The Influence Of Saint Peter

If you were one of the Twelve Apostles, the founder of the Roman Church, the keeper of the Keys to Heaven, and the victim of mad Emperor Nero, you would be entitled to expect to be held in high esteem. In Majorca, Simon of Bethsaida, later Saint Peter, has long been assured of a central position in worship and so therefore in the naming of churches and the staging of fiestas. Sant Pere is in the premier league of Majorca's saints, and his fiestas, which conveniently fall at roughly the same time as those for John the Baptist, guarantee that the island's summer fiesta season starts with a bang. And typically, the fiestas end with a bang. In Puerto Alcudia, for example, there are fireworks for his feast day on 29 June.

Puerto Alcudia, as with other ports, e.g. Pollensa and Soller, is a natural location for Sant Pere. The patron of fishermen and himself a fisherman (apparently), he therefore maintains a benign saintly watch over one of Majorca's oldest industries. His patronage isn't, however, confined to coastal areas. Buger and Esporles are not by the sea, yet both celebrate Sant Pere. The parish church in Petra, where they don't have fiestas for the saint, is one of the island's largest. It is the third Sant Pere church to occupy the site since the thirteenth century. Why might Saint Peter be popular in the island's interior? One reason, possibly, is that he was versatile with his patronage. Harvesters could rely on him as well.

Most of Majorca saints arrived on the island, as in their worship arrived, after the 1229 conquest. Eminent among these saints is Sant Antoni, who was an import encouraged by Jaume I and his immediate successors. With Sant Pere, there would have been familiarity with him prior to the tenth-century Muslim occupation. Establishing this, however, is a different matter. Peter would have been to the fore once Constantine the Great gave the Roman Empire the Christianity boost that he did in the fourth century, but evidence of knowledge of him from late Roman times is non-existent.

That era, in terms of worship, seems to have been marked by what has been dubbed the Hispanic-Roman Catholic tradition. This, according to scholars, was especially evident in Mediterranean coastal areas, and it drew on saintly figures more specific to the region. One of the most important was Genesius of Arles, who was martyred in either 303 or 308. Majorca could, therefore, have been influenced by what was - in geographical terms, given the location of Arles - an early almost Catalan-oriented base for religion. It's all very much speculation, though.

Following the conquest, Sant Pere was established in different ways. Churches were the most obvious. As well as the primitive church in Petra, there was, as another example, the first church in Escorca. This was built not long after the conquest and was the principal place for worship until Lluc Sanctuary really started to come into its own a couple of centuries later.

In Palma, there was Puig de Sant Pere, a neighbourhood that had originally been developed during the Muslim era and which was to become synonymous with fishing and seafaring. Es Baluard de Sant Pere, now the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, was built between 1575 and 1578.

Puig de Sant Pere was to provide an entertainer who propelled the saint's name into popular Spanish culture of the last century. Pedro (or Pere) Bonet was a waiter who had been born in the neighbourhood in 1917. Exposed to the films of Fred Astaire and to the music of Django Reinhardt and Benny Goodman, Bonet de San Pedro (Sant Pere) eventually attained the nickname the "Duke of Swing".

Another type of urban development that the saint lent his name to brings us firmly back to the fiestas. Colonia Sant Pere has a flotilla with the image of the saint, as does its near neighbour on the bay, Puerto Alcudia. And Colonia Sant Pere does rather highlight the benefit of the saint's patronage.

It dates from 1880 and was one of the farming colonies that were created in Majorca around that time. The coastal ones mainly survived - Colonia Sant Jordi, Porto Cristo, Portocolom; one in Cabrera did not. Those not immediately by the coast certainly didn't. There is remaining evidence of just two - Colonia de Son Mendivil in Llucmajor and Gatamoix in Alcudia.

A reason why Colonia Sant Pere survived was that it had fishing to fall back on if there were problems with the crops. In Buger and Esporles, they may point to Sant Pere's aid to harvesters, but with the colonies it was his patronage of fishermen that saved them.

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