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Fiesta! - Virgen del Carmen

A fiesta steeped in fascinating history - July 16th sees the colourful and popular Patron Saint's Day of Es Cubells, Nuestra Señora del Carmen (or the Virgen del Carmen)

The Virgen del Carmen is the Patron Saint of all fishermen and seafarers, and first reports of her originate from the Carmel Mountain in Northern Israel. Her devotees called themselves the Brothers of Holy Mary of Carmel Mountain, later to become the Order of the Carmelites, and they brought their faith to Europe in the thirteenth century.

However, it wasn't until 1854 that it reached Ibiza with the arrival of an exiled Carmelite friar from Barcelona. Father Palau's banishment lasted only six years, but his impact upon Ibiza during his relatively short stay was immense.

He chose to live in the remote hamlet of Es Cubells in the south west of Ibiza, and would often take himself off to Es Vedra to fast and meditate, sometimes for weeks at a time. Eventually, he built a hermitage to the Virgen del Carmen, and started travelling around Ibiza and Formentera giving sermons which, due to his charismatic personality, were fervently received by the locals.

Even after his return to Barcelona, worshippers would still make the long trek to Es Cubells, where it was believed that the benevolent aura of the Virgen del Carmen was most powerfully felt, even though an icon of "El Carmen" was placed in almost every church on Ibiza.

But as the island's population grew and more people began to settle in Es Cubells, a religious dispute broke out between the friars of Father Palau's order, who wanted their hermitage to remain an independent entity, and the villagers who wanted a parish church of their own. In 1933, the island's Bishop sided with the villagers, but such was the intensity of the conflict, the parish church was not completed until 1959. Nowadays, the church of Es Cubells stands on the spot originally occupied by Father Palau's hermitage.

In honour of the Virgen del Carmen, a public holiday is observed every year on July 16th in Ibiza Town, San Antonio and Formentera. A statue of the Virgin is carried through the streets by the the local fishermen and placed in a boat, which then leads a colourful floating procession of vessels adorned with flags and flowers all around the harbour.

With music and the sound of ships horns blaring as the island's sailors, in full uniform, celebrate their Patron Saint's Day, Nuestra Señora del Carmen is one of Ibiza' most popular fiestas, enjoyed by adults and children alike.

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