In Son Servera this coming weekend, the fiestas for Sant Ignasi will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the plague that caused the death of 2,434 people in Son Servera, Arta, Capdepera and Sant Llorenç (Majorca). The choice of Sant Ignasi is in fact because on the saint's day in 1821 (the first of February), the military cordon around Son Servera was lifted. Arta and Son Servera had been the worst affected; in Son Servera 1,040 out of a population of 1,808 had died.
The legend of the shepherd boy having picked up the cloak of a plague victim who had been buried on Port Vell beach is represented by the statue in the Plaça Sant Joan in Son Servera. The more mundane explanation for the plague is that it was spread by a rat that had been among bags of grain on a boat that had anchored in the bay off Son Servera; this boat had come from Tangier in Morocco.
Researchers now want to try and establish precisely the strain of "yersinia pestis" that caused the plague. Yersinia pestis has three different forms, one of them bubonic; it was, for example, the cause of the Black Death in the fourteenth century. In order to do this, the research team, led by a microbiologist, Toni Bennàssar, and an archaeologist, Francisca Cardona, will first have to locate a cemetery on the Bellpuig finca in Arta where more than one thousand victims were buried. Once this is found, there will then be exhumations and DNA testing.
While this testing will, it is hoped, establish the strain of the bacterium, it will also help to ascertain the geographical source of the plague that took hold in May 1820.
Whatever the researchers discover, the legend of the shepherd boy will persist.