LET’S HEAR IT FOR VICAR FIQUET as
The Brides wore black in Soller
I have had the best time this week following a story which has inspired my imagination and given me great pleasure. It is the wedding season in Majorca and the whole production mill is in full swing. Local wedding organisers are aiming to please and give couples the best day of their life. The Anglican Church in Palma has just taken its 70th wedding booking for this year. Soller’s local wedding planners – Moments – run by Lourdes and Ana Coll celebrated their eleventh anniversary of business by being busier than ever. Everyone loves a wedding and in Soller we have regular wedding processions as groups often walk in their finery to the church in the square from one of the local hotels. A church wedding is a public occasion and visitors sit in the church watching the proceedings. Sometimes they get more than they expect as was the case when the Georgie Insull Singers were singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ for a group of 40 wedding guests in Soller church and at least 500 visitors who were the audience at the back. A magic moment for all concerned.
Soller has huge stories as part of its history which are well catalogued. Everyone knows about the mass migration from Soller when the orange harvests failed. They know too of the wonderful houses that the returners built when they made their money and came back to the Hidden Valley. The subject that has intrigued me this week falls between those two story lines into a wonderful tale of its own. From 1850 onwards men left the Soller valley and relocated to France and Belgium. This was to escape the severe poverty of the Soller valley and the boys were assisted by the church and their local priests. The priests set up connections with communities in France who could offer them work and accommodation. As these boys grew older they wanted to marry and many of them wanted ‘a girl from home’. The priests of France and Soller got busy again and began a matchmaking service along strict lines. Girls who wanted to marry had few options as the Soller valley was bereft of young men. They didn’t have the option of popping into Palma on a Saturday night to parade up and meet others down on the seafront as happens today.
Their families contacted their friendly Mr Fix it Matchmaker – Vicar Fiquet – to see what options were available. Vicar Fiquet was a local man who was the priest of Soller for many years and he evolved an introduction service that resulted in 1671 weddings. He would arrange a written connection between the families he thought would fit and then invite the men to Soller for five days. On day one the introductions took place with the girl sitting in an upstairs window and the boy walking the street below so that they could take a peep at each other. After that ‘viewing’ the girls family would consult the priest and take it to the next level with a chaperoned meeting arranged for the next day. On day three the wedding took place at 7 am. The bride wore her Sunday black dress and the boys the best suit they could borrow. The wedding celebrations were cut short because the girls would be required to be back at work in the fields by 8 am. On day four the wedding breakfast for family and friends took place. Ensaimada and hot chocolate for all and then the couple left to prepare for their journey. On day five they left for their new home in France. The girls had hardly been outside of Soller and didn’t know when they would be back again so these partings were excruciatingly sad for the families. The writings of the times talk of the valley of tears that accompanied them on their journey.
Vicar Fiquet was a man with a mission, he cared deeply for this community and wanted to help to ease the pain of poverty even if it meant relocation. He asked all his couples to send him a postcard from their parishes in France and at one time had over 1500. I have been searching for those postcards this week. I have talked to the local priests and the Soller museum but to no avail. I really hope that someone has them safely somewhere. The tale they tell and what they represent is a film in the making.
What the people of the time didn’t know when they made their leap of faith into the French unknown is that within 50 years their world would shrink. Sailing back to Majorca and getting on the train to Soller from Palma was all going to be possible in their lifetime. They started coming back to visit and many came back for good making French the second language of Soller next to Catalan. The 1651 weddings and the children that followed developed into a huge tribe and explains the very Frenchness of the Soller valley.
My research has been helped by discovering the ‘Es descendents d’emigrants de s vall de Soller’ site and corresponding with grandchildren of the people I have been writing about. These are French people through and through who are fiercely proud of their connections with Soller. I have been on a journey of my own this week and am seeing Soller through different eyes. Vicar Fiquet was a man of his time and is held in high esteem by this group. The majority of these marriages worked for the people and they created little bit of Soller all over France. What a lovely thought.