Hello and welcome to the history page. We will pick up the thread of our
story this week on 7th August, 1936 and the uncontested
Republican capture of Formentera in a joint military operation launched
from Barcelona and Valencia. As readers will remember, our last
instalment ended at the critical juncture when Commandant Mestre had
just rejected Captain Bayo’s overture, issued by cable from Formentera,
inviting the commandant to surrender willingly or else face sure defeat.
Mestre, though woefully unprepared to meet Bayo’s well-provisioned
troops in combat, was determined not to hand over Ibiza as glibly as his
subordinate; Miquel Tuells had done in Formentera. Bayo responded to
Mestre’s refusal by departing immediately for the larger Pitiusa, bent
on reducing the Nationals into submission … which he did. The puny
resistance offered by Ibiza’s ill-armed and scantly manned militias was
no challenge for the thousand-strong Republican invasion. It is also
worth noting that Mestre’s last words to Bayo, “The blood you wish to
shed will be shed,” proved to be a chillingly accurate forecast of
events to come.
Republican Disembarkation: 8th August
two destroyers that carried the republican troops landed at two separate
points on the north coast of the island, Pou des Lleó and Santa Eulària,
and immediately proceeded to make their way on foot to Ibiza Town.
During the course of this march, Bayo’s troops met with resistance on
two occasions, the first incident occurring in Sant Carles where the
village chaplain, Antoni Tur i Costa, and his father endeavoured to halt
the invaders by the use of firearms. Naturally, they were overcome and
their small group of resisters became the first victims of a rather
bloody five-week Republican occupation. The second point of resistance
took place at the mines of s’Argentera where the Republican troops
encountered a small company of National soldiers dispatched from Vila.
Though rather forgettable, this skirmish stands out as the only instance
of open combat in the Pitiuses between the opposing sides of war.
Despite numerous deaths among the Republicans, their progress was not
hindered in any crucial way and they pressed on toward Vila, making
their entrance the following day, 9th August.
before the dawning of that day, news of the National defeat had reached
the city, unleashing havoc at both the civilian and military level. All
rightwing sympathizers who still remained in town (the magnate Matutes
and Bishop Cardona, to name but two) quickly dispersed into the
countryside, as did Commandant Mestre. Captain Garcia Ledesma (the
island’s maximum military leader prior to the outbreak of war) and the
prison warden, Vicente Belenguer, both committed suicide. Conversely,
all of the leftists who had been in hiding, including the illustrious
literati, Rafael Alberti and María Teresa León, began to emerge from the
caves and forests where they had subsisted for the previous three weeks.
Destruction and Persecution
the days following the republican seizure of power there ensued a small
reign of terror, the brunt of which fell upon the clergy. Readers will
remember from our overview that one of the keynotes of Republican
ideology was anti-clericalism and that attacks on Church property and
its members had been rife all over Spain long before the war. However,
being essentially acts of popular vandalism, such attacks had never
occurred in Ibiza, for the simple reason that the vast majority of
Ibicencos loved the Church as much as they loved life.
was therefore quite a collective shock when the marauding masses of
Republican soldiers fell upon the island, systematically burning
churches and killing off any clergy they could find. Of the
approximately fifty clergymen living in the Pitiuses, twenty-one were
killed by the invaders and the rest would no doubt have met the same
fate had they not sequestered themselves into secret nooks and crannies
provided by their loyal flocks. In Formentera, where the authorities had
surrendered without so much as a peep, the Republican troops went
straight for the Sant Francesc parish priest, killed him and his father
on the spot, and threw their bodies into the sea. The vicar at Sant
Ferrán (Formentera) was also arrested that day, sent off to be
incarcerated in the castle in Dalt Vila, and subsequently shot in the
September Massacre of which we will speak next week. Even the Bishop’s
head carried a price and, as in the days of the Wild West, numerous
posters sported the logo: “Bishop Cardona - Wanted Dead or Alive”.
of the island’s churches were burned and all of their contents, archives
and artwork destroyed, leaving nothing behind but four smouldering walls
and sometimes a roof. Of the twenty odd religious structures that
existed in Ibiza only four survived the holocaust: the Cathedral of
Santa María, the Dominican convent (currently the Eivissa Town Hall),
and the two rural churches of Sant Antoni and Jesús. The former escaped
desecration thanks to the cleverness of the Sant Antoni villagers who,
when the marauders began to sack and burn their church, made a big show
of being Republicans themselves and joined in the pillage. The locals
then told the soldiers to carry on down the war path while they finished
off the job. Needless to say, as soon as the soldiers were safely out of
earshot, the folk of Sant Antoni began to dismantle and hide the most
precious works of art, which they restored to the church several weeks
later. In the case of Jesús, Bayo’s troops must at least be commended on
their appreciation of the exquisite altarpiece that graced this church.
Miraculously, a ray of sanity pierced their war-making and they allowed
the work of art to be saved. The altarpiece may still be seen today at
its home in Jesús.
Another point, on which the Republicans must be commended, despite their
otherwise largely atrocious behaviour, is on the sparing of Isidor
Macabich’s life. For, despite the fact that this great scholar and
historian was known to be a staunch right-wing sympathizer and
activist, Macabich’s intellectual brilliance placed him in that special
category of gifted beings and so found immunity from the ravages of war.
there we have the first three days of Republican occupation in the
Pitiuses. Perhaps not quite what we’d expected from the shining ideals
of the Second Republic. But it just goes to show that the highest-minded
social aspirations can sink nefariously low under the yoke of human
cruelty. Join us next week when we will be speaking with the author,
Rafael Sainz, on his soon to be published book on the Civil War in the
Pitiuses. Until then.