Ibiza History & Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Miquel de Balansat
Fiesta Day Celebrated 28th September

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page on this rainy, rainy weekend. Unfortunately, the inclement weather has ruined the outdoor festivities planned for Sant Miquel's patron saint day, but I suppose we can't be choosy about Mother Nature's timing. Even though the fiesta has been rained out, we can still pay homage to the venerable history of this small northern village, here at the LiveIbiza website.

Original Stronghold

The municipality of Sant Miquel is historically significant in that it was one of the four original spots chosen by the Catalan conquistadors to be furnished with a church and therefore, a fortress. Because of the ferocious pirate attacks that for centuries plagued the island, to be awarded a church was considered the height of good fortune by early Ibicencos. And because only four churches were built outside the protective city walls, potential construction sites were not chosen at random, but rather hand-picked after careful deliberation as to the merits and/or demerits of a given place.

Blessed Land

As fate would have it, Sant Miquel was graced with a convincing combination of attributes. It possessed a strategic high hill upon which to build a house of worship (really no more than a chapel in its original state) so that both sea and land could be surveyed for intruders. As in Santa Eulalia, this hill was called Puig de Missa or 'Hill of Mass'. At the foot of the hill lay the fertile plain, Pla Roig, which was, and still is, one of the most productive agricultural areas on the island. A little way off, a verdant valley, bathed by the now dry stream, s'Assut d'es Celleràs, extended down to the sea where there was a small port.

Since long before the church was raised and for many centuries afterwards, the water in the stream flowed with enough force to power the Moorish water mills that stood on its banks. This state-of-the-art technology granted a certain superiority to the area and ensured the continuity of its sizeable pre-Conquest population. What more could the ecclesiastic authorities ask for as collateral for their investment than easy defensibility, bountiful lands and a substantial flock of worshippers?

Quartó de Balansat

It should be clarified that Sant Miquel did not become known as such until the 14th century, nor was there any town centre to speak of until the 18th century, as the area carried on in a strictly agrarian vein even after the church was built. The aforementioned conjunction of hill, stream, valley and port was simply one of the véndes within a vast Moorish farmstead, all of which belonged to the powerful Balansat clan. The Quartó de Balansat, as it was then called, consisted of four véndes: 1) Es Port, the port and surrounding valley; 2) Rubió, a tract of land to the Northwest; 3) Albarca, today Sant Mateu; and 4) Corona, today Santa Agnès. Not until the church was built in the 14th century did the name Sant Miquel come to designate the area.

Naturally, our annals would not be complete if they did not include some of the dissension that revolved around the Sant Miquel church.

Shuffled Alliances

With the passage of time, the larger véndes were divided and sold off to smaller landowners. The present day area of Benirràs is a case n point. When it became independent from its alma mater, the vénda of Labritja (then part of Santa Eulàlia) the religious authorities decided - as a favour not an imposition - that the inhabitants of Benirràs should change churches and attend mass in Sant Miquel rather than Santa Eulália. This re-zoning caused uproar of considerable magnitude. The angry voices of those affected were not silenced until it was agreed that any and all who so desired could still make use of the Santa Eulàlia house of worship. Curiously, no evidence exists to substantiate that any Benirrassian ever exercised this right. One look at a map will explain why: Sant Miquel was too temptingly near to have to make the long trek, by foot or beast, every Sunday to Santa Eulàlia.

Dissension - Part II

After several centuries and a population explosion - there were an estimated 10,000 inhabitants living in Ibiza in 1700 - it became clear that the island needed more than four rural churches. Hence, two more were built, one in Sant Josep and one in Sant Joan (formerly Labritja) from whence hailed the feisty breed of Benirrassians. At this point, it was decided that Benirràs would once more change allegiance and form part of the new vicarage in Sant Joan. Again angry voices were raised, this time in favour of Sant Miquel, not in contra.

The most important families of Benirras, namely the Escandells and the Roigs, opposed the changeover noisily, claiming that their passage to Sant Joan would be impeded in winter by several flooded torrents, while the roads to Sant Miquel would be clear all year round. It is not to be overlooked that these families had contributed generously to the enlargement of their small church in the latter 17th century (note the Benirràs chapel in the present-day church of Sant Miquel). It was not fair that they be deprived of the fruits of their labour and donations. Also, pure logic was on their side for, distance-wise, Benirràs was still closer to Sant Miquel than to any other church.

The Deal

Therefore, in 1785, when the islands official parochial boundaries were drawn, it was decided that Benirràs would be permanently incorporated into the parish of Sant Miquel. To compensate this gain, the parish was obliged to forfeit the vénda of Corona to Sant Antoni. Well, a deal is a deal. All seemed happy enough with the outcome so don't fret - but DO enjoy the fiesta, weather permitting.

Emily Kaufman