The Vegans Of Old Muro

In Muro there is a Col-legi Sant Francesc d'Assís, the Saint Francis of Assisi primary school. The school has existed since 1857, when Franciscans opened a classroom for the village children at the Cloister of Santa Anna.

The Santa Anna Convent fell into Franciscan hands in roundabout fashion. For 22 years it had in theory been owned by the town hall. In 1835, the previous occupants, the Minims, had been forced to abandon it. As with other religious orders, they and their properties were victims of the ecclesiastical confiscations under the decrees of the prime minister, Juan Álvarez Mendizábal.

While the confiscations were part of the liberal agenda to reduce the influence of the church in pursuit of a more secular Spain (and raise vast amounts for the Hacienda), they posed something of a problem to those under whose control they fell, the municipalities. It was one thing to take properties away from the powerful church, it was quite another having the means to maintain them or indeed knowing what to do with them if they weren't sold off.

A subsequent relaxation of regulations for church property ownership came as something of a blessing, therefore. Muro town hall allowed Franciscan monks to live at Santa Anna.

The school is just one example of a degree of confusion that has arisen over the years with regard to Sant Francesc. Saint Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans in 1209, but he is not the Saint Francis who is celebrated by the people of Muro. The Sant Francesc of this coming weekend's fair is Sant Francesc de Pàola, who was born over two hundred years after the Franciscans had been founded.

Saint Francis of Paola (or Paula) was from Calabria in Italy. He founded the Order of the Minims, which was confirmed as a religious order by Pope Sixtus IV in 1474. The name of the order comes from "minimo", the smallest. Saint Francis referred to himself as "il minimo dei minimi", the smallest of the small, by which he meant the least important. His was a highly austere order which was characterised, among other things, by veganism.

The Paola Francis was in a way a disciple of the Assisi Francis. He was named after the first saint. The story goes that his mother prayed to the Assisi Francis when her one-month-old son became ill. She vowed that if he were healed, he would enter a Franciscan friary. He did. And so, aged thirteen, he committed himself to an hermitic existence of solitude and penance.

The Minims arrived in Muro in 1584. They occupied an old hermitage - Santa Anna. In the following century, they initiated the process of restoration and development. The convent cloister was designed in similar fashion to others that the Minims were responsible for in Majorca - Campos, Santa Maria del Camí and Sineu.

Work on it was rather slow, and we have the chronicles of a Minims historian of the times, Friar Pere Joan Nicolau, for documentary evidence of the progress. By 1702, the building had been going on for more than half a century. In that year, there was anxiety because of the impact of heavy rain and flooding. Consideration was given to finding a different site for fear of subsidence. Fortunately, the decades of work were not to have been in vain. The Minims hit on a way of protecting the structures. It was eventually all completed in October 1743.

Friar Pere's invaluable records provide an insight into the lives of the Minims. Despite their austerity and abstinence from more or less everything, they nevertheless had a bodega for making wine. This may have been for religious service purposes, but it was more likely as a means of raising funds. In Germany, the Minims established a brewery in Munich for precisely this reason. It is the Paulaner brewery, the name having come from Saint Francis of Paula.

The Sant Francesc fair is described as being one of Majorca's most important and oldest. Quite how old it is, no one seems to know for sure. It has definitely been traced back to 1714, but it is older than this. It is possible that it originated soon after the Minims arrived. By the late sixteenth century, the establishment of a fair - a royal privilege - had been facilitated by the breaking of the Inca and Sineu fairs' duopoly. The Holy Roman Emperor, Carlos V, had intervened in granting the privilege to Llucmajor in 1546.

For certain, this weekend's fair, the fair of the Minims and Sant Francesc de Pàola, is more than three hundred years old. It has a long tradition, even if it doesn't stick to Minims' rules. There may be some vegan dishes for the tapas route, but one suspects that these will be outnumbered by those which are not.

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