estuary of Bilbao. A monastery would be built on this shrine to the Franciscan fathers and later, the current Santa Casa Misericordia or San Mames asylum would be erected, the chapel of which still worships the saint. In 1913, next to the asylum, the iconic San Mames football stadium would be opened, the martyr to whom of course it owes its name. In fact, it is the only stadium whose name has ancient religious origins and was later baptised by football fans as “The Cathedral”. It is said that it was known by this nickname because it led to conversations like this:
- Where are you going?
- To San Mames.
- To the shrine?
- No, to the cathedral.
- However, the great tradition and values that characterise Athletic Club have come to strengthen this name more than ever.
But the legend continues in the hands of Athletic Club and its supporters, who meet in this enclave on match days. A meeting place where sacrifice, worship, character and passion come together in an unparalleled manner, in the name of a saint named Mamés.