to the history page. This week we are going to take a look at one of Spain's most
popular holidays, 'La Fiesta del Carmen'. This religious feast day is celebrated
each summer in Mediterranean lands (especially Italy and Spain) to honour the
Virgin of Carmen, the protectress of fishermen and seafarers. Naturally, because
of her kinship with the sea, 'el Carmen' is celebrated in several Pitiusan localities,
most notably in the large harbours: La Sabina and Es Pujols in Formentera; Ibiza
Town, Sant Antoni and Es Cubells in Ibiza.
Indeed, most island
churches, whether coastal or inland, contain an icon of 'Nuestra Señora
del Carmen' as worshippers past and present put great stock in her powers. It
hasn't always been this way, however. 'El Carmen' is fundamentally an imported
cult, relatively recent in its arrival to the Pitiuses. Curiously, her first port
of call was Es Cubells, a tiny land's-end village where her benevolent aura is
thought to radiate more powerfully than at any other spot in the islands. As usual,
there is a fascinating story behind this piece of arcanum . . .
Origins of Carmelite Worship in Ibiza
cult to Nuestra Señora del Carmen (roughly translated, 'Our Lady of the
Seas') came to Ibiza in the mid-19th century through the auspices of a banished
Carmelite friar. Throughout history, whenever an individual was singled out for
exile, it was generally because his or her influence on society was so pervasive
that it posed a threat to the powers-that-be. Such was the case with Father Francesc
Palau; one of Barcelona's leading intellectuals and the founder of a successful
new ruling faction was none too keen on the clergy - and none too sure of its
own political footing. The incoming military rulers had only just succeeded in
overthrowing the liberal monarchy of Isabel II and were trying to institute a
far-left progressive government. Any religious personage who might prove to be
a vocal and persuasive dissenter was quickly removed from the mainstream.
was one of the first 'undesirables' to be sent away. The year was1854. There was
no longer a bishop on the island as the bishopric has been discontinued in 1852;
but there was a provost who welcomed the banished priest and showed him around
the island. The purpose of this courtesy tour was so that the friar might choose
where he wished to spend the years of his exile. Palau was particularly taken
with Es Cubells, a choice that could have been described as seeking 'exile within
exile'. If Ibiza was off the mainstream, Es Cubells was on the shores of oblivion.
Starvation Turns to Spiritual Abundance
In the absence
of any type of mental stimulation, this city-dwelling priest soon developed a
hitherto dormant facet of his personality: mysticism. Following his new devotional
bent, Palau would frequently remove himself to the tiny islet of Es Vedrá,
a speck of naked rock standing just off the south-west coast of the island. Here,
utterly isolated from human contact, he would fast and meditate for periods of
up to a month.
Eventually, with the help of Es Cubells'
few inhabitants, Palau built a tiny hermitage on the wooded cliffs overlooking
the sea, and how no? dedicated it to his beloved Virgen del Carmen. With his particular
charismatic flair, the friar soon founded a Carmelite Order at the hermitage.
This order, incidentally, still exists although it has been moved slightly up
the coast and further inland
fervent was Palau's devotion to the Virgen del Carmen that, during the three years
of his banishment, he travelled all over the island preaching her virtues in every
house of God. His preaching generated such an intensity of religious sentiment
that, by the latter part of the 19th century, waves of worshippers began to make
pilgrimages to far-flung Es Cubells in order to better adore their Lady of the
In 1857 Palau's exile was lifted, and he returned
to his home in Barcelona. The friar's absence, however, did not diminish the fervour
of his teachings by one iota. By popular demand, an icon of 'el Carmen' was placed
in almost every island church, though, much to the consternation of the parish
priests, whole congregations continued to make the long trek to Palau's now crumbling
In the words of island historian Joan Marí
Cardona, "The hermitage of Es Cubells . . . was virtually abandoned and in
a complete ruin, a fact which did not stop the islanders from visiting it. This
being the case, the rector of Sant Josep, Monseñor Pallarés, determined
to put an end to the pilgrimages, assuring everyone that it was not worth struggling
along such a rocky road as the one that led to Es Cubells when the figure he had
of 'el Carmen' was the same or better than the one at the hermitage." But
somehow, the magic of Es Cubells drew worshippers like bees to a flower. Even
to this day, you will occasionally hear a distressed country wife say, "If
my husband recovers from this, I will go to Es Cubells."
Eventually, however, the pilgrim fad wore itself
out. As the island's population expanded, more and more families settled in Es
Cubells, somehow drawing the numinous place back into the mundane world. By the
first third of the 20th century, the growing village became embroiled in an ecclesiastic
showdown of such dimensions that the intervention of the Vatican was necessary
for its resolution. Because the memory of these events is still fresh in the minds
of many Ibicencos, we shall not delve too deeply into details.
gist of the dispute was this: On the one hand, the friars of the deceased Father
Palau's order maintained that their hermitage should remain an independent entity
and should not be absorbed into the dioceses. The villagers, on the other hand,
wanted a parish church of their own since the nearest place to attend Mass was
in Sant Josep - a very long haul and uphill all the way.
1933, island bishop, Salvi Huix, sided with the villagers and granted parish rights
to Es Cubells. He posted an official decree of erection whereby the hermitage
would be enlarged into a community church. Edicts notwithstanding, Huix could
only manage an uneasy compromise with the friars: the villagers would be permitted
to use the hermitage temporarily and only until a parish church could be built
at another site.
No progress was made in the matter until
eight years later a new bishop, Antoni Cardona 'Frit', came into office. With
the verve of a newcomer, Cardona, was determined to push through with the episcopal
decree of his predecessor, and construction was begun on the church in 1941. Because
of unceasing conflicts with the friars, the edifice was not completed until 1959,
eighteen years later. Father Palau's chapel was incorporated into the nave of
the church, while all of the possessions within it were bequeathed to the Carmelite
Mission by papal order.
to end on a turbulent note, the 'Fiesta del Carmen' is always a jolly affair in
whichever of the five island localities it is celebrated. Fisherman and seafarers
still ask for the virgin's protection, making this one of the most heartfelt fiestas
in the Pitiusan calendar. If you happen to be on one of the islands, why not wander
down to the nearest harbour and join in the fun!