La Beata of Santa Margalida

La Beata of Santa Margalida.

01-06-2020JOAN LLADO

The municipal name Santa Margalida is what is referred to as a hagiotoponym. In other words it is a place named after a saint, the saint in question having been Saint Margaret of Antioch - in Catalan Santa Margalida or Margarida d’Antiòquia. The parish of Santa Margalida was first documented in 1243, but the place was still known as Hiachat (or Yachat), this having been the name of the “alqueria” settlement of the Muslim era. In 1248, a papal bull issued by Innocent IV definitively established the Santa Margalida parish and over the next century or so the Muslim name was dropped from popular usage and from parish documents.

Hiachat essentially corresponded to what is the town (vila) of Santa Margalida and its immediate surrounds. The name may have been abandoned, but as is not untypical in Majorca it has been brought back into usage. The history of the island has made a habit of re-emerging over the past two or three decades and being applied to popular activities. And in the case of Santa Margalida, one set of these activities are those of the demon’s gang - Dimonis de Hiachat, the contemporary inheritors of a demon tradition that will have dated back earlier than 1829 but which first came to be known about in that year.

The first documented evidence of the procession for Santa Catalina Thomàs (La Beata) comes from 1829, while the first actual description is from 1840. This was given by one Antoni Furió i Sastre, a native of Palma and a historian, who in 1841 was appointed general chronicler of the old Kingdom of Majorca. He was the author of a work published in 1840 that was entitled “Panorama óptico-histórico-artistico de las Islas Baleares”. Despite its title, Furió focused on Majorca, and the book is considered to have been one of the most complete histories of the island that was available at that time.

Furió has come in for some retrospective criticism on account of a perception that he was rather too ecclesiastically influenced. Twenty years before the publication of “Panorama”, he had been responsible for the “Historia Eclesiástica general y política de la Provincia de Mallorca”. Whatever his bias in favour of the Church may or may not have been, it would almost certainly have been the case that one of the bishops of Majorca, Rafael Manso, would have been familiar with his publications. In 1849, Bishop Manso intervened in Santa Margalida’s popular culture, and he could well have drawn on Antoni Furió’s “Panorama” in having done so.

The scholarly Furió described a procession in which there were “several” representations of the Blessed Virgin Catalina and there were also the “thanks” of demons. When he found out what was going on in Santa Margalida, Bishop Manso was scandalised. Not only weren’t there accurate representations of the saint, there were also the demons.

The procession of La Beata was held, as it is now, on the first Sunday in September. On August 29, 1849, Bishop Manso fired off what has become one of the most famous letters to have ever been written by a senior church figure in Majorca to one of the parishes. Its fame is particularly great because its warnings were completely ignored. Manso, who wasn’t a native of Majorca (he was from Zamora in Castile and León), had become bishop in 1847. In 1851, he was no longer the bishop, having been replaced by a Majorcan, Miquel Salvà Munar.

So even the religious men of the parish didn’t take too kindly to this bishop from the mainland telling them what they could or couldn’t do when it came to the Beata procession. Manso had written: “I have learned that in the parish of Santa Margalida it is customary each year to celebrate the feast of the Blessed Catalina Thomàs and to make, among other religious acts, a procession through the village that does not end until night and in which even the Church presents disguised subjects representing the Devil in an act of killing and persecuting the Blessed and whose appearance in this act arouses serious disorders and offences against God as well as the laughter and distraction of the faithful in ridiculing holy matters. This festivity appears to be set to take place next Sunday, but such a profane religious act is not tolerated. I warn you firmly to prevent such representations during the procession and in the church now and in the future ... and that you make the appropriate arrangements for the procession and other functions to be completed by sunset.”

In honour of the long-established demons’ tradition, which has passed to the contemporary fire-running Dimonis de Hiachat but also remains very much as it was in the annual La Beata procession, a local sculptor - Guillem Crespí - has created the head of a demon from the procession. And in keeping with what has also become something else of a contemporary tradition, the iron sculpture - weighing some 3,000 kilos - will be installed on a roundabout at the entrance to Santa Margalida.

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