Welcome again to the history page of our website, where each week we endeavour
to explore a different facet of island history. Last week we were not altogether
successful in our endeavour, and wandered a wide loop round the historical time
frame. To make up for our aimlessness, this week we shall devote our instalment
to a native Ibicenco whose very name is synonymous with history. He is none
other than the venerable Isidoro Macabich. Many people know him only as the
High Street that runs through Ibiza Town, but there is actually a man behind
the avenue. Who, then was the great Macabich?
Don Isidoro was a scholar-priest whose primary distinction was his exhaustive,
life-long research into Ibicenco history. Not surprisingly, he was one of the
key founders of the Institute for Ibicenco Studies, which only last week was
awarded a medal for service and achievement by the Balearic Government. It was
the priest's post as keeper of the archives that awakened his interest in the
island's past and also put him in a position to investigate it methodically.
Macabich wrote prolifically, both in prose and in verse, and was the first
of Ibiza's native sons to give the island a literary identity of its own. His
writings also brought the first flush of local pride, for prior to their existence,
most islanders were utterly unaware of their own heritage. For them, their homeland
was little more than one of the world's "Forgotten Islands" - to borrow Gaston
Vuillier's epithet in his book by the same title (1888).
Scarcely a Mention
In the past, only rarely did Ibiza appear in history books, and then almost
always in accounts written by non-islanders. Macabich put an end to long centuries
of silence by giving Ibiza the strong, clear voice of a stentor. His birth in
1883 placed him in the generation of positivism, an intellectual movement which
upheld that nothing is ascertainable beyond the facts of physical science or
of sense. In terms of historiography this translated into "the verification
of the document as the sole basis on which historical facts could be pieced
together" (B. Escandell Bonet, Doctor of History at the University of Oviedo).
To Macabich this meant that all previous works on Ibiza were discredited until
their words could be proved true in the light of documented evidence.
As a matter of curiosity, the most notable of these previous works were: 'History
of Ibiza' (mid-17th century), a now lost tome by an Ibicenco convent prior,
P. Vicent Nicolau, and the basis of Historical Summary of the Island of Ibiza
(1752), written some 100 years later by the Majorcan, P. Caietá. Then there
was 'The Geographic and Historical Memoirs of Ibiza and Formentera' (1798),
written out of nostalgia by a Jesuit rector, Prospero de Callar, during his
exile from the island. Lastly and unforgettably is 'The Ancient Pitiuses' (1886)
by the Austrian Archduke Luis Salvador.
What becomes clear from this rundown is that none of the writers were professional
historians; they were either clerics or erudite travellers. None, therefore,
had the access that Macabich had to the island's archives and the wealth of
data contained therein: administrative records, diplomas, inventories, wills,
letters, juridical and parochial registers, property deeds, minutes of meetings,
birth, death and marriage certificates, etc. From these papers, incidental fragments
of past lives, Macabich reconstructed piece by piece the institutions, social
systems, attitudes and values of yesteryear. Escandell states in 'Eivissa' magazine
that, "due to his sustained familiarity with the archives, don Isidor appears
as the most 'professional' of the historians of Ibiza."
Keeper of the Files and Other Public Posts
Perhaps the reason no-one before him had made use of the archives is that they
were in a state of absolute anarchy. It was still as a seminary student that
the young novice walked one morning into the curia where all the books and documents
were stacked haphazardly. In his memoirs he recalls the moment thus: "It was
nothing more than a storeroom of papers, everything a shambles, everything mixed
up. And there, snooping around that day, I found material for my first essay
of a historical nature."
Much later, In 1913, at the age of thirty, he was appointed Canonical Archivist
of the Cathedral, a post he held until 1951. In 1934 he was named Chronicler
of Ibiza by the Town Hall, and later Director of the Historical Archive and
President of the Board of Patrons for the Archaeological Museum. In 1946 he
became the academic correspondent to the Royal Academy of History . . . the
list goes on.
Macabich's works can be divided into three phases. In the first, when he was
relatively young, he wrote monographs about random aspects of the island's history
according to his own interest. Three of these were published: Ibicenco Corsairs
(1906), Feudalism in Ibiza (1909), and Santa María la Mayor (1916), about the
In his second phase, as a mature man, he was still writing monographs, but
now with a definite pattern. Again there were three publications: 'Pitiuses,
The Phoenician Cycle' (1931), 'Ebusus, The Roman Cycle' (1932) and 'Santa María,
The Christian Cycle' (1933).
His last phase began in 1935 at the age of 53 and lasted until his death in
1973 at the age of 90. This was the period of comprehensive and encyclopaedic
works. First appeared The Elemental History of Ibiza and Formentera' (1945),
then 'The Brief History of Ibiza' (1953) and finally his opus magnus, 'The History
of Ibiza' (in four tomes, 1966-67).
In addition to his books on history, Macabich published two volumes on local
traditions, 'Customs I & II' (1960/66) as well as many fascinating essays on
various topics. Incongruously, he was also a poet of great depth and feeling.
He wrote his first poem at the age of 18 and would continue to write poetry
throughout most of his long life.
Your Typical Genius
Unwritten law entitles every man of genius to a few quirks and don Isidoro
took full advantage of this licence. Talking to Macabich's successor, Joan Marí
Cardona, the unofficial character sketch of the man comes to light. His eccentricity
is undeniably one of the most interesting parts of his legacy, so here's the
bottom line! In the words of JMC:
"He had a remarkable memory up to the very end. He would say, 'In such and
such a book you'll find this or that data,' and sure enough, the information
would be there. He was hopelessly disorganised, but even so, he could always
locate stray papers right away.
"He was delicate of health to the point of being sickly. He ate very little
and hardly weighed 50 kilos. He was literally skin and bones; even so, he was
always on a dietary regime of some sort. He would get sick at the drop of a
hat and always carried his medicine with him. Quite often he didn't go out for
fear of catching a cold. He was special, don Isidor, hard to understand. You
had to know how to treat him.
"He was enormously liberal, naturally, and mixed with many strange birds.
Sometimes he dressed in virtual tatters. He wasn't exactly popular. Admired,
yes, but he didn't mix with country folk. He was citified, from Vila. He liked
folklore, but at the intellectual level, from a distance. How a word was pronounced
in a certain area would interest him, for example, but he almost never went
to the countryside himself.
"As a priest his duties were exclusively those of keeping the archives. He
did not give Mass or have his own congregation. He was not of a mystical bent,
but he was a man of faith - that is apparent from his poetry.
"Sometimes he would shut himself away for long periods, cut off from the outside
world. There was an air of mystery about him. When he spoke he always left something
unsaid. He never talked for the sake of talking. Everything he said had great
importance. If he didn't want to continue a line of conversation, he would cut
it off with one of his scathing phrases, something like: It is better to be
an ass, than twice an ass,' or 'In a closed mouth enter no flies.' He had hundreds
of them and when he reeled one off, it meant, 'Shut up!' He was impenetrable!
He would say up to where he wanted and when he didn't want to say anymore he
would just stop. He never said anything he wasn't 100% sure of.
"He lived with his maternal grandmother due to the early death of his parents.
As an only child and a priest with no offspring, his death marked the end of
his family line on Ibiza. He was the second and last Macabich on the island."
NOTE: Macabich is a Central European surname brought to Majorca by Isidor's
great grandfather and to Ibiza by his grandfather.