history buffs! This week we have an action-packed episode of civil disobedience,
'a lo Ibicenco'. Lest anyone be deceived by the peaceful countenance of modern-day
Sant Agustí, one look at history will set the record straight. This rustic
village, tucked into the hills between Sant Antoni and Sant Josep, was once a
seething pot of dissension. Tensions ran so high that eventually the dispute splintered
into a many-sided fray with neighbour against neighbour, peasant against ecclesiast
and barrister against bishop. But, I suppose we'd better start at the beginning
. . .
The Way It Was: Point
this case, the beginning is 1785, the year that Ibiza's newly appointed bishop,
Manuel Abad y Lasierra, decided to raise seven new churches. His plan was to slowly
coax island locals into what might be called 'peripheral civilization'. Each pocket
of inhabitants, he reasoned, should have its own church, which, in time, would
form the nucleus of a village. The bishop hoped that these villages would come
to serve as points of social interaction for the churlish farmers who lived in
scattered isolation across the countryside.
It Was: Counterpoint
Of course, an 18th century Ibicenco
would see the situation through very different eyes. Were he in a talkative mood,
he would perhaps explain that the tendency of yesteryear's rural society toward
dispersion was due to the simple reason that most families were fully self-sufficient
and needed large tracts of land on which to raise animals, plant crops, thresh
wheat, cultivate orchards, tend vineyards, etc. What little was needed from outside
sources could be obtained from the city, from a neighbouring farm or simply done
without. There was no need for centres of commerce, and hence no impetus for the
creation of villages.
Unless! (the bishop would have countered)
a church were built. But let's face it, even then the villages never amounted
to much. Islanders seldom had reason to visit the parish hub except to attend
mass or some other religious ceremony. Rural villages, like best clothes, were
used only on Sundays and holidays.
A Stubborn Lot
back to Sant Agustí: the birth of this village was indeed hard and prolonged
labour, all stemming from the stubbornness and temerity of its would-be congregation.
When Abad y Lasierra decided to erect a temple to Saint Augustine in the territory
west of Portmany, the locals were delighted. Since 1726 they had been attending
mass at the new and nearby Sant Josep church, but an even newer and more nearby
church would be a grand honour for them. According to the chronicles, the Bishop
even went so far as to point with his finger to the exact spot upon which the
temple was to stand (Can Pere Rafal). Before long, Sunday services were being
held there and a provisional cemetery was begun - all very makeshift until the
permanent church could be raised. There was only one problem: the locals would
not show up on their pre-assigned workdays. An important clan in the area did
not approve of the chosen site as they deemed it too far away from the majority
of homes in the parish.
got nasty, and many of the area's dwellers were punished for truancy - several
days in prison and forced labour in the walled city. Even the lawyer who defended
the feisty Vedrans, Francesc Tur 'Damiá', was banished to Majorca from
his post as Town Hall secretary until the situation cooled down.
the Vedrans refused to work on their church, the bishop attempted to persuade
the folk of Sant Josep to collaborate in the building. After all, many men from
the Sant Agustí area had pitched in on the Sant Josep church 50 years earlier.
But the folk of Sant Josep refused, claiming that they were busy with repairs
on their own church. This, of course, was a lie, or at best a fabricated excuse.
As far as the bishop was concerned, they were only siding up with their neighbours
against established authority.
Abad y Lasierra was at the
end of his tether. After three years of interminable struggle to get the parish
in motion, his health enfeebled by nervous strain and the "African climate
of the island" (his words), he requested a transfer back to the peninsula.
In 1788, Bishop Manuel was replaced by Bishop
Eustaquio de Azara who was greeted by the same stony wall of obstinacy that had
been the despair of his predecessor. Azara, on the other hand, was accused of
refusing to engage in dialogue with the parishioners. At any rate, three more
years passed and still no progress was made. In a desperate last attempt the bishop
issued this edict in 1791: "The labour on the parish temple of St. Augustine
must be seriously commenced. If it is not commenced, all necessary means will
be employed so that God and the king are well served. Do not let anyone in this
parish ignore that this is the last and final exhortation." Still, the country
folk held out. (Had he been born, Thoreau [1817-1862] would have given the Vedrans
two thumbs up.)
Bishop N° 3
a third bishop, Clement Llozer (1795-1804) was sent to tend the recalcitrant flocks
in Ibiza. This good shepherd proved amenable to the parishioners' request for
dialogue and went personally to Sant Agustí in order to negotiate with
the most important chiefs of family. He saw that what they said made sense and
that there was no reason not to build the church at the spot they favoured, the
present-day site of the church.
it was determined that the church would be built at the locally approved site,
a new facet to the argument began to emerge. Two very important clans, Can Berri
and Can Curt, both insisted on donating the plot of land for construction. Naturally,
the only solution was to accept half a plot from each family. With that quarrel
quelled, construction commenced immediately and God and the King were well served
. . . eventually.
No Frills Church
to a shortage of funds, construction was halted several times and the final church
was not completed until 1819, twenty-eight years after Bishop Clement got the
works in motion. The average building time for a rural church was 12 years.
once the church was finished, the parishioners found something to complain about.
The structure seemed incomplete in their eyes, for they could not afford the 'porxo'
or front patio which embellished so many of the other churches around the island.
however, the Sant Agustí church is admired for the very architectural purity
that was a source of shame to its first worshippers. Island historian and intellectual,
Joan Marí Cardona, writes these words of praise: "The main facade
[is] so beautiful without 'porxo' for its smooth nudity and angelic white colour."
The major geographical feature of the area
is a now dry torrent which once flowed from the northern slopes of s'Atalya de
Sant Josep and emptied into the San Antonio bay. So derives the name Port des
Torrent, literally 'Port of the Torrent'. Incidentally, the actual fiesta of Sant
Agustí is one of the liveliest on the island. It's well worth a visit if
you happen to be in search of good food, good music and good times. See you there!
week we will have passed over the sanity-restoring portals of September. Hallelujah!
Join us then as we celebrate another local fiesta and dig deep into the origins
of Jesús - the town not the avatar!