Texto y fotos: Ketty Montero
A refuge for prayer and war
The attacks by Berber pirates terrorised the inhabitants of the island of Ibiza for centuries. They resulted in churches being built with two aims in mind: not only for the adoration associated with religious temples, but also for their use as protective shelter. This is the origin of the striking appearance of fortified Ibicencan churches, in which faith and defence, the pious devotion of the local inhabitants and their fear of the Moorish invaders, go hand in hand.
Coming from the coasts of Africa, pirates would raid the island for slaves, cattle and supplies. The chronicles of Saint Mary’s church show that there is hardly a year to be found in which Turks or Algerians did not land. When the coastline towers smoked to raise the alarm upon the arrival of Berbers, the locals, who lived in hamlets dotted around the countryside, would run to take refuge in the churches.
Some of them, such as Sant Miquel, follow the castle-church model that Hernán Cortés took with him when he conquered Mexico. They all have solid, sloping walls, with barricades surrounding their terraces, and present few openings, making them almost impenetrable to any enemy who did not have artil-lery. The portico or “porxo” is its most characteristic element. Here families would find shelter and protection when pirates came.
At the beginning of the 14th century, after the Catalan conquest, the first four rural churches started to be built. The Arabs had divided the island into four “quartons”: Benizamit, Xarc, Portmani and Algarb, a distribution which remained, and to which the first four churches were assigned. It was almost always the locals themselves who asked permission from the Church authorities to construct the temples, and often they also built them themselves.
Their distribution begins with a rectangular nave to which successive additions were made: chapels, porxos, entrance patios, parish house. The roofing was flat, and on it was placed the artillery to defend it, until the fall of Elizabeth II.
The church of Santa Eulària, opened in 1568, is the most beautiful. It belonged to the “quartó of the king” (Xarc). Built atop the hill of Puig d’en Missa, it looks like a fortress, with its semicircular watchtower included within the building, armed until the middle of the 19th century. The porxo’s triple arcade looks into the church which, with such clear Arab influences, is almost a mosque. The group of buildings, such a vantage point over the vast seas, was declared ‘picturesque landscape’ in 1952.
The church of Sant Miquel belonged to the “quartó de Balanzat” (Benizamit). It is the only one on the island with a cross plan. On the Southern side of the main nave was the door for the men, and at the end of the cross nave was the one for the women. For a long time, gender separation within the temple was strict. In front of the portico, a covered patio, open to the outside by three arches, is the stage on which local folk dancing would take place.
The church of Sant Antoni was awarded its religious status in 1305 and was of the “quartó de Portmani”. During the 17th century grand extension works were carried out. The belfry has under-gone many changes over the centuries.
The church of Sant Agustí (1798) belonged to the area of Vedrà d’es Ribes. Built on a small hill, its thick walls and defensive tower overlook the village. Like the one in Sant Jordi, it has battlements.
Thanks to the island’s quite unique historical circumstances, we can still today enjoy these wonderful constructions whose image is completely out of the ordinary and which, as the architect José Luis Sert said, “are effortlessly monuments and symbols in their own right”.