Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Keys To A Municipal Shield

For no particular reason, Sa Pobla town hall the other day updated its Facebook profile picture. It was the municipal shield. Someone commented on this. Sa Pobla has one of the best shields in Mallorca, he observed. And what is it about the shield that merits this accolade? Essentially, the same as what would presumably qualify Lloseta's shield for being ranked among the meritorious of Mallorca. A griffin. The Sa Pobla shield is a beige griffin on a red background surrounded by appropriately heraldic frippery.

But why a griffin? Simple. Sa Pobla is the centre of Mallorca's demons. In the Middle Ages the griffin was a representation of the devil. The cult of Sant Antoni, demons and all, was imported to Mallorca in the Middle Ages. Sa Pobla was the focal point for the saint. Hence, the griffin. This explains Sa Pobla's shield. As for Lloseta's ... .

In some instances, the shields of the town halls have very long pasts. Inca's is a case in point. It has of course undergone a considerable transformation in terms of its graphics since the thirteenth century, but the image of a running dog is an original element. Again, the question arises. Why a dog? Is Inca famous for its dogs? No. Was it famous for dogs in the Middle Ages? No. The reason for the dog, according to legend, is linked to the story of the Muslim overlord of Inca. When Jaume I undertook his conquest in the thirteenth century, this lord vowed to be faithful to him. Apparently, it was his dog that was incorporated into the shield as a sign of this faithfulness. There again, it's possible that there is a completely different story.

Many of the symbols are otherwise pretty obvious. Alcudia, Arta, Capdepera, Palma all feature castles. Some are rather peculiar. What does one make, for example, of Binissalem's? It looks as if it should be hanging over a petrol station. A Shell station. It is a shell, the shell of Santiago, the patron saint of Binissalem, better known in Mallorca as Sant Jaume. The shield of Ses Salines, in all honesty, looks downright odd. It's clear what it is, but a pile of salt doesn't give off an especially heraldic image. In fact, there is a complete absence of heraldry in Ses Salines. In its favour, one can say that it isn't pretentious.

Another peculiar one is Bunyola's. They've gone and stuck five doughnuts ("bunyols") on their shield. Well, yes, we get the association, but Bunyola - in terms of its toponymy - doesn't have anything to do with doughnuts (some say fritters). It is seemingly a corruption of words meaning small vineyard.

Then there are the mysterious suns of Andratx and Soller. Why? Doesn't everywhere in Mallorca have sun? They do, but it's all to do with the setting sun, the theory being that in Andratx (or Soller), the last of the sun is to be seen. Hmm, stretching a point perhaps.

I have a personal liking for the shield of Maria de la Salut. It has a dignified, Romanesque M, topped by a crown. The M in question has nothing to do with James Bond, but everything to do with the Virgin Mary and the messengers of health, which is how Maria de la Salut came to be known as Maria de la Salut. I'm also taken by the Petra shield. The cross keys are associated with the parish church of Sant Pere, i.e. Saint Peter. The keys of Saint Peter are the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.

But these keys play a part in what is one of the stranger stories that lurk behind a municipal shield. In the September-October 1983 edition of Ariany (they just named the magazine after the place), the residents of the village were invited to offer their suggestions regarding the design of the municipal shield. Ariany had gained its "independence" from Petra the year before: it is the newest of Mallorca's municipalities.

The article considered elements of other shields, such as the religious connotations in those of Felanitx and Sant Joan, but it wasn't insistent on anything, other than that there should be reference to heraldic insignia for the Cotoner family. So, the shield had a cotton plant. But that wasn't all. Remarkably enough it took the town hall until January 1988 to finally decide, and when they did, there - next to the plant - were two keys, the keys of Saint Peter. And why the keys? It was all a bit of a dig at Petra. Ariany had been after its independence for years, and once independence was gained, Ariany was going to make sure Petra always remembered the fact. They nicked Petra's keys and used them in their own shield.

Ariany's, one of the best shields in Mallorca? As far as having a laugh is concerned perhaps. Otherwise, not really. Sa Pobla's is quite distinguished, but I'm going with Maria and trust that the shield brings good health.

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