Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saint Tecla And The Miners Of Biniamar

They're celebrating one of those mysterious saints again this week. This one is Saint Tecla (or Techla): Santa Tecla, as she is known locally, because she is a she. Or rather was.

Tecla was supposedly from Iconium (now Konya) in Turkey, was born in 30AD and was a follower of Paul the Apostle. Supposedly is correct in that her story is best known from the Acts of Paul and Tecla, a second century work that is lumped in with other Apocrypha of the New Testament, i.e. works and stories of dubious and doubtful origins (apocryphal) not considered to form part of the Bible.

Real or unreal, she led a highly charmed life. Having been influenced by Paul and his musings on the nature of virginity, she survived, among other things, being burnt at the stake, attempted rape (on more than one occasion) and being eaten by wild beasts. She spent 72 years in a cave in what is now Silifke in Turkey. Or more likely didn't.

Anyway, by the fourth and fifth centuries Tecla's status was such that she commanded almost equal status with the apostles. She was an exemplary virgin martyr who apparently inspired others. Subsequently, and this is the case today, she became patron saint of Tarragona, where her worship had existed in times before the Muslim occupation of Spain. They will therefore be having a fair old fiesta for her in that Catalonian city. Her day is today, 23 September.

Techla/Tecla doesn't feature prominently in the saintly fiesta scheme of things in Mallorca with the exception of the village of Biniamar, which is part of the larger village of Selva. How, therefore, did she end up with the role of patron of this little village of some 350 people when the rest of Mallorca pretty much ignored her patronly potential?

It owes absolutely everything to Tarragona and in particular the archbishop of that city. In March 1230, just a short time after invading Mallorca and dismantling Muslim rule, King Jaume I was highly generous in his distribution of Mallorcan territory to the diocese. Tarragona was rewarded for its part in the invasion so that the archbishop (Espárago de la Barca) ended up with a fairly impressive Mallorca real-estate portfolio. This included a quarter of Inca, Mancor de la Vall, Caimari and Moscari (other Selva villages), Selva itself and Beniamar (aka Biniamar). Oh, and there was also the island of Cabrera.

The archbishop and Jaume had a longstanding relationship. Although he probably wasn't his uncle as such, this was how Jaume apparently referred to him. Pope Innocent III was to make the archbishop the principal advisor to Jaume during his youth. In 1228 the council of Barcelona came to the decision to conquer Mallorca. The archbishop was a central figure in this decision being arrived at. He came up with men and money to help Jaume's invasion.

The archbishop, it would seem, made Biniamar his power base. He installed a mayor to dispense justice and as importantly to look after his feudal powers. Moreover, the cult of worship for Santa Tecla in Tarragona was to be embedded in the village. This is how she came to be the patron.

What did the archbishop gain apart from just land? Well, in Biniamar there was its olive oil. The village of Caimari nowadays insists that its olive oil is the finest you can get in Mallorca (and makes this claim for its olive oil fair each year). There will have long been inter-village rivalries in this regard. The smaller villages of Selva all have their proud claims for one thing or another, and Biniamar in a sense has the loosest relationship with Selva and the other villages. It is more or less in Lloseta, far closer to that village than it is to Selva itself.

The archbishop would have also been made aware that Biniamar had a centuries-old mining tradition. This was something it shared with other villages in the area, such as Selva and Lloseta. Much later, in the second half of the nineteenth century, mines were opened which bore names such as "La Buena" and "La Esperanza". The good and the hope only partially materialised. At the time of the start of the Second Republic in 1931, Biniamar was associated with the Selva Mining Union.

Mining was tough, dangerous and low-paid work. The Catalan protest singer Lluís Llach was to write: "The miner sings at the bottom of the vast hole. No one listens. This much he knows. Only the walls of that cave so large. With tears as they turn to mud." The Biniamar miners might have sung to Santa Tecla. Her patronage doesn't extend to mining, but one of her miracles was the sudden opening of a new passage in a cave for her to escape persecutors. If the mines collapsed, they would have needed a miracle.

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