Praying For Miracles

Nowadays there are detailed forecasts and analyses of aquifer capacities, there are desalination plants, there are meteorological models. Back then, all they had were prayers. They prayed for miracles. The prayers were sometimes heard.

Over a period of more than a month, 410 years ago, there were prayers. They weren't ordered as such, because orders were not necessary. The people were only too willing to head to chapels, churches, wherever in order to pray for rain. Their lives, pretty much, depended on rain. God, the Virgin, the saints were the suppliers of that rain.

The prayers started on 8 March. It was Lent. Majorca had been enduring a not untypical time of drought. They were worried that the 1609 harvest would be ruined as previous ones had been. Over the weeks, certain religious orders felt that the prayers had been sufficient. The Trinitarians, for instance, concluded their prayers for relief from the drought on 4 April. Others kept going, and on Majorca's plain, the people made their annual Easter pilgrimage to the Puig de Maria. This hill was in Petra. At one time, it had been named after the landowners, the Burguès. Then it was named after the Virgin, when a figure of Mary was found there. After Easter 1609 it was to take on a new and popular name, which survives to this day - Bonany.

Documentary evidence of the precise chronology of events for what happened in 1609 does not exist to the same extent that it does for other miracles. What is known is that the pilgrimage was at Easter, and Easter Sunday was 19 April in 1609. On what day did it start raining? No one can say. It did rain, though. It rained heavily. There was rain aplenty, so much that the drought came to an end, and the harvest of 1609 was abundant. The Puig de Maria acquired its new name as a result. It was a good year - "bon any".

The first reference to the hermitage - the Ermita (or Santuari) de Bonany - would seem to come from 1606. The hermitage honoured the Virgin Mary, so a conclusion that was probably drawn in 1609 was that the Virgin had looked favourably upon the people of the plain and had arranged for good rains. Pilgrims go to the hermitage each year for the immediate post-Easter "pancaritat" picnic/pilgrimage. It is an event which is primarily for the people of three municipalities - Petra, Vilafranca (de Bonany) and Sant Joan.

The Petra pilgrimage has echoes of one that takes place in Alcudia, also just after Easter. It is to the Sant Martí cave and the image of Sant Crist. The legend of the miracle of Sant Crist is a better known one than Petra's, and this owes a great deal to the fact that there was documentary evidence.

The same sort of circumstances surrounded the Sant Crist miracle. They were praying for rain to end the drought. Apart from the annual pilgrimage, there is the fiesta of Sant Crist which takes place every three years; it will be on 26 July this year. The miracle didn't happen in the summer, however. It was on 24 February in 1507, and we know that the image of Christ supposedly produced blood and water at the Sant Martí cave because there were various honourable people who were prepared to swear that the miracle had occurred.

These included the head juror of the Universitat de la Ciutat i Regne de Mallorca, Pere Dezcallar. He was in charge of what was the old town hall in Palma, which had much wider administrative functions than today; they were for the Kingdom of Majorca. As well as Dezcallar, who was also a priest, there were several men with the title of "advocat". This now refers to a lawyer; then it was more a legal administrative office, and the holder of the title was always a noble. One of those who witnessed the miracle was Pere Joan Zaforteza, whose surname clearly marks him out as having been a member of one of Majorca's most prominent noble families.

Given the roll call of the witnesses, this was pretty powerful stuff when it came to confirming the miracle. And the miracle did of course work. It rained. They didn't grant anywhere the title of "bon any", but they could have done, such was the splendid harvest.

Sant Crist was in fact responsible for at least three other interventions - ending the plague of 1652 and the droughts of 1683 and 1703. In the case of the latter, the pilgrimage to the cave and the image was two days after Easter. Ten days later, the skies clouded over at six in the evening.

They may not have had sophisticated weather forecasting techniques at the start of the eighteenth century, but they were at least more specific than had been the case in Petra at giving an indication as to when the rains came and the prayers were met.

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