Maristel·la shrine in Esporles
The walk up to Maristel·la Shrine, located at an altitude of 580 metres above sea level in Son Ferrà woods, is an ideal family outing. Surrounded by charming holm oaks, the shrine is a place of worship and a leisure area for the people of Esporles, who hold a pilgrimage each year in mid September. Quite well known by those who live locally and by enthusiasts of trips to the mountains, its tragic history is no doubt less familiar, as is the mystery that surrounds certain deaths that have occurred in this holy place.
The shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of Carmen, because it was founded in 1890 by Carmelite monks after the death of Margalida Rosselló i Ferrà in 1888, the owner of Son Ferrà estate, who made it clear in her will that she wanted to leave part of her woodlands to a group of hermits.
The religious community there was always very small and it was only used as a hermitage for 36 years, being abandoned by the monks for tragic reasons. There were never more than four hermits there. In 1926, one of the members of the community died when he fell off a ladder leading to the cells, leaving just Brother Vicenç and Brother Josep. Given his advanced age, the former was forced to retire to Santa Catalina Monastery in Palma and the latter became the only inhabitant left there. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead in the well, having knocked his head hard. What was the cause of his death? The question has gone unanswered for centuries, but there was much speculation and numerous, very different hypotheses were put forward, ranging from an accident to murder, theft (as far as we know, no trace was found of money that Brother Josep had received in exchange for the sale of some livestock a few days before) and even suicide. What really happened that day in 1926 will never be clarified.
The story of Maristel·la Shrine is a tragic one. Four people have met violent deaths there in unexplained circumstances
What is true is that his death, combined with the hardships of mountain life, led the Carmelites to abandon the hermitage. Its ownership and management were transferred to the parish of Sant Pere in Esporles. In 1928, the pro-active local parish priest Father Tugores made July 16th - the feast day of Our Lady of Carmen - a local celebration at the hermitage, christening it with the name by which it is now known, Maris Stella or Starfish. At the same time, certain improvements and extensions were made. Once again, however, tragedy struck in Son Ferrà's thick holm oak woods. In 1949, a mentally handicapped man from Esporles was entrusted by the parish with looking after the building. One day, when he went to the hermitage with his sister, he struck her on the head with a stone and killed her or at least that is what is assumed to have happened. Afterwards, he hung himself from a holm oak. The branch from which he committed suicide was cut off and today the tree can still be seen with its missing branch. Thus two more deaths occurred whose causes we will never really know.
Time has passed, however, and these unfortunate incidents seem to be a thing of the past at Maristel·la Shrine. Having said that, there have been a few more deaths in the history of the shrine, but fortunately the victims were not human but animals. The following tragicomic episode took place in 1967, when the army collaborated by instructing a detachment of soldiers to use seven mules to take building materials up to the shrine. Within the space of just a few short days, four of the mules died, very probably of exhaustion. The parish of Esporles had to compensate the army financially for the death of the animals.
In the end, the building materials were taken up to the shrine thanks to the efforts and solidarity of the people of Esporles, who formed a human chain from Son Ferrà house up to the shrine so that everything that was needed for the shrine's maintenance could reach it.
The walk up to the shrine is still a pleasure for the senses and good physical exercise to boot. And clearly everyone who goes up there now will have a great respect for both the living and the dead.
Text by Bartomeu Homar
Translated by Rachel Waters
Did you know that...
Close to the shrine, near the summit of Fita del Ram, there is a cave called Els Ermassets. According to legend, as compiled by Father Alcover, an ermasset is a green, very thin creature of medium height, with large eyes, and ears three times as big as a man's. It has long arms and long hands with very sharp nails, and thin swift legs. Its job is to safeguard treasure hidden at the back of the cave, which naturally no one has ever found....as yet.
How to get there
From Esporles, a road leads up to Es Verger housing development. Son Ferrà rural estate is about three kilometres along the road, just as you reach the first hilltop. Leave the car there and the walk begins at a small, semi-concealed gate at the bend on the hilltop, keeping the buildings of Son Ferrà in front of you. When you pass them, you will come to another gate. The terrain improves and turns into a track. When you enter the holm oak wood, you will go through a third gate (which you should remember to close behind you, like the others). You then climb up a steep cement track. The path is easy to follow and leads straight to the shrine. If you don't know the way, it's better not to take a short cut. It's well worth visiting Cor de Jesús, which is just a few minutes off the main path, since it has splendid views of Esporles, Palma and most of Mallorca.