THE CHRISTIANISATION OF SOCIETY
Between the 5th and 8th centuries AD, the vast majority of Mediterranean society was Christianised. The Christian leaders assumed the role of governors and State officials and, consequently, were in a position to impose their own standards and way of life on almost everyone. They also assumed administrative authority, i.e., the collection of taxes, the administration of justice, the undertaking of public works, public safety, welfare and many other aspects.
The Church controlled and governed the actions of almost everyone, from their everyday activities to the most important moments in their lives, such as baptism, marriage and everything relating to death.
The power of the Christian religious bodies during the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries AD is evident from the fact that the most imposing buildings, in which the most resources were invested, were the churches and baptisteries, as was the case in the area of Manacor.
THE AREA OF MANACOR BETWEEN THE 5TH AND 8TH CENTURIES
In the municipal district of Manacor there is evidence to show that thirty or so small settlements emerged between the 5th and 8th centuries. Although the nature of many of these groups of people is yet unknown, it seems that the majority consisted of small crop and livestock farms. Two exceptions were Son Peretó and Sa Carroja, where in both places a Paleochristian basilica with a baptistery has been discovered.
Son Peretó is situated on the inland plains, in a slightly elevated spot, surrounded by fertile land covered in crops. It was very close to a major communication route and in the middle of an area with numerous settlements from the Roman, Vandal and Byzantine periods. Sa Carroja, on the other hand, was very near the coast, on rocky land, above the cliffs of the port of Manacor (Porto Cristo).
Whilst it is not known to which type of communities the discoveries in Son Peretó and Sa Carroja relate (urban, peri-urban, rural, monastic…), what we do know is that their clergy gave the sacraments and other services to Christians in both areas and, in the case of Sa Carroja, to sailors and other travellers passing through the port.
The official discovery, in 1912, of the Son Peretó site is attributed to the figure of J. Aguiló, who was inspired by the successful work a few years earlier that led to the discovery of the basilica, its baptistery and other structures in Sa Carroja.
That work enabled him, above all, to discover the entire basilica and a baptistery, and also to start recovering an important collection of mosaics and numerous archaeological materials, marking the beginning of what is now the Manacor Museum of History.
This museum exhibits the pieces found both in Son Peretó and on the sea bed in Porto Cristo, and are a fine testimony of the port activities in this area between the 5th and 8th centuries AD.
THE BASILICAS OF MANACOR
The structures known as basilicas were churches in which Christian worship, mainly Mass, i.e., the rite of the Eucharist, took place. They were sacred buildings that were designed as true royal halls, as suggested by the term basilica, an adjective originating from the Greek noun basileus, meaning "king". These buildings were ornately decorated with paintings, fabrics, marbles and mosaics. Their interiors would smell of sweet aromas and fragrances, and were always illuminated by lamps, often made of glass, to create a light that seemed to come from the celestial world. This ensured that anyone who entered would have the impression that they were seeing God’s Heaven from Earth.
In the basilica of Son Peretó, discoveries were made of remains of painted stuccos that would have covered the walls. The findings also included a remarkable series of mosaics which constitute one of the richest collections in the westernmost part of the Mediterranean. The palm trees illustrated by the tesserae represent Paradise and are the finest display of the intention to reflect Heaven on Earth. The floral and animal motifs were also a way of representing the Garden of Eden. There is evidence of glass lamps and wick holders made of lead. These were used to hold the wick in place, where the flame could burn the oil used as fuel.
Both the basilica of Sa Carroja and the one in Son Peretó were rectangular in layout, with three naves and the apse to the east. They were restored several times, which demonstrates that they were used over a long period of time, but makes it very difficult to identify the course of the transformation.
The Christian religion required an altar for the symbolic act of sacrifice, the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. At Son Peretó, as in other basilicas in the Balearic Islands, the altar seems to have been situated in the apse. In front of the apse was a space enclosed by railings, known as the choir. Both this space and the apse tended to be reserved for the clergy, whilst the rest of the congregation would be positioned in the main nave. The basilica of Son Peretó had the largest capacity of those known of in the Balearic Islands (approx. 400 people).
The architectural structures visible in Son Peretó make it possible to identify three key stages:
Around the 5th century AD: there would have been a church and a baptistery with a large pool.
In the 6th century: there would have been a fully established church, with a large baptistery and a small pool.
In the 7th century: everything would have continued to be more or less the same as in the previous stage, except that the west sector would certainly no longer have been used as a necropolis area and new rooms would have been constructed for people to live in.
THE BAPTISTERIES OF MANACOR
Baptisteries were buildings in which baptisms took place. Baptism was the sacrament that represented admission to the faith and was fundamental in order to enter the Kingdom of God and for eternal life.
Religious groups in Sa Carroja and Son Peretó placed their baptisteries at the foot of the basilicas, with their pools on the longitudinal axis of these churches. The baptistery of Sa Carroja has only been partially documented; the baptistery of Son Peretó, on the other hand, is known to have had a quadrangular layout, with a central area surrounded by four walkways in a rectangular layout. It is the largest known baptistery ever to have existed in the Balearic Islands.
We know that the large pool and the area enclosing it at Son Peretó are older and were destroyed when the current baptistery building with the small pool was built.
DWELLINGS AND DIET
The only homes from the 5th-8th centuries excavated within the municipal district of Manacor are situated in Son Peretó. They are fairly modest structures, consisting of one floor only and a maximum of three rooms. There were fireplaces inside for cooking and silos for storing cereals or pulses.
The diet of the people of Son Peretó at that time was based on crops and livestock. In terms of crops, there is evidence of local production of barley, oil and wine. Thanks to the fragments of amphorae found, it has also been established that wine or oil arrived mainly from Ibiza, central North Africa and the north-east of the eastern Mediterranean.
Goats, sheep, pigs and oxen were the main animals farmed. There were also significant numbers of poultry. The remains of rabbits, hares, small birds, tortoises and snails show that a wide range of wild species were used for food, whereas evidence of fish or seafood is scarce.
LIFE AND DEATH
Although only a minute part of the population that inhabited the current area of Manacor between the 5th and 8th centuries AD has been studied so far, and all the individuals analysed have come exclusively from the cemetery in Son Peretó, the anthropological studies undertaken enable us to identify a high level of infant mortality. In ancient societies many infants died at birth or during their first year of life, as they were highly exposed to infectious and parasitic diseases.
Most of the people buried in Son Peretó died between the ages of 20 and 40. Although certain individuals lived to over 60 years of age, life expectancy for men was around 45 years, whereas for women it was as low as 30 years as they would often die in childbirth or due to the infections that this could cause.
The average height for men was not that different from today, at approximately 1.70 m. Likewise, the average height for women was 1.57 m.
Studies carried out on teeth show the lack of dental hygiene. Frequent signs of hypoplasia have also been recorded, demonstrating growth problems during childhood due to a serious illness or the lack of basic nutrients in the diet.
THE FUNERARY WORLD
All Christians had to be buried in a grave that was considered to be a resting place, i.e., a koimeterion, the Greek word from which the word cemetery originates. The body would rest there, while the soul of the deceased began a journey that could end in either Heaven or Hell. The destination of this journey would depend on the deceased’s actions throughout their life, but also on being remembered by the living. During the earliest Christian era, the dead were remembered by offering them small amounts of wine and food, or through prayer. But later on, the soul could only be snatched from the claws of the Devil by Masses celebrated by priests, i.e., by saying Mass for the soul.
It was also customary to want to be buried in a church or beside one and especially beside the relics housed there. This was believed to be a way of encouraging spiritual protection for the dead and of gaining protection in the next world. It is no wonder, then, that in both Sa Carroja and Son Peretó numerous graves have been found in and around their basilicas.
All funerary inscriptions from the 5th-7th centuries found in the area of Manacor are written in Latin, the customary language of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Mallorca during those centuries.