Welcome again to the history page of our
website, where each week we endeavour to explore a different
facet of island history. Last week we were not altogether
successful in our endeavour, and wandered a wide loop round
the historical time frame. To make up for our aimlessness,
this week we shall devote our instalment to a native Ibicenco
whose very name is synonymous with history. He is none other
than the venerable Isidoro Macabich. Many people know him
only as the High Street that runs through Ibiza Town, but
there is actually a man behind the avenue. Who, then was the
Don Isidoro was a scholar-priest whose primary
distinction was his exhaustive, life-long research into Ibicenco
history. Not surprisingly, he was one of the key founders
of the Institute for Ibicenco Studies, which only last week
was awarded a medal for service and achievement by the Balearic
Government. It was the priest's post as keeper of the archives
that awakened his interest in the island's past and also put
him in a position to investigate it methodically.
Macabich wrote prolifically, both in prose
and in verse, and was the first of Ibiza's native sons to
give the island a literary identity of its own. His writings
also brought the first flush of local pride, for prior to
their existence, most islanders were utterly unaware of their
own heritage. For them, their homeland was little more than
one of the world's "Forgotten Islands"
- to borrow Gaston Vuillier's epithet in his book by the same
Scarcely a Mention
In the past, only rarely did Ibiza appear
in history books, and then almost always in accounts written
by non-islanders. Macabich put an end to long centuries of
silence by giving Ibiza the strong, clear voice of a stentor.
His birth in 1883 placed him in the generation of positivism,
an intellectual movement which upheld that nothing is ascertainable
beyond the facts of physical science or of sense. In terms
of historiography this translated into "the verification
of the document as the sole basis on which historical facts
could be pieced together" (B. Escandell Bonet, Doctor
of History at the University of Oviedo). To Macabich this
meant that all previous works on Ibiza were discredited until
their words could be proved true in the light of documented
As a matter of curiosity, the most notable
of these previous works were: 'History of Ibiza' (mid-17th
century), a now lost tome by an Ibicenco convent prior, P.
Vicent Nicolau, and the basis of Historical Summary
of the Island of Ibiza (1752), written some 100 years
later by the Majorcan, P. Caietá. Then there was 'The
Geographic and Historical Memoirs of Ibiza and Formentera'
(1798), written out of nostalgia by a Jesuit rector, Prospero
de Callar, during his exile from the island. Lastly and unforgettably
is 'The Ancient Pitiuses' (1886) by the Austrian
Archduke Luis Salvador.
What becomes clear from this rundown is
that none of the writers were professional historians; they
were either clerics or erudite travellers. None, therefore,
had the access that Macabich had to the island's archives
and the wealth of data contained therein: administrative records,
diplomas, inventories, wills, letters, juridical and parochial
registers, property deeds, minutes of meetings, birth, death
and marriage certificates, etc. From these papers, incidental
fragments of past lives, Macabich reconstructed piece by piece
the institutions, social systems, attitudes and values of
yesteryear. Escandell states in 'Eivissa' magazine that, "due
to his sustained familiarity with the archives, don Isidor
appears as the most 'professional' of the historians of Ibiza."
Keeper of the Files and Other Public
Perhaps the reason no-one before him had
made use of the archives is that they were in a state of absolute
anarchy. It was still as a seminary student that the young
novice walked one morning into the curia where all the books
and documents were stacked haphazardly. In his memoirs he
recalls the moment thus: "It was nothing more than a
storeroom of papers, everything a shambles, everything mixed
up. And there, snooping around that day, I found material
for my first essay of a historical nature."
Much later, In 1913, at the age of thirty,
he was appointed Canonical Archivist of the Cathedral, a post
he held until 1951. In 1934 he was named Chronicler of Ibiza
by the Town Hall, and later Director of the Historical Archive
and President of the Board of Patrons for the Archaeological
Museum. In 1946 he became the academic correspondent to the
Royal Academy of History . . . the list goes on.
Macabich's works can be divided into three
phases. In the first, when he was relatively young, he wrote
monographs about random aspects of the island's history according
to his own interest. Three of these were published: Ibicenco
Corsairs (1906), Feudalism in Ibiza (1909),
and Santa María la Mayor (1916), about the
In his second phase, as a mature man, he
was still writing monographs, but now with a definite pattern.
Again there were three publications: 'Pitiuses, The
Phoenician Cycle' (1931), 'Ebusus, The Roman
Cycle' (1932) and 'Santa María, The
Christian Cycle' (1933).
His last phase began in 1935 at the age
of 53 and lasted until his death in 1973 at the age of 90.
This was the period of comprehensive and encyclopaedic works.
First appeared The Elemental History of Ibiza and Formentera'
(1945), then 'The Brief History of Ibiza' (1953)
and finally his opus magnus, 'The History of Ibiza' (in
four tomes, 1966-67).
In addition to his books on history, Macabich
published two volumes on local traditions, 'Customs I
& II' (1960/66) as well as many fascinating essays
on various topics. Incongruously, he was also a poet of great
depth and feeling. He wrote his first poem at the age of 18
and would continue to write poetry throughout most of his
Your Typical Genius
Unwritten law entitles every man of genius
to a few quirks and don Isidoro took full advantage of this
licence. Talking to Macabich's successor, Joan Marí
Cardona, the unofficial character sketch of the man comes
to light. His eccentricity is undeniably one of the most interesting
parts of his legacy, so here's the bottom line! In the words
"He had a remarkable memory up to the
very end. He would say, 'In such and such a book you'll find
this or that data,' and sure enough, the information would
be there. He was hopelessly disorganised, but even so, he
could always locate stray papers right away.
"He was delicate of health to the point
of being sickly. He ate very little and hardly weighed 50
kilos. He was literally skin and bones; even so, he was always
on a dietary regime of some sort. He would get sick at the
drop of a hat and always carried his medicine with him. Quite
often he didn't go out for fear of catching a cold. He was
special, don Isidor, hard to understand. You had to know how
to treat him.
"He was enormously liberal, naturally,
and mixed with many strange birds. Sometimes he dressed in
virtual tatters. He wasn't exactly popular. Admired, yes,
but he didn't mix with country folk. He was citified, from
Vila. He liked folklore, but at the intellectual level, from
a distance. How a word was pronounced in a certain area would
interest him, for example, but he almost never went to the
"As a priest his duties were exclusively
those of keeping the archives. He did not give Mass or have
his own congregation. He was not of a mystical bent, but he
was a man of faith - that is apparent from his poetry.
"Sometimes he would shut himself away
for long periods, cut off from the outside world. There was
an air of mystery about him. When he spoke he always left
something unsaid. He never talked for the sake of talking.
Everything he said had great importance. If he didn't want
to continue a line of conversation, he would cut it off with
one of his scathing phrases, something like: It is better
to be an ass, than twice an ass,' or 'In a closed mouth enter
no flies.' He had hundreds of them and when he reeled one
off, it meant, 'Shut up!' He was impenetrable! He would say
up to where he wanted and when he didn't want to say anymore
he would just stop. He never said anything he wasn't 100%
"He lived with his maternal grandmother
due to the early death of his parents. As an only child and
a priest with no offspring, his death marked the end of his
family line on Ibiza. He was the second and last Macabich
on the island." NOTE: Macabich is a Central European
surname brought to Majorca by Isidor's great grandfather and
to Ibiza by his grandfather.
Picture Copyright © Gary