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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Ferràn de ses Roques
Fiesta Day Celebrated 30th May

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page! After spending two weeks ferreting out the secrets of the ancients, we will now take a giant step into the modern era. As promised, this week we will shed light on the entangled chain of events that led to the founding of Formentera's second-largest town, Sant Ferrán. The tale is as tall as it is wide and spans a full century in the telling. What follows is an incredible-but-true saga of how a tiny community struggled against the combined bureaucratic powers of Church and State. As I've always maintained, history is more riveting than fiction!

Royal Edict

The first noteworthy fact about the Sant Ferrán church is that it was never formally requested by the people who were destined to use it. The local community were quite satisfied with their home-made chapel, built independently in the early 18th century and dedicated to San José.

The small cluster of area residents - no more than ten or twelve families - were, therefore, quite pleased when a decree was issued in the latter half of the same century stating that all of His Majesty's Royal Saltworks were to be established as parishes and endowed with churches. Happily, this edict included Ibiza and Formentera, and best of all, these wonderful events were to occur at the expense of the Royal Treasury.

The Trouble Starts

However, what first appeared to be an uncommonly good stroke of fortune, soon became a source of disgruntlement. As often happened in the Pituses, the bone of contention revolved around where the church should be built. The site selected by Ibiza's Bishop, Manuel Abad y Lasierra, was directly adjacent to the salt pans - an understandable choice in the sense that the prelate was simply carrying out the royal edict to the exact letter of the law. But, the locals knew better.

The salt pans were full of disease-carrying mosquitoes. It was one thing for prepared workers to rake out the pans during the three months of the harvest season, but quite another to expose the general population to such pestilence on a continual basis. The settlers had only just succeeded in reconquering the wilds of Formentera. They were not willing to take any foolish health risks, even at the King's command.

False Promises

It was not due to this disagreement, however, that construction did not get underway. The royal edict, it seems, was merely a collection of pretty words with no real substance behind them. The Formenterencs never even reached the early stages of civic rebellion, as the building project all but vanished before anyone could so much as voice a feeble protest.

Over a decade of inactivity passed, and the people decided to take the matter into their own hands. They realized that the San José chapel would soon become obsolete if the population continued to grow at the current rate. From this point on, the promised church began to be viewed as a necessity much more than a royal nicety. It was decided by local consensus that the promised church should be built on dry, rocky ground, away from the salt flats, and close to the majority of the parishioners' homes.

In 1795, this determination was communicated to the bishop of the day, Climent Llozer, who was good enough to make the crossing from Ibiza to Formentera in order to look into the matter first-hand. He immediately saw two things: 1) that the building site chosen by his predecessor was, indeed, objectionable, and 2) that the locals had made a very wise alternative choice. He would relate these findings to the proper authorities. Fifty-four years of silence ensued.

Finally, in 1849, the humble chapel could no longer accommodate the growing congregation and had to be abandoned. There was still no church to go to, for which reason mass was held in a large room in a secular building. It is touching to note that, through the years, the islanders never gave up hope of receiving their new church and being declared an independent parish. So earnest was their belief that they took the liberty of changing the name of their chapel to Sant Ferrán, in accordance with the royal edict.

Revolutionary Movements

The mid-19th century was a volatile period throughout Europe, Spain being no exception. In the Pitiuses, the general readjustments between Church and State came to bear on two points. Firstly, in 1851, Ibiza was deprived of its bishopric, and secondly, in 1867, Sant Ferrán, was stripped of its parishional status - before it had even become a parish! In consolation, it was promised that, at the first possible juncture, a new and improved chapel would be built on the rocks where the parish church should have been.


Another fifteen years passed without further development.

All the while, the beleaguered congregation of Sant Ferrán kept pushing unsuccessfully to bring to fruition what had been promised them one hundred years earlier. The first positive step toward this end was taken by Ibiza's then head vicar, Manuel Palau, in the year 1882. This good brother took the trouble to travel to Formentera to meet with the still hopeful flocks, who, despite having been assigned to the church of Sant Francisco Javier, continued to attend mass in their stark, secular room.

Palau's advice to these people was to form a parishional committee whose members should assert the community's rights and needs before the powers-that-be. In other words, Palau urged them to lobby. And it worked, for only one year later, on 8th April 1883, the first stone of the Sant Ferrán church was laid. A very solemn ceremony was held in which the distinguished canon, Joan Marí "Barber" Riera, himself a native of Formentera, donated the impressive sum of 250 pesetas toward materials on behalf of the vicariate. Construction began the following month. The almost-finished Sant Ferrán church was inaugurated six years later on 30th June 1889.


Much to their credit, Formenterencs have always had the patience of Job. Next week we will take a look at history from the gastronomic point of view. Join us then,

Emily Kaufman