It’s taken me a long time to get to this post, which is based on a trip made to Mallorca in April, but mejor tarde que nunca. I am in the process of redoing the Spanish Nativity website, sorely in need of updating, and resuming regular posts on this blog. I’ve also positioned the blog so that it appears not only on its own, but as a page on the website, something that will make it easier for me to update both at once.
But to get back to Lluc, a remarkable Marian shrine in the steep coastal mountains of Mallorca about 40 miles north of Palma de Mallorca. I set out for it encouraged by Dr. Elvira González, an archaeologist who lives and works in Palma and who had at one time worked at the museum in Lluc. She told me that its little museum had wonderful figures and paper Nativity scenes that reflected the distinctive Mallorcan tradition, and called ahead so that I could meet Padre Román Ballester, who is now retired but who had also been involved with the museum. The shrine is now a retreat and pilgrimage center run since the 19th century by a religious order known as the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Click on the link above for more information in English.
Setting off in my rented car and guided through the misty mountains in a pouring rain by my GPS, I found my way up the narrow road leading to the shrine, which is housed in a very large 16th century building that is home to the religious order in charge of the shrine and also to a wonderful children’s schola, Els Blauets, in my opinion even better than the schola of Montserrat. They sing a couple of times a day, but because of the severe weather and the need to return the rental car, I wasn’t able to be present at either time.
The island of Mallorca is famous mostly as a high-end and not so high end tourist destination, divided between the very wealthy who keep their enormous yachts in the harbor at Palma and the less well-heeled British and German travelers who fill the bars every evening. Despite this, Palma still maintains its own urban life and is a surprisingly interesting and pleasant city. The Cathedral is particularly interesting, and we’ll have a post on it sometime in the near future.
Once you leave Palma, you go into the depths of Mallorca, “Mallorca profunda,” as Elvira González said, and you are in an area that is somewhat rural or made up of smaller or larger towns. The Baleares were thought to be the tops of extinct volcanos, but are now considered to be products of a violent folding of the surface of the earth. But however Mallorca was created, its central plain is ringed by crags and precipices that hold off the brunt of the often fierce Mediterranean, with its winds, rains and even typhoons. Here we see part of Mallorca with Menorca in the distance.
Lluc means “Lucas” in Mallorquín, a variant of Catalán, and was the name of a young boy in the 12th or 13th century who found a statue of the Virgin, holding the Child, in a stream that came down from the very top of the mountain. When he and a local priest brought the statue to a church in another location, the statue disappeared and turned up again in the stream - twice. So it was decided that Our Lady wished to be honored in this place and a chapel was built next to the stream, later to be replaced by the large monastery that is on the site today (which has been expanded over the centuries).
The image is a 13th century statue of carved alabaster, with the typical Gothic S-curve, is dark in color and this image of the Virgin is known on Mallorca as “La Moreneta.” Its provenance is unknown, although Spanish sculptors and artists were very active during that period and were influenced by trends from other parts of the Continent, particularly France. When it was cleaned in the 19th century, it appears that its arms had been broken at some point, and when it was restored, it was done in a way that would have been typical of a 13th century Virgin. That is, she is pointing at the Child, who is holding a book.
How the statue turned up in the stream is unknown, but Our Lady frequently appeared around water-sources, oak-trees and other things that had been of significance to pre-Christian peoples or that were of special importance to the people of that time. Mallorca has very limited natural water supplies, depending mostly on precipitation. While the advent of desalinization plants has now made it possible to supply the cities and the tourist populations, water – particularly a steadily flowing source – was important to people on this island.
So you are seeing a very typical and beautiful Gothic sculpture of Nuestra Señora, holding El Niño – and in the next post, we’ll go on to discuss the rich and beautiful Mallorcan Nativity tradition that descended from this stream high in the crags out in the Mediterranean.