This week we have an important fiesta on the island agenda - March 19th - the
patron saint day of Sant Josép. Local holidays give us an excellent focal
point for our ruminations, in that the origins of these festivities are always
rooted in important past events. Anything worth celebrating, it seems, must be
steeped in a heady brew of history - such is the case, at least, in Sant Josép.
Before getting into the historical aspect of the town, however, it might be helpful
to know something about its present-day situation.
know this area as San José (its Spanish name), but under the island's current
linguistic programme, it is now referred to as Sant Josep (the Catalan equivalent).
Today it is the largest municipality on the island (15,578 hectares) and also
one of the wealthiest, for it contains Las Salinas, the airport as well as three
major resorts: Cala Vadella, Playa den Bossa and Port des Torrent along with most
of the San Antonio Bay. But, despite its size and its touristic concentrations,
it is less densely populated than Eivissa, Sant Antoni or Santa Eulària,
with a population of 14,325 inhabitants.
The village proper
lies in the south-west of the island, nestled into the foothills of s'Atalya,
a small alp. The yesterworld charm of this sleepy hamlet causes many people to
assume that it was one of the four original settlements after the Catalan conquest,
but not so. The four original sites were Sant Antoni, Sant Miquel, Santa Eulària
and Sant Jordi, all established in 1305.
It was not until
the much later date of 1726 that the 'Vedráns', as the area's inhabitants
were then called, sought episcopal backing for the construction of their own church.
Up until that time, the spot chosen for this church had been known locally as
'The Hill of Cala Vadella' for the simple reason that there was no town centre
to speak of. Not until a maverick group of local residents brought Sant Josep
into existence through sheer dint of hard work.
the turn of the 18th century, the Vedrans (after Es Vedrà) perceived the
need for a new church to accommodate the growing numbers of residents which now
populated their neck of the island. For the preceding 400 years the few families
living in the area had made the arduous trek every Sunday to attend mass at the
far-flung churches of either Sant Jordi or Sant Antoni. The natural inclemency
of spring floods, winter frosts, summer swelters and autumn winds often made their
passage not only long, but gruelling. Moreover, churches in those days were used
not only as houses of worship, but also as strongholds against pirate attacks.
The Vedrans had been sorely deprived on both points for as long as they could
Winds of Change
18th century, which in Europe witnessed the Enlightenment, in Ibiza also gave
rise to a new mentality that was quite revolutionary and rationalistic in its
own way. The forces that sparked this change can be traced back to the previous
century when a severe bout of bubonic plague (1652) had decimated island numbers.
During the collective convalescence, the survivors began to feel that they had
somehow triumphed over a savage foe, the grim reaper at his most deadly. Morally
strengthened in their victory, an urgency to strike out and meet the world head
on soon replaced the silent resignation that had reigned for untold centuries.
The Ibicenco 'Enlightenment' was felt generally across
the island, but remains most clearly attested to on 'The Hill of Cala Vadella'.
The Vedrans got together and wrote a letter (still surviving) in very fine Castilian
Spanish to their Archbishop, Manuel de Samaniego in Tarragona. They politely asked
him to provide a vicar for the country church they proposed to build on the hill
in question. The Prelate, obviously impressed by what he read, decided to give
the matter his full attention and personally came to Ibiza to inspect the situation.
He summoned the area's elders and asked them how much the population had grown
since the plague. They answered that it had grown by more than 50% for which reason
there were now enough of them to fill a church. Samaniego made several rounds,
saw that the elders' words were true and gave the project his official blessing.
He then chose a name for the new church which, as we know, turned out to be San
José - at that time Castilian held the upper hand in the linguistic battle.
the church was built, a little village sprang up around it, though, as was customary,
the main bulk of the population continued to live in farms, scattered about the
countryside. As a matter of curiosity, there were two other groups of islanders
who, during this period, were also swept up on the tide of expansion. They were
the Labritjans (i.e. Sant Joan) and the Formenterans. Although they had not been
so bold as to write to the Archbishop, they did not hesitate to request a hearing
with him once he had arrived. They, too, needed vicars for the churches they were
planning to build. Happily, the Prelate was agreeable to their pleas so that,
by the time his visit was over Samaniego, had taken, not one, but three vicarages
under his episcopal wing.
Archduke Luis Salvador
also have the interesting testimony, some150 years later, of the Austrian Archduke,
Luis Salvador who visited Ibiza twice, first in 1867 and again in 1885. This erudite
traveller left a wonderfully written and illustrated record of his experiences
which, naturally, included the important town of Sant Josep - with only six villages
on the island, I suppose none of them could really be excluded from his sightseeing
agenda! The three aspects of Sant Josep which most impacted the Archduke were:
1) its altitude, 2) its agriculture, and 3) its church. Let us consider his impressions
point by point.
Sant Josep, as we mentioned earlier, lies
at the foot of s'Atalaya, the highest point on the island (486.07 metres) As such,
the area commands a spectacular view of the surrounding country. On one occasion
the Archduke explored the trails leading out of the village on the back of a mule.
He observed, duly impressed, that: "From the wooded peaks of the west one
could see the sea from four different points . . . and, in the distance, Formentera."
Of course, that same breathtaking view is still intact today for any and all to
enjoy. The advent of the motor vehicle has even removed the necessity of having
The area's excellent agriculture yield is well-evidenced
in one of the Archduke's detailed drawings which shows fields of rich tillage,
extending from the edge of the village down the slopes of the valley. The royal
visitor commented on the enormous onions and figs which issued form the area,
as well as on the fabled fruit of Es Cubells. He tells us that Sant Josep was
also thought to be the county with the most flowers, as the majority of honey
for sale at the central market was culled form Sant Josep's hives. The vigour
of its harvests was perhaps due to the mildness of the local climate, considered
in folklore to be the most benign on the island. Even today, locals vouch that
the almond trees blossom first in Sant Josep and afterwards on the rest of the
island. A tip that present-day tourists might appreciate is that the nights in
this village are always blissfully cool and breezy. Its height makes the air almost
ozonic compared to the mugginess of the portside resorts.
Archduke's first observation about the church was that its Baroque altars were
excessively ornamented. Secondly, he noted that the locals used to tie their beast
of burden to the front arches, under the shade of the porch, while attending mass.
An interesting contrast! Despite the Archduke's comment on the altars, the townspeople
were deeply struck when, years later during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), all
four of the church's altars were destroyed by fire. At the close of the war, new
altars were installed, and, in an act of solidarity, the women of the parish donated
pieces of gold jewellery to be melted down and used in their decoration. The crown
of the Virgin Mary (central panel) is the result of their generosity.
That's it for this week. Next time we'll speak at
greater length about the Archduke while his name is still fresh in our minds.
His comprehensive book, 'Las Antiguas Pitiüsas' sheds invaluable light on
19th-century Ibiza and Formentera, and the Archduke himself was a very interesting
person. He was an excellent and prolific draughtsman, leaving a large legacy of
drawings and paintings on all aspects of islands life. Thank goodness for royalty!
The Church at
Picture Copyright © Gary Hardy