Ibiza History & Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Agustí des Vedrà
Fiesta Day Celebrated 28th August

Saints & Fiestas

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 Agustí, 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 Agustí: 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 'Damiá', 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 Agustí 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 Agustí 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.

Local Rivalry

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 years.

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 the island.

Today, however, the Sant Agustí church is admired for the very architectural purity that was a source of shame to its first worshippers. Island historian and intellectual, Joan Marí Cardona, writes these words of praise: "The main facade [is] so beautiful without 'porxo' for its smooth nudity and angelic white colour."

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 Agustí 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 Jesús - the town not the avatar!

Emily Kaufman