Ibiza History & Culture

LiveIbiza Established 1982
Ibiza Artists Anthropology Bibliomania Ecology History Features

History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Francesc Xavier
Fiesta Day Celebrated 3rd December

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to history and to December. This week we will turn our attention to Formentera and the feast day of Sant Francesc Xavier. This fiesta, in fact, marks the last patron saint's day of the year. During the previous nine months, we have studied a wide range of time periods and touched on many different topics, hopefully in a way that has been both informative and enjoyable. In this instalment I have tried to provide an overview that will help us piece together some of the disjointed fragments of our ruminations - at least those that lead up to the building of the Sant Francesc church.

Century of Growth

Readers will remember from earlier editions that the 18th century signalled Ibiza's emergence from five centuries of protracted hardship and was marked by a significant rise in population. There were three pockets of growth, in particular, which resulted in the construction of three new churches, the first to be raised since the Catalan Conquest in 1235. Two of these churches were built in Ibiza (in Sant Josep and Sant Joan) and the third in Formentera.

A milestone visit from the Archbishop of Tarragona brought the stamp of officialdom to these happenings and added momentum to the proceedings. As many readers will remember, in 1726 the Vedrans wrote to Archbishop Samaniego, requesting his blessing for their church and asking him to post a permanent vicar to serve it. Beyond giving his blessing, the Archbishop came to Ibiza in person to take stock of the fast changes that were being reported. He spent much time travelling around the island, inspecting the lie of the land, and speaking to peasant elders in order to get a first-hand account of the islands' necessities.

He quickly decided that Es Coll de Cala Vadella was indeed, the perfect spot for a house of worship and issued a decree of erection, dedicating the church to San José. Samaniego was then approached by the Labritjans, who requested that their small chapel be expanded into a proper church. The Archbishop's answer to this request be, in fact, no! It is not that he would not issue a decree of erection, only that he felt the church should be built on the Little Hill of Pomegranates (today Sant Llorenç), rather than at the site of the chapel. But the hardheaded Labritjans would not accept this negative and refused to work at the Hill of Pomegranates. Finally, the beleaguered Archbishop gave in; ergo, the chapel of San Juan became the church of San Juan.

The case of Formentera is somewhat similar to that of San Juan in that the people had gone ahead without ecclesiastic backing and begun to plan their own church. I will not go too deeply into the background of Formentera's resettlement, as we have dealt extensively with that chapter of history in our LiveIbiza Archive articles Weekly Edition 021 of Saturday 21st July 2001 and Weekly Edition 022 of Saturday 28th July 2001. Nonetheless, a few basic facts will not be amiss.

No Man's Land Revisited

Formentera had been uninhabited for three centuries due to the precariousness of life there. Then, with the demographic surge that started on the larger Pitiusa, a resettling endeavour of the smaller isle was attempted at the turn of the 18th century. A handful of families, who could not find arable lands in Ibiza, crossed the Paso des Freus to try their luck in Formentera. Initially, only the menfolk made the perilous crossing, for the tiny island had become a complete wilderness. To prepare it for civilized living, forests had to be cleared, fields ploughed, wells dug, roads laid, houses raised, and a port built - not to mention a church, which, naturally, would double as a fortress in times of siege. Luckily, sa Tanca Vella, a small, staunch chapel dating back to 1369, was discovered in the midst of a pine thicket and rebuilt to serve the island's scant inhabitants.

At long last, life in Formentera seemed to be prospering. I use the word 'seemed' because, even after a generation of successful settlement, certain documents have been found which show that the new community was still not considered a fait accompli in the public opinion. After all, this particular immigration was the third attempt to inhabit Formentera in 500 years, the previous two attempts having met with failure.

Doubts notwithstanding, only a quarter of a century later, the population had grown to a booming 200 inhabitants. The small chapel could no longer hold the growing congregation and, in 1724, the decision was made to build a proper church. Spiritual considerations aside, a larger edifice was needed to shelter the population during the still frequent pirate attacks.

Timely Delay

It took two years for the Formenterencs to begin gathering materials and to find a master builder to direct the works. The building plan was borrowed from a church in Ibiza's walled city, l'Hospitalet, while, by common consensus, the new house of worship would be dedicated to Sant Jaume (St. James).

The reason behind this choice was simply that a good many of the men who had repopulated Formentera were called Jaume. In those days, this name was very popular in Sta. Eulária, the area of Ibiza where most of the immigrates had come from. Apparently, even the priest was called Jaume.

Just when everything was all-systems-go, Samaniego landed in Ibiza. Luck could not have smiled more sweetly on the Formenterencs. This was their chance to be inducted into the diocese. The elders requested a hearing with the Prelate who, upon hearing their testimony, was duly impressed by the great strides made by these brave pioneers. He issued a decree of erection straight away. The only point on which he refused to comply was the name of the church.

Although it is not written in any book, I would be willing to wager that the ecclesiastic was sick and tired of being bossed around by upstart islanders. If only to assert some measure of authority, he insisted that the church be given the name of San Francisco Javier, after one of the founders of the Jesuit order who then ruled the Bishopric. Unlike the Labritjans, the Formenterencs were amenable to this directive and Samaniego's will was done . . . probably much to his relief.

Always a Snag

In two general assemblies, the folk of Formentera agreed to contribute to the raising of the church by providing all of the necessary building materials and labour as well as the money each family garnered from the first fruit of every harvest for as many years as the construction took. With these grave promises uppermost in the collective mind, the first stone of the church was laid on 15th May 1726.

Unfortunately, only a few months into the works, problems arose. Even under the best of circumstances, the burden of such a long-term commitment would have been difficult to endure. But, the undisguised caciquism of Marc Tur 'Damiá' disgruntled the citizens into quiet revolt. It turned out that a good part of the church funds were being embezzled by this infamous administrator. Steps were taken to permanently relieve 'Damià' of his post, after which, a small committee of local men was elected by the community to handle the financial side of the project.


Next week it's anyone's guess where our walk through history will take us. If possible, I would like to take a giant step back into early antiquity and the Phoenician presence in Ibiza. If you'll remember, we have some unfinished business with the Archaeology Museum. With fingers crossed, I bid you farewell until next Saturday.

Emily Kaufman