to the history page. This week our travels through rural Ibiza have brought us
to Sant Mateu, a tiny village tucked away in the northwest corner of the island.
As it happens, the history of Sant Mateu is so simple and straightforward that
there is practically nothing to tell!
The parish was founded,
the church was built and a minuscule village sprang up around it. The rest, as
they say, is history - and of such an equanimous variety that there have only
been two outstanding events in the past two centuries. (That works out to one
event per century in case anyone is counting.
milestone was the buying of the church bell in 1864 for 2,262 reales (an extinct
monetary unit). The second was the removal of said bell to Dalt Vila (the walled
city) at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, for purposes allegedly more
military than religious. After the war the bell was returned safely to its belfry
in Sant Mateu.
Late Medieval and Early Modern History
in Ibiza: An Overview
Now we've dispensed with those tales of intrigue,
we have some free cyber-space in which to map out the general line of development
in post-conquest Ibiza. Hopefully, this overview will help to situate the little
vignettes we relate each week within the larger picture.
1235, when Catalonia conquered Ibiza from the Moors, the island was divided into
quarters or quartons. They were:
1) Portmany: a
name derived from the Roman Portus Magnus or 'great port' and which corresponds
to present-day Sant Antoni.
2) Balansat: the northern-most
portion of the island which had belonged to a powerful clan of Moorish landlords
of the same name and which today corresponds to Sant Miquel.
Quartó del Rey: or the 'King's quarter, so called because King Jaime
II of Majorca purchased it from Prince Pedro of Portugal who had participated
in the Conquest and had been awarded a chunk of the Ibiza as a war prize. Pedro
had no interest in the land and sold it soon after. This area corresponds to present-day
4) Pla de Vila: literally,
'Plain of the City', a fertile flatland at the foot of the walled city that encompassed
the areas that today are known as Jesús, Puig d'en Vals and part of Sant
Jordi (all of which have been previously discussed on this page in our LiveIbiza
Archive articles in Weekly Edition 008 of Saturday 21st April 2001, Weekly
Edition 011 of Saturday 12th May 2001 and Weekly Edition 028 of Saturday 8th September
Dalt Vila was a separate entity, an administrative
enclave where the ruling class of politicians and ecclesiarchs conducted their
affairs and resided.
Within a century of the Conquest, each quartó was established as a parish
and fortified with a church. For the next 300 years, Ibicencos would travel, by
foot or beast, from wherever they lived to the nearest of these four rural churches.
On a good week they went for mass; on a bad week they went for shelter.
After a close call with the bubonic plague, which
decimated island numbers, Ibiza was jolted out of centuries of stagnation into
a period of growth and expansion. The quartons were systematically subdivided
into smaller parishes, which were not only more accessible to worshippers but
also necessary to accommodate the rising number of inhabitants. One of these new
parishes was Sant Mateu, previously known as Albarca.
Albarca was a vast tract of farmland whose Arabic name means 'great
water deposit' and probably refers to the fact that these flatlands were frequently
flooded in times of heavy rain. The area was previously part of the holdings of
the Balansat family and was subsequently included in the Sant Miquel quarter.
When our good friend,
Manuel Abad y Lasierra, came to Ibiza, he had this to say about Albarca: "In
the north of the island of Ibiza, far away from the vicarage of San Miguel, there
is a place called Albarca which forms a kind of valley and is very fertile. It
is almost one league in length and half that in width. There abound dispersed
houses in which live some one hundred families. All of these circumstances argue
for the erection of a new parish which will carry the title of San Mateu (Saint
Mathew), Apostle. It will boarder he parish of San Miguel, the church to which
Albarca was assigned until now and the parish of Santa Inés, also new,
and will be served by a rector. (1785)"
And so it
was done, slowly but surely. The basic structure of the church was finished in
the latter half of the 18th century, although many of the necessary objects and
adornments had yet to be installed. The famous bell and belfry, for instance,
as well as the prestige-giving porxo, or arched front porch, were not added until
almost one hundred years after the completion of the main edifice.
Never a boomtown, even in its heyday, Sant Mateu is perhaps
the municipality, which has suffered the greatest demographic decrease since the
advent of tourism. A census taken in 1885 revealed that there were 39 inhabitants
per km², while a 1975 census revealed that the population density had dropped
to less than half that figure at only 16 inhabitants per km². The call of
modern life has lured many young adults from their forefather's farming footsteps,
leaving behind a Sant Mateu that is but a shadow of its former self.
Next week we will continue travelling north to Sant Miquel proper,
one of the four original parish churches. See you then.