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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Bartomeu
Fiesta Day Celebrated 24th August

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page. It's fiesta time in Sant Antoni! Although this is not the town's official saint's day, the day of Sant Bartomeu (i.e. St. Bartholomew) is unquestionably the most fervently celebrated holiday in the Sant Antoni calendar. The occasion gives rise to numerous activities, both secular and religious. Be on the look out for wonderful exhibitions of Ibicenco folk dancing as well as live local bands and a darling little fun fair, all set up along the Waterfront Boulevard. There are also sporting events, the most colourful of which are the home-made kite flying contest and the regatta. At the traditional level, the townspeople always organize a walking excursion to the Holy Cave, located a few miles outside of Sant Antoni, where solemn mass is held in honour of St. Agnes. The importance of this last event will assume maximum relevance further on in our narrative.

Getting back to the festivities, the night of the 24th August merits a spectacular display of fireworks over the bay. This sky-show is every bit as impressive as the Sant Ciriac pyrotechnics held annually in Ibiza Town on 8th August. The dazzling array of colour and light is made all the more enjoyable because the ample curvature of Sant Antoni's shoreline allows for uncramped viewing conditions from any of the sandy coves that circle the bay, or from the waterfront itself.


The history of the Sant Bartomeu fiesta is based less on actual fact than on popular lore. However, whenever a willing and collective suspension of disbelief occurs, the unauthenticated stories of yesteryear rise to the status of legend. The power and perdurability of such tales resides in their capacity to reflect the common ideals of a people. What was Camelot if not the fictional expression of early England's high-minded code of chivalry?

With these thoughts in mind, it is hoped that readers will accept the essence of the following accounts and not trivialize them with modern scepticism. For, whether they be fact, fiction of mixture of both, these stories exemplify the virtues which early islanders held as their noblest: gratitude to God and an unflagging faith in His Providence.


But first, a few hard facts. When the Moors conquered Ibiza in the 10th century, there were already small pockets of Christian inhabitants on the island. Under Islamic law, these early Christians were allowed to practice their religion and were termed 'Mozarabs'. For centuries, the Mozarabs, hardly more than a cult, used a small cave near Sant Antoni, the aforementioned Holy Cave (or 'Cova Santa') as a place of worship.

With the Catalan Conquest in 1235, the Moors were ousted and Christianity was brought to the island with full force. Within a month, construction was begun on the Santa María cathedral in the walled city, but it was not until 1305 that the rural church of Sant Antoni was started. For this reason, the peasants of the area continued to hold mass in the Holy Cave until their house of worship could be properly erected, probably the mid-14th century.


Sometime around the turn of the 17th century the Holy Cave came to be known as the Cave of St. Agnes. The change in nomenclature was due to the fact that a carved wooden figure of this saint was found inside the grotto, though exactly when it was placed there, or by whom, are unresolved mysteries. Legend has it that, once it was discovered, the icon was repeatedly taken to the Sant Antoni church but that it repeatedly and inexplicably reappeared in the cave. Finally, the baffled townspeople came to accept that the will of the saint was to remain in the cave.

Divine Intervention

Several centuries later, the legend of Saint Agnes and her protective benevolence became further entrenched in island lore by way of the following episode. (In the words of Archduke Luis Salvador):

"It is said that one remote day of St. Bartholomew, a ship, either Spanish or foreign, was forced to enter the port of Portmany (Sant Antoni) due to a sea storm from which it was miraculously saved by the intervention of St. Agnes. A gentleman who was on board said ship carried with him a figure of the saint and vowed that, if he were saved, he would leave the figure at the first port he reached alive. No sooner did he jump to ground than the gentleman gave his talisman to the priest of Sant Antoni. The ecclesiastical authorities, upon hearing the news, allowed that a chapel be made inside the Holy Cave to venerate the figure of St. Agnes."


Eventually, this much-loved saint was designated as the patroness of a parish church built in 1785, the present day church of Santa Agnès de Corona. But that is a story for another day . . .

At any rate, the low-down on all this is that 24th August, St. Bartholomew's Day, is dedicated to St. Agnes and celebrated in Sant Antoni. But never mind if you can't keep all the saints straight. Just don't miss out on the fun!

Note: The above anecdote was recorded and published in the late 19th century by the Archduke in his invaluable book, 'Las Antiguas Pitiüsas' (see our LiveIbiza Archive article Weekly Edition 004 of Saturday 24th March 2001). I have taken the liberty of reproducing the excerpt in English.

Emily Kaufman