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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Sant Vicent de sa Cala
Fiesta Day Celebrated 5th April

Saints & Fiestas

Welcome to the history page. This week we will turn our attention to the tiny northern community of Sant Vicent, where all weekend locals will be celebrating their patron saint fiesta. I do hope they're having nice weather for the occasion. Down here in the south of the island we've been basking in golden rays, but who knows? Up in Sant Vicent it could be snowing! Just joking. What I'm trying to convey is that this land's end village is so remote it seems to exist in a different dimension, close to, but not altogether co-ordinal with, the rest of Ibiza. Somehow, it has never quite caught up with the modern day.

Despite this lost-in-the-mists quality, two salient features of history emerge on closer inspection. For starters, Sant Vicent was an extremely late arrival in terms of general Ibicenco history, having been founded as recently as 1836. Ibiza Town proper, for example, was founded in the 7th century BC, making the age difference roughly a millennium. The other unusual feature is that the patron of its church, Saint Vincent of Valencia, was expressly chosen by the villagers rather than randomly assigned by the bishop. Let us examine each of these points in greater detail.

Late Comer

To understand the larger context of the founding of this village, we must backtrack to 1652. If you will remember (from our LiveIbiza Archive article Weekly Edition 003 of Saturday 17th March 2001), this was the year Ibiza was struck by bubonic plague and the island's population was decimated. Those who survived were deeply impressed by the need to seize life by the horns, to fight, to grow, to create. And so they did. The population spread out into three main areas: Sant Josép, Sant Joan and Formentera. Within fifty years, all three places had enough inhabitants to warrant the erection of a local church, and slowly villages began to coalesce around these churches.

Sant Vincent, in turn, is an off-shoot of the rapid growth in the Sant Joan area. With the passing of the years, most of the arable lands within the township were claimed, giving budding families had no choice but to set up farmsteads farther afield. We must keep in mind that the Ibicenco 'modus vivendi' tended toward dispersion rather than cohesion. Very few people chose to live in villages, preferring the semi-isolation of rural dwellings. In the case of 'Sa Cala' (the earlier name for Sant Vicent), I think we can change the term 'rural dwelling' to 'wilderness', for it was virtually inaccessible and hardly offered a warm welcome to human habitation.

No Man's Land

Island historian, Joan Marí Cardona, shared some of his thoughts with us on this subject. "How these people were able to carve out a life in such inhospitable conditions is almost incomprehensible. It was like the end of world. There were no roads, just a terrible, rutted track to Sant Joan. It was a trial and a tribulation to get anywhere or to lay in provisions. I think life was harder there than in Formentera even. The Formenterencs had the sea to contend with, but the land they lived on was flat and easily-tamed. In Sa Cala the land was rocky, uneven and densely wooded. It boggles the mind just to think of it."

Indeed, it was a hardy breed that chose to settle in these northern reaches. But they were determined to put down roots. Once they saw that survival was possible, no matter how hard-won, they set about raising a church. Naturally, they had to build it with their own manpower and their own materials (stone and lime), but in so doing they proved their victory over hardship - and also spared themselves the rocky road to Sant Joan every Sunday for Mass.

Although the physical obstacles were formidable, bureaucratic obstacles were much more manageable. By this time (1825), Ibiza had her own bishop, so that it was simply a matter of lumbering down to Dalt Vila and asking him to appoint a vicar to the new church at 'La Cala'. In the days before the bishopric, the procedure would have involved a long volley of overseas correspondence, but luckily, such was not the case. Felipe Gonzalez Carrasco, the prelate at that time, was more than happy to oblige the settlers in their petition.

Vicent Ferrer

The settlers had a second petition as well. They had thought things out very carefully and decided on the patron they wanted for their church. Usually, the naming of a church was a bishop's prerogative, but this right could be waived if a special request were made by the congregation. In this case, a Latter-day Saint from nearby Valencia was chosen. Vicent Ferrer had been a popular, 16th-century evangelist from the Dominican Order who had travelled to Majorca and (legend has it) also to Ibiza to bear witness of his faith. After his death Ferrer was beatified due to the prodigious miracles he performed throughout his ministry. He was known to have the gift of healing, and is also remembered for his 'Basket of Water' miracle, when in a time of dire need, he drew water from a very deep well with only a wicker basket. Incidentally, this well still exists as a shrine in the city of Valencia. Returning to our story, Saint Vincent had long been loved by the Ibicenco people. The inhabitants of Sa Cala felt it only right to honour him with their humble house of worship. Indeed, the mere existence of such a church is almost as miraculous as drawing water with a basket. Even today there is a namesake to Saint Vincent in almost every Ibicenco family.

Work was begun on the church in 1825 and finished in 1836. The four walls were solid enough, but there were no pews. Instead, each person brought his own chair or folding stool. The women especially were fond of this arrangement, as it prevented their Sunday best from getting wrinkled. They would fluff out their long, voluminous skirts - always black - over the tiny seat and stay immobile for the whole of Mass.

The day of inauguration was a momentous occasion beyond all expectation. Bishop Gonzalez came to give the blessing and over 300 people flocked to the once inaccessible village. Curiously, the day of inauguration was not 5th April, the name day of this saint, but 15th August, an important holy day in the Christian calendar. This day is still celebrated fervently today by the people of Sant Vicent.


That finishes our instalment for this week. I have decided not to promise anything for next time, because the best-laid plans of mice and men have a habit of going astray. Instead I shall leave you in suspense . . . Hasta la vista!

Fiesta de Sant Vicent de sa Cala
Picture Copyright © Gary Hardy

Emily Kaufman