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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman


Santa Agnès de Corona
Fiesta Day Celebrated 21st January



 
Saints & Fiestas

Of all the minuscule villages in Ibiza, Santa Agnès is truly the most minuscule. It is composed of nothing more than one round plaza: neat, self-contained and about the size of a playground. The village hasn't even a paved street to its name, for its tiny hub is held within the spokes of a sleek motorway and two dusty country roads that lead off into semi-wilderness. The church that presides over the plaza is, in fact, the smallest on the island, not to mention one of the simplest. But, despite its dwarfed dimensions, Santa Agnès church is steeped in centuries of ancient lore. As if to compensate for its lessened material status, a rich air of mystery adds spiritual largess to the village.

What's In A Name?

While many churches in Ibiza were named after random saints, such is not the case in Santa Agnès. It is one of the few island churches with an express reason behind its nomenclature. In the words of the decree of erection, this house of worship was placed under the patronage of Santa Agnès "because the people of Corona are very devoted to her." The roots of this devotion, obvious to Abad y Lasierra even in 1785, in fact reach back over a thousand years to the earliest days of Christianity when Ibiza was still under the Byzantine influence.

Cult To Agnes

Before there were any churches to speak of, an archaic form of Christianity was practised in natural grottoes made into shrines. One such grotto, sa Cova Santa (or 'the Holy Cave') was used from the time of Ibiza's Dark Centuries, throughout Moorish rule and into the 14th century when the Sant Antoni church was built. Upon its completion, the relics and icons that had been used for worship in the grotto were taken to the new church. One of these icons was a carved figure of Saint Agnes, a Roman virgin who was martyred in AD 304 and around whom a fervent cult had grown up in Ibiza. Curiously, soon after the removal of her figure to the church, the saint mysteriously reappeared in the grotto. Perplexed, the people carried her once again to the church of Sant Antoni and placed her on the altar that was meant to be her new home. Once again, through unknown auspices, the saint cryptically managed to return to her original earthen shrine. And so it went for a while, until the people came to realize that the saint's will was to remain in the cave where she had always dwelt and whence she had always watched over her flock. And so it was done.

Centuries later, when Abad y Lasierra instituted his church-raising campaign, one of the spots he chose was Corona, a vénda near the Holy Cave in which the people had always maintained a fervent love of Saint Agnes. At their express request, the bishop agreed to name her as the patroness of the church at Corona. Incidentally, the designation Corona, as with most other toponyms in Ibiza, derives from a salient geographical feature, in this case a 'crown' (or corona) of hills that encircles the area.

The Saint At Work

Ever since the mysterious happenings of the 14th century, numerous folktales began to spring up around Saint Agnes, all of which related to her great powers of divine intervention in times of need. One of the most impressive of these tales* involves an incident that occurred during the building of the Santa Agnès Church, circa 1825. The master builder, Lluc Costa 'Maimó', had gone in his boat to pick up some large trunks of sabina wood, when a fierce storm caught him by surprise. Just as the builder was entering Cala Salada, the boat capsized. As he fought desperately against the waves, the drowning man felt the protection of his spiritual patroness, St. Agnes, and found the strength to save himself from sure death. While still in the clutches of the tempest, he vowed that, were he saved, he would donate an emprendada (a female chest ornament of tiered gold chains typical to island dress) to embellish a figure of the Virgin Mary. Maimó kept his vow and the emprendada can still be seen today, worn by the Virgin as she is carried in solemn procession along the village roads on Saint Agnes' Day. Interestingly, the actual figure of Sant Agnès, for all the devotion that was lavished on it, has not come down to the present day, and its whereabouts are lost to the mists of time.

Low But Not Lowly

Local lore attributes the low height of the Santa Agnès church to the fact there was a race on between the parishioners of Corona and those of the neighbouring parish of Aubarca (i.e. Sant Mateu). An unspecified but exasperated bishop was supposed to have decreed that, "Whosoever completeth first thy church shall winneth a prize." Apparently up to his neck with continual stalemates, the bishop saw fit to offer the parishioners a material incentive in order to hasten their progress: the fastest builders would be awarded a free figure of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that, in order to better their chances at winning, the people of Corona cut corners in the most literal sense! Whether the tale is true or not is doubtful, but it's good telling all the same.

Sublime Aura

Notwithstanding its petit proportions, the church of Santa Agnès is thought to possess the greatest spirituality of all. Historian, Joan Marí Cardona, often refers in his writings to the mysterious aura that can be found within it walls. A ceramic engraving in an exterior niche of the church (designed by Canadian architect Rolph Blakstad bears the inscription: Agnus Dei = Lamb of God = St. Agnes. According to Marí Cardona, this epitaph, "invites us to enter (the church) and take a close look at our own interior, in sincere contact with divinity." Again, upon leaving the village, the historian urges us to, "take a backward glance at the church. One will conceded that its exterior form as well is nothing if not a monumental prayer, full of divine serenity offered to any and all who look upon it with the eyes of spirit open."

Closing

Any time of the year is a fine time for a visit to Santa Agnès, but for those seeking a quaint country fiesta of a higher order, try 21st January. You might even pop into the church and say a prayer for 2002!

*See our LiveIbiza Archive article Weekly Edition 025 of Saturday 18th August 2001 for another of the Santa Agnès tales.

The Church at Santa Agnès
Picture Copyright © Gary Hardy (November 1990)

Emily Kaufman

emilykaufman@liveibiza.com