A Weavers' Tale Of Capdepera Legend

Among the stories of derring-do involving poorly armed local villagers being confronted by marauding Moorish invaders and somehow managing to see them off, there is one that never came to an invasion.

The legend goes that from within the walls of the castle in Capdepera - into which the locals had been corralled for their own protection - invading ships could be seen. The number of ships was incalculable (always allowing for some exaggeration). The village faced attack. There would be slaughter or, for those who were spared, slavery. Mercifully for the villagers, there was the image of the Mare de Déu de l'Esperança, Our Lady of Hope. They prayed and pleaded. Miraculously, a great fog descended. This so disconcerted and indeed terrified the invaders that they turned back. Capdepera was spared.

Unlike the other stories, it isn't known exactly when this miracle is supposed to have happened. If it did indeed occur, and it is quite possible that there was a fog that deterred invaders, it was something of a one-off. Mossèn Antoni Gili was a prominent member of the clergy and a Majorcan historian who died eight years ago in Capdepera. He was originally from Arta, so he knew his local stuff. In the address he delivered for the Festa de l'Esperança on 18 December 1983, he explained that by 1562 Capdepera was in a situation of "maximum peril", such were the attacks by the Moorish "infidels".

In that year, 1562, there were a mere 55 inhabitants, all of them within the walls of the castle. Their condition and that of Capdepera was so poor that total depopulation was on the cards. Gili continued by outlining how a doctor, Llorenç Fe, sought relief from the payment of various taxes as a means of preventing what could have been the disappearance of Capdepera as a settlement. That is its own story, but the emphasis placed on 1562 may give an indication as to approximately when the miracle occurred. In 1561 there had been the attack on Soller, now famously re-enacted each May.

The devotion of the Mare de Déu de l'Esperança certainly took hold around this time, although the first documented evidence of the name (Nostra Senyora Sperança) for the castle's church wasn't until 1601. As such, it was just one of various Marian cults of worship that became embedded in Majorcan religious culture. A different one, and linked also to pirate attacks, was the Mare de Déu dels Àngels, the patron of Pollensa who came to the assistance of that village in 1550.

In the specific case of the Mare de Déu de l'Esperança, this devotion only became established a couple of centuries after the Christian occupation, various images of the Virgin Mary and cults of worship having travelled with the invading forces in 1229. In 1433, Gil Sanxís Munyós was the Bishop of Majorca, having previously been one of the antipopes (Clement VIII) of the Western Schism. He decided that Majorca should celebrate a fiesta called Expectació del Part, which was renamed after the Virgin of Hope, Esperança.

Eighteen years later, the Weavers' Guild (Gremi de Teixidors) selected Esperança to be patron of a chapel in a Palma church - the Sant Esperit dels Pares Trinitaris. The guild then spread the devotion throughout the island - from Soller across to Manacor and Arta, stopping off in Selva and Sa Pobla and heading south to Llucmajor. Eventually it arrived in Capdepera, and this was largely due to the efforts of the weavers. The Arta branch of the guild was sizeable, and spun out of it (so to speak) was the Capdepera guild. It was the weavers of Capdepera who adopted Esperança as their patron and who came up with the fiesta. It was written into their constitution that there were would be a fiesta on 18 December each year, which is the day in the Catholic Church calendar for the fiesta.

So, when it came to that pirate attack, which was aborted because of a great fog, it would seem that the villagers of Capdepera owed their thanks, at least in part, to the weavers of neighbouring Arta, who had advocated the devotion of the Mare de Déu de l'Esperança in that area of Majorca, and to the weavers' Capdepera brethren.

* The fiesta was originally decreed by the Council of Toledo in 656. It is also known as the Mare de Déu de la O (Oh!). This is because of the week of prayer chant from 17 to 23 December with antiphons that start with an Oh!  - Oh King, Oh Orient, Oh Emmanuel, for example.

Back to list

Back to top