Rafaela Ybarra Arámbarri

Born in Bilbao on January 16, 1843, she belonged to one of the most important families of the bourgeoisie of Bilbao, which emerged during the industrial revolution in the middle of the nineteenth century.

In 1861, Rafaela got married to the Catalan engineer José Vilallonga Gipuló in Bilbao, a character that became capital with the birth and expansion of the ironworks business Altos Hornos de Vizcaya.

Since she was young, thanks to her affable and generous character, Rafaela showed a personality inclined to solve the problems of the neediest in Bilbao. In her youth and in her first ten years of marriage she was a kind and simple girl, as any young person of her social group. Parties, meetings, theatres and dinners with social content were ordinary in the first stage of her life until she realized that she should alleviate the most dehumanizing excesses of immigration in Bilbao. In 1894 she founded the religious Congregation “Ángeles Custodios” in order to train and give accommodation to girls who came to Bilbao from the valleys of the region searching for a job. To prevent them from falling into the hands of prostitution, she mobilized the consciences of variety of locals in search of the solution. Rafaela was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Rafaela died in 1900 with a reputation for holiness. Her work is still useful today and gives religious and social service in many parts of the world.

In relation to the religious congregation, the FPEV digitized the archive of the Blessed Rafaela. This archive consists of 8,300 documents 2,400 letters addressed to her husband José Vilallonga and vice versa and to her children. It belongs to the period between 1881 and 1900 in Bilbao. Although the fund also contains some documents on the establishment of the school “Ángeles Custodios” in the late nineteenth century, the most important part of it is the section that contains the letters. In fact, they reflect the way of life of the bourgeoisie of the time, as well as social issues in a period well documented in the history of Bilbao, but with some gaps in the issues reflected in the letters.

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