Welcome history buffs! This week we have an action-packed episode of civil
disobedience, 'a lo Ibicenco'. Lest anyone be deceived by the peaceful countenance
of modern-day Sant AgustÝ, one look at history will set the record straight.
This rustic village, tucked into the hills between Sant Antoni and Sant Josep,
was once a seething pot of dissension. Tensions ran so high that eventually
the dispute splintered into a many-sided fray with neighbour against neighbour,
peasant against ecclesiast and barrister against bishop. But, I suppose we'd
better start at the beginning . . .
The Way It Was: Point
In this case, the beginning is 1785, the year that Ibiza's newly appointed
bishop, Manuel Abad y Lasierra, decided to raise seven new churches. His plan
was to slowly coax island locals into what might be called 'peripheral civilization'.
Each pocket of inhabitants, he reasoned, should have its own church, which,
in time, would form the nucleus of a village. The bishop hoped that these villages
would come to serve as points of social interaction for the churlish farmers
who lived in scattered isolation across the countryside.
The Way It Was: Counterpoint
Of course, an 18th-century Ibicenco would see the situation through very different
eyes. Were he in a talkative mood, he would perhaps explain that the tendency
of yesteryear's rural society toward dispersion was due to the simple reason
that most families were fully self-sufficient and needed large tracts of land
on which to raise animals, plant crops, thresh wheat, cultivate orchards, tend
vineyards, etc. What little was needed from outside sources could be obtained
from the city, from a neighbouring farm or simply done without. There was no
need for centres of commerce, and hence no impetus for the creation of villages.
Unless! (the bishop would have countered) a church were built. But let's face
it, even then the villages never amounted to much. Islanders seldom had reason
to visit the parish hub except to attend mass or some other religious ceremony.
Rural villages, like best clothes, were used only on Sundays and holidays.
A Stubborn Lot
Getting back to Sant AgustÝ: the birth of this village was indeed hard and
prolonged labour, all stemming from the stubbornness and temerity of its would-be
congregation. When Abad y Lasierra decided to erect a temple to Saint Augustine
in the territory west of Portmany, the locals were delighted. Since 1726 they
had been attending mass at the new and nearby Sant Josep church, but an even
newer and more nearby church would be a grand honour for them. According to
the chronicles, the Bishop even went so far as to point with his finger to the
exact spot upon which the temple was to stand (Can Pere Rafal). Before long,
Sunday services were being held there and a provisional cemetery was begun -
all very makeshift until the permanent church could be raised. There was only
one problem: the locals would not show up on their pre-assigned workdays. An
important clan in the area did not approve of the chosen site as they deemed
it too far away from the majority of homes in the parish.
Things got nasty, and many of the area's dwellers were punished for truancy
- several days in prison and forced labour in the walled city. Even the lawyer
who defended the feisty Vedrans, Francesc Tur 'Damiß', was banished to Majorca
from his post as Town Hall secretary until the situation cooled down.
As the Vedrans refused to work on their church, the bishop attempted to persuade
the folk of Sant Josep to collaborate in the building. After all, many men from
the Sant AgustÝ area had pitched in on the Sant Josep church 50 years earlier.
But the folk of Sant Josep refused, claiming that they were busy with repairs
on their own church. This, of course, was a lie, or at best a fabricated excuse.
As far as the bishop was concerned, they were only siding up with their neighbours
against established authority.
Abad y Lasierra was at the end of his tether. After three years of interminable
struggle to get the parish in motion, his health enfeebled by nervous strain
and the "African climate of the island" (his words), he requested
a transfer back to the peninsula.
Bishop N║ 2
In 1788, Bishop Manuel was replaced by Bishop Eustaquio de Azara who was greeted
by the same stony wall of obstinacy that had been the despair of his predecessor.
Azara, on the other hand, was accused of refusing to engage in dialogue with
the parishioners. At any rate, three more years passed and still no progress
was made. In a desperate last attempt the bishop issued this edict in 1791:
"The labour on the parish temple of St. Augustine must be seriously commenced.
If it is not commenced, all necessary means will be employed so that God and
the king are well served. Do not let anyone in this parish ignore that this
is the last and final exhortation." Still, the country folk held out. (Had
he been born, Thoreau [1817-1862] would have given the Vedrans two thumbs up.)
Bishop N║ 3
Finally, a third bishop, Clement Llozer (1795-1804) was sent to tend the recalcitrant
flocks in Ibiza. This good shepherd proved amenable to the parishioners' request
for dialogue and went personally to Sant AgustÝ in order to negotiate with the
most important chiefs of family. He saw that what they said made sense and that
there was no reason not to build the church at the spot they favoured, the present-day
site of the church.
Once it was determined that the church would be built at the locally approved
site, a new facet to the argument began to emerge. Two very important clans,
Can Berri and Can Curt, both insisted on donating the plot of land for construction.
Naturally, the only solution was to accept half a plot from each family. With
that quarrel quelled, construction commenced immediately and God and the King
were well served . . . eventually.
No Frills Church
Due to a shortage of funds, construction was halted several times and the final
church was not completed until 1819, twenty-eight years after Bishop Clement
got the works in motion. The average building time for a rural church was 12
Even once the church was finished, the parishioners found something to complain
about. The structure seemed incomplete in their eyes, for they could not afford
the 'porxo' or front patio which embellished so many of the other churches around
Today, however, the Sant AgustÝ church is admired for the very architectural
purity that was a source of shame to its first worshippers. Island historian
and intellectual, Joan MarÝ Cardona, writes these words of praise: "The
main facade [is] so beautiful without 'porxo' for its smooth nudity and angelic
Port des Torrent
The major geographical feature of the area is a now dry torrent which once
flowed from the northern slopes of s'Atalya de Sant Josep and emptied into the
San Antonio bay. So derives the name Port des Torrent, literally 'Port of the
Torrent'. Incidentally, the actual fiesta of Sant AgustÝ is one of the liveliest
on the island. It's well worth a visit if you happen to be in search of good
food, good music and good times. See you there!
Next week we will have passed over the sanity-restoring portals of September.
Hallelujah! Join us then as we celebrate another local fiesta and dig deep into
the origins of Jes˙s - the town not the avatar!