history buffs! This week we have another fiesta on our agenda, that of Sant Jordi,
i.e. St. George. Congratulations are in order, then, for our English readers as
well as for the inhabitants of Sant Jordi Township, both of whom share the patronage
of this charismatic saint. The name was originally introduced on Ibiza via Catalonia,
now a region of Spain but once an empire in its own right. Since the early days
of Christianity, the Catalans have also held St. George as their protector, and
it was through their auspices that the name was given to one of the island's early
As one of the four original settlements founded
by the Catalonians, the village of Sant Jordi dates back to the lawless medieval
period when life was mean and lean. The establishment of the village in 1305 places
it in a time when Crusaders, pirates, pillagers and knight errants brazenly strove
to impress their martial supremacy on the quivering masses, for better or for
worse. Political instability was the law of the land as governments desperately,
and often unsuccessfully, tried to impose some degree of civil order.
Higher Order of Conflict
The underlying ethos of the
era was the perpetual fight between Good and Evil, a struggle that found symbolic
expression in St. George's miraculous victory over the dragon. The holy warrior's
success in overcoming such a deadly foe - possible only through divine intervention
- earned him a stellar niche in medieval ideology. It was only fitting, therefore,
that after Catalonia's victory over the Moors in Ibiza, they should hallmark their
deed with a Church in honour of this guiding saint, their very own Sant Jordi.
This juncture is probably as good
a time as any to step back from the small island scenario and examine the events
of the day in a broader historical context.
Conquest was, in fact, one of the lesser Crusades. The major Crusades, of course,
had the Holy Land as their objective, although any of the military exploits undertaken
by European Christians to recover territory from the Moslems can be included in
the appellation. The Balearic crusade was part of a larger movement known as the
Reconquest, the Spanish theatre of the Holy War, as it were.
Since the beginning of the 8th century, Iberia
had been under Moorish dominion with only the northern fringe of the peninsula
remaining in the hands of Christian kings, descendants of the earlier Visigoths
(507-711). As early as 718, small, isolated kingdoms had begun to band together
against their common enemy; but with Moorish hegemony at its zenith, these efforts
were generally in vain. The tide began to change in 1212, after which time great
swathes of territory were progressively won back. The Reconquest would continue
pressing south against Moorish holdings until 1492 when Christian supremacy in
Spain became a 'fait accompi'.
and the rest of the Balearics had also been under Moorish rule since 902. The
archipelago was instrumental to the buccaneering activities of the Moors, the
mightiest pirates in the Mediterranean. Despite various treaties of safe conduct,
the Islamic islanders could not resist the temptation to exercise their naval
prowess whenever Christian ships passed through Balearic waters.
dual objective, then, of Christian unification was to oust the Moors from the
peninsula and to free the surrounding waters of piracy so that trade could be
carried out in peace. In the vanguard of Spain's Christian forces were the Catalonians,
a confederation of free counties under the Crown of Aragon. As a coastal nation,
they, like the Moors, were expert seafarers and made it their express mission
to bring the Balearics back into the fold of Christendom. Majorca was the first
island to be conquered (1229), followed by Ibiza (1235) and finally Minorca (1287).
of Marque and Reprisal
The conquest of Ibiza was undertaken
by a privateer, Guillem de Montgrí, a warrior knight and close personal
friend of the Catalan king, Jaime I. In recompense for Montgrí's loyal
efforts, Jaime gave him Ibiza as a war prize. The island was subsequently drawn
into four quarters and distributed amongst Montrgí and two other warrior
knights, Pedro of Portugal and Nuño Sanz, who had also aided in the offensive.
Montgrí was awarded two of the quarters for he had supplied half of the
troops, while the other knights received one quarter each for their collaboration.
Jordi Quarter: Curse or Blessing?
One of Montgrí's
quarters was, in fact, Salinas, later to be renamed Sant Jordi. This lot was one
of the choicest, as it contained the salt pans and was also blessed with very
flat fertile land, excellent for farming. Precisely because of these two lucrative
modes of livelihood, the area became a prime target for pirates. Unlike other
parts of the island, Sant Jordi had a relatively dense population for the day.
One of the earliest surviving cadastres reveals that in 1397 no less than fifty
families were living in the area - choice picking for pirates who, of course,
were after human booty above all else.
As an added attraction,
these flatlands were a ridiculousy easy mark due to the long, sandy beaches that
fringed them, practically wooing pirates into shore. What red-blooded raider could
stay away from such promising fields of exploit? Clearly, not the Moors (nor the
Turks who were still active prior to Lepanto, 1570).
the area's high degree of vulnerability, I was shocked to discover that the rate
of piracy in Sant Jordi was one or two incursions per week (!) throughout the
Middle Ages. Often these attacks lasted for days on end, as there was literally
no one strong enough to put an end to them. The government stayed cloistered away
behind the city walls, and with Ibiza's internal revenue being what it was - non-existent
- there was no way to hire troops to fend off the invaders.
only recourse the extra-mural population had was to hide in the Church and pray
for Providence. An interesting fact is that all of Ibiza's original churches (four,
one per quarter) were designed with the defence function in mind. Each one had
a deep, fresh-water cistern so that the people could stay locked inside for prolonged
Some of the churches (e.g. Sant Antoni) were also
proper fortresses with artillery decked on the roof. Sant Jordi, unfortunately,
was not such a church, despite its immensely fortified look. In fact, the castle
effect of its square-cut walls was merely an architectural device to hide the
building's slanting roof, the very feature which made it impossible to accommodate
Toward the 15th century, the country folk
began to form local militias. These popular bands were comprised largely of teenagers
who were still hot-blooded enough to think they stood a chance against the pirates.
Sadly, this was rarely the case. The pirates always had superior weaponry and
many more years of combat experience. Every once in a while, however, luck would
One such incident occurred after an especially
virulent attack in the 16th century. The chronicles relate that the pirates dropped
anchor at Sal Rossa (today part of Playa den Bossa), made their way inland on
foot and captured many heads. The prisoners were shoved on board and the lone
ship slithered off to Formentera, where the captives would be channelled on to
slave markets elsewhere. As fate would have it, three armed vessels from 'foreign'
lands (most likely Valencia or Majorca) had just put into the main harbour in
Ibiza Town. Islanders quickly alerted the visiting captains of the day's events,
and the trio of ships set off in hot pursuit of the bandits. The fighting spirit
of St. George must have been with them, for the pirates were captured and all
the decent folk returned to their homes.
Closing On that
uplifting note, we shall close our narrative for the week. There is much more
to tell, but it will have to wait for another day. God only knows, it does the
spirit good to hear of triumph in the face of such extreme adversity. The people
of Sant Jordi are living proof that survival is possible wherever there is faith
and forbearance. After a mere eight centuries of hardship, they are finally reaping
the rewards of their perseverance. The very beaches that once ushered in death
and destruction now generate wealth and abundance. The flatness of the land, which
in the days of yore made Sant Jordi so defenceless, is the very feature, which,
in modern times, has suited it to be the home of Ibiza's airport. Life does have
a funny way of turning around on itself. See you next week!
Church at San
Picture Copyright © Gary Hardy