to the history page. This week our travels through rural Ibiza have brought
us to Sant Mateu, a tiny village tucked away in the northwest corner of the
island. As it happens, the history of Sant Mateu is so simple and straightforward
that there is practically nothing to tell!
parish was founded, the church was built and a minuscule village sprang up around
it. The rest, as they say, is history - and of such an equanimous variety that
there have only been two outstanding events in the past two centuries. (That
works out to one event per century in case anyone is counting.
first milestone was the buying of the church bell in 1864 for 2,262 reales
(an extinct monetary unit). The second was the removal of said bell to Dalt
Vila (the walled city) at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, for purposes
allegedly more military than religious. After the war the bell was returned
safely to its belfry in Sant Mateu.
Late Medieval and Early Modern
History in Ibiza: An Overview
we've dispensed with those tales of intrigue, we have some free cyber-space
in which to map out the general line of development in post-conquest Ibiza.
Hopefully, this overview will help to situate the little vignettes we relate
each week within the larger picture.
1235, when Catalonia conquered Ibiza from the Moors, the island was divided
into quarters or quartons. They were:
a name derived from the Roman Portus Magnus or 'great port' and which corresponds to present-day
the northern-most portion of the island which had belonged to a powerful clan
of Moorish landlords of the same name and which today corresponds to Sant Miquel.
or the 'King's quarter, so called because King Jaime II of Majorca purchased
it from Prince Pedro of Portugal who had participated in the Conquest and had
been awarded a chunk of the Ibiza as a war prize. Pedro had no interest in the
land and sold it soon after. This area corresponds to present-day Santa Eulària.
literally, 'Plain of the City', a fertile flatland at the foot of the walled
city that encompassed the areas that today are known as Jesús, Puig d'en Vals
and part of Sant Jordi (all of which have been previously discussed on this
page in Weekly Editions 028, 011 and 008)
was a separate entity, an administrative enclave where the ruling class of politicians
and ecclesiarchs conducted their affairs and resided.
a century of the Conquest, each quartó
was established as a parish and fortified with a church. For the next 300 years,
Ibicencos would travel, by foot or beast, from wherever they lived to the nearest
of these four rural churches. On a good week they went for mass; on a bad week
they went for shelter.
Plague Prompts Growth
a close call with the bubonic plague, which decimated island numbers, Ibiza
was jolted out of centuries of stagnation into a period of growth and expansion.
The quartons were systematically subdivided
into smaller parishes, which were not only more accessible to worshippers but
also necessary to accommodate the rising number of inhabitants. One of these
new parishes was Sant Mateu, previously known as Albarca.
was a vast tract of farmland whose Arabic name means 'great water deposit' and
probably refers to the fact that these flatlands were frequently flooded in
times of heavy rain. The area was previously part of the holdings of the Balansat
family and was subsequently included in the Sant Miquel quarter.
our good friend, Manuel Abad y Lasierra, came to Ibiza, he had this to say about
Albarca: "In the north of the island of Ibiza, far away from the vicarage
of San Miguel, there is a place called Albarca which forms a kind of valley
and is very fertile. It is almost one league in length and half that in width.
There abound dispersed houses in which live some one hundred families. All of
these circumstances argue for the erection of a new parish which will carry
the title of San Mateu (Saint Mathew), Apostle. It will boarder he parish of
San Miguel, the church to which Albarca was assigned until now and the parish
of Santa Inés, also new, and will be served by a rector. (1785)"
so it was done, slowly but surely. The basic structure of the church was finished
in the latter half of the 18th century, although many of the necessary
objects and adornments had yet to be installed. The famous bell and belfry,
for instance, as well as the prestige-giving porxo,
or arched front porch, were not added until almost one hundred years after the
completion of the main edifice.
a boomtown, even in its heyday, Sant Mateu is perhaps the municipality, which
has suffered the greatest demographic decrease since the advent of tourism.
A census taken in 1885 revealed that there were 39 inhabitants per km2, while
a 1975 census revealed that the population density had dropped to less than
half that figure at only 16 inhabitants per km2. The call of modern life has
lured many young adults from their forefather's farming footsteps, leaving behind
a Sant Mateu that is but a shadow of its former self.
week we will continue travelling north to Sant Miquel proper, one of the four
original parish churches. See you then.