Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Evil Count Of Galatzó

"Where the legend gathers, its indecency at its most horrendous, is the backdrop of the mountains and oak woods of Galatzó, where the vulture is still dark, stains of dead flesh and bones unburied, those brave ones who confronted the furies of its lord."

This is an approximate translation of a verse from a poem by Guillem Colom i Ferrà.  It comes from a collection published in 1950 with the title El Comte Mal, poema en dotze cants, the poem of twelve songs about the Evil Count. Colom's poem is just one of a number of works about this count, whose legend lies deep in the consciousness of Mallorcan folklore and which, as is often the case with this folklore, is borrowed culture from Catalonia.

The Galatzó finca, acquired by Calvia town hall some ten years or so ago, is sometimes referred to as one of the gateways to the Tramuntana mountains. Of various hiking trails within Calvia and into the bordering municipalities of Andratx, Estellencs and Puigunyent, the finca is a dominant feature. But while it reveals its flora and fauna and its reminders of times past with dry-stone huts and charcoal-burning ovens, it hides a legend that is engraved into folk tradition.

Where does one start with this legend? It can be traced back to the Mataplana family, the first documentary evidence of whom is from the late eleventh century. Hugo V de Mataplana was among the invasion force of Jaume I in 1229. The count of the legend was Hugo VII, or at least he was to provide the context. It seems, insofar as it is ever possible to distinguish between legend and reality, that he was mistaken for another count - Arnau, a despotic lord who violated the daughter of the Viscount of Albesa. Arnau himself is not so distant, in legendary terms, from Hellequin of Boulogne (the source of the Harlequin), who gave rise to a legend of devils in the ninth century.

Arnau was to enter Catalan mythology as a rich nobleman whose numerous sins included a relationship with an abbess. For his sins he was condemned for all eternity. His soul was to be in permanent pain as he rode a black horse with flames coming out of its mouth and eyes. He and the horse were accompanied by a pack of wild and "diabolical" (devilish) dogs.

The legend of Comte Arnau, the Comte Mal, took hold in the Catalonia of the fourteenth century. By then, the links with Mallorca were well-established, so it is reasonable to assume that the Evil Count slipped into local folklore at some point between 600 and 700 years ago. Far more recently, as in the first half of the nineteenth century, there were two literary works which were to definitively establish the legend of the count. These were La Cruz de Calatrava o el Conde Malo by Juan A. Ferrer de Sant Jordi y Vives and Las bodas del Conde Malo (the wedding of the evil count) by José Maria Quadrado.

The work by Ferrer, the "cross of Calatrava", apparently drew on the story of a housekeeper who at night would hear the rattling of the devil's chains that had shackled the evil nobleman. While the real origin of the works by both these authors was Comte Arnau, he had morphed into the Conde de Santa María de Formiguera, otherwise known as Ramon Zaforteza, a member of one of Mallorca's most important noble families.

To cut a very long story short, Zaforteza was at the centre of a seventeenth-century clash that arose from the family imposing its jurisdiction over the town of Santa Margalida. There were a number of violent episodes and deaths on both sides in the argument. It was because of this that he was to eventually come to be known as the Comte Mal. This was despite his notable later attempts to restore the prestige he had lost because of the incidents in Santa Margalida. One of these was an extension to Can Formiguera, a building close to the Cathedral in Palma, the tower of which was supposedly created so that he could observe a young nun from the Order of Saint Claire, with whom he was in love.

There are folk tales about this building - that there was an underground gallery that connected it to the convent and that Zaforteza received the assistance of the devil in building the tower. But most importantly, there was the tale of the Evil Count's horse. It was ridden on one of the Zaforteza estates - the one-time farmstead that is now the finca of Galatzó.

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