Welcome to the history page. This week we will turn our attention to the tiny
northern community of Sant Vicent, where all weekend locals will be celebrating
their patron saint fiesta. I do hope they're having nice weather for the occasion.
Down here in the south of the island we've been basking in golden rays, but
who knows? Up in Sant Vicent it could be snowing! Just joking. What I'm trying
to convey is that this land's end village is so remote it seems to exist in
a different dimension, close to, but not altogether co-ordinal with, the rest
of Ibiza. Somehow, it has never quite caught up with the modern day.
Despite this lost-in-the-mists quality, two salient features of history emerge
on closer inspection. For starters, Sant Vicent was an extremely late arrival
in terms of general Ibicenco history, having been founded as recently as 1836.
Ibiza Town proper, for example, was founded in the 7th century BC, making the
age difference roughly a millennium. The other unusual feature is that the patron
of its church, Saint Vincent of Valencia, was expressly chosen by the villagers
rather than randomly assigned by the bishop. Let us examine each of these points
in greater detail.
To understand the larger context of the founding of this village, we must backtrack
to 1652. If you will remember (from Weekly Edition 003), this was the year Ibiza
was struck by bubonic plague and the island's population was decimated. Those
who survived were deeply impressed by the need to seize life by the horns, to
fight, to grow, to create. And so they did. The population spread out into three
main areas: Sant Josep, Sant Joan and Formentera. Within fifty years, all three
places had enough inhabitants to warrant the erection of a local church, and
slowly villages began to coalesce around these churches.
Sant Vincent, in turn, is an off-shoot of the rapid growth in the Sant Joan
area. With the passing of the years, most of the arable lands within the township
were claimed, giving budding families had no choice but to set up farmsteads
farther afield. We must keep in mind that the Ibicenco 'modus vivendi' tended
toward dispersion rather than cohesion. Very few people chose to live in villages,
preferring the semi-isolation of rural dwellings. In the case of 'Sa Cala' (the
earlier name for Sant Vicent), I think we can change the term 'rural dwelling'
to 'wilderness', for it was virtually inaccessible and hardly offered a warm
welcome to human habitation.
No Man's Land
Island historian, Joan MarÝ Cardona, shared some of his thoughts with us on this subject.
"How these people were able to carve out a life in such inhospitable conditions
is almost incomprehensible. It was like the end of world. There were no roads,
just a terrible, rutted track to Sant Joan. It was a trial and a tribulation
to get anywhere or to lay in provisions. I think life was harder there than
in Formentera even. The Formenterencs had the sea to contend with, but the land
they lived on was flat and easily-tamed. In Sa Cala the land was rocky, uneven
and densely wooded. It boggles the mind just to think of it."
Indeed, it was a hardy breed that chose to settle in these northern reaches.
But they were determined to put down roots. Once they saw that survival was
possible, no matter how hard-won, they set about raising a church. Naturally,
they had to build it with their own manpower and their own materials (stone
and lime), but in so doing they proved their victory over hardship - and also
spared themselves the rocky road to Sant Joan every Sunday for Mass.
Although the physical obstacles were formidable, bureaucratic obstacles were
much more manageable. By this time (1825), Ibiza had her own bishop, so that
it was simply a matter of lumbering down to Dalt Vila and asking him to appoint
a vicar to the new church at 'La Cala'. In the days before the bishopric, the
procedure would have involved a long volley of overseas correspondence, but
luckily, such was not the case. Felipe Gonzalez Carrasco, the prelate at that
time, was more than happy to oblige the settlers in their petition.
The settlers had a second petition as well. They had thought things out very
carefully and decided on the patron they wanted for their church. Usually, the
naming of a church was a bishop's prerogative, but this right could be waived
if a special request were made by the congregation. In this case, a Latter-day
Saint from nearby Valencia was chosen. Vicent Ferrer had been a popular, 16th-century
evangelist from the Dominican Order who had travelled to Majorca and (legend
has it) also to Ibiza to bear witness of his faith. After his death Ferrer was
beatified due to the prodigious miracles he performed throughout his ministry.
He was known to have the gift of healing, and is also remembered for his 'Basket
of Water' miracle, when in a time of dire need, he drew water from a very deep
well with only a wicker basket. Incidentally, this well still exists as a shrine
in the city of Valencia. Returning to our story, Saint Vincent had long been
loved by the Ibicenco people. The inhabitants of Sa Cala felt it only right
to honour him with their humble house of worship. Indeed, the mere existence
of such a church is almost as miraculous as drawing water with a basket. Even
today there is a namesake to Saint Vincent in almost every Ibicenco family.
Work was begun on the church in 1825 and finished in 1836. The four walls were
solid enough, but there were no pews. Instead, each person brought his own chair
or folding stool. The women especially were fond of this arrangement, as it
prevented their Sunday best from getting wrinkled. They would fluff out their
long, voluminous skirts - always black - over the tiny seat and stay immobile
for the whole of Mass.
The day of inauguration was a momentous occasion beyond all expectation. Bishop
Gonzalez came to give the blessing and over 300 people flocked to the once inaccessible
village. Curiously, the day of inauguration was not 5th April, the name day
of this saint, but 15th August, an important holy day in the Christian calendar.
This day is still celebrated fervently today by the people of Sant Vicent.
Closing That finishes our instalment for this week. I have decided not to promise
anything for next time, because the best-laid plans of mice and men have a habit
of going astray. Instead I shall leave you in suspense . . . Hasta la vista!
Fiesta de Sant Vicent de sa Cala