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A group in the western part of the Mediterranean belonging to Spain and consisting of four larger islands, Majorca, Minorca, Iviza, and Formentera, and eleven smaller islands of rocky formation. Politically they form the Balearic province, and on 31 December, 1900, had an area of 1936 square miles and a population of 311,649, almost exclusively Catholic. The capital is Palma. The original inhabitants of these islands were of Iberian stock, and were famous in antiquity as slingers. In the seventh century B.C., they were subjugated by the Carthaginians; in 206 B.C., the city of Mahon was built by Hannibal's brother Mago and called after his name. In 123-122 B.C., the Roman consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus conquered the islands and founded the cities of Palma and Pollentia. The Romans were succeeded in the sovereignty of the islands by the Vandals (426) under Genseric as leader; during the reign of Justinian they were subject to Byzantine authority. Charlemagne incorporated them for a while with the Frankish empire, but in 798 they fell into the hands of the Arabs. About 1230 James I (Jaime) of Aragon gained possession of the island and conferred the sovereignty on his third son, who transmitted it to his descendants; from 1276 to 1343 they formed the independent kingdom of Majorca, a secundo geniture of Aragon, at the latter date being reunited to the Crown. In the war of the Spanish Succession Minorca was occupied by the English (1708) and remained, with the exception of a brief interval (1756-63), in their possession until by the Peace of Versailles (1783) the islands were ceded back to Spain.
Christianity reached the Balearic Isles almost as soon as the Spanish mainland. As early as the fourth century mention is made of Bishops of Minorca and in the fifth century of Bishops of Majorca and Iviza. During the period of Arabian rule these sees were suppressed, and the islands were placed under the Bishop of Barcelona. After the expulsion of the Moors a see was re-established on the island of Majorca (1237), in direct dependence on the Holy See, and in 1238 Raymund de Torella was made first bishop. The diocese, which has been ruled by fifty-two bishops up to the present time, was made subject to the Archbishop of Valencia in 1492; in 1782 Iviza, and in 1795 Minorca were erected into separate sees. In 1851 Iviza was reunited with Majorca. The Balearic Isles are at present divided into two dioceses subject to the ecclesiastical province of Valencia: Majorca and Iviza (Diocesis Majoricensis et Ibusensis), with Palma as the see, and Minorca (Diocesis Minoricensis), with Ciudadela as the see.
The Diocese of Majorca, exclusive of Iviza, embraces the islands of Majorca, Cabrera, and Colubraria; in 1906 it contained a population of 262,000, divided into 8 archipresbyterates, 39 parishes and (at the beginning of 1907) 47 mission churches; 704 priests, including 60 who are not residing in the diocese; 318 churches and oratories. The cathedral chapter consists of 5 prebendaries, 4 officials, and 7 canons. The training of young men for the priesthood is provided for in the seminario conciliar in Palma which has 12 professors and 145 students. In 1907 the diocese contained 33 houses of religious orders conducted by 13 religious congregations of men: Jesuits 1; Capuchins 1; Hermits of St. Augustine 1; Mercedarians 1; Tertiaries regular of St. Francis 3; Mission Priests of St. Vincent de Paul 1; Oratorians of St. Philip Neri 2; Brothers of the Christian Schools 4; Redemptorists 5; Missionaries of the Most Sacred Hearts 4; Carmelites 2; Hermits of Sts. Paul and Anthony 4; Brothers of Mercy 4; and 149 foundations conducted by twenty-five orders and congregations of women: Poor Clares, Dominicans, Hieronymites, Carmelites, Augustinians, Sisters of Mercy, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sorores de Patrocinio, etc. Among the churches the most important is the cathedral at Palma called La Leo, an enormous edifice built in gothic style, begun during the reign of James I and not completed until 1601; in 1905 the cathedral was raised to the rank of a minor basilica. The most frequented places of pilgrimage are the shrines of San Salvador, Nostra Señora de Lluch, and the Santuario del Puig de Pollenza.
The Diocese of Iviza nominally united with Majorca, but in reality ruled by its own vicar-capitular, contains 26,000 Catholics, 22 parishes, 26 churches and chapels, about 50 priests, and 1 seminary.
The Diocese of Minorca embraces the island of that name and contains 40,000 Catholics, 23 parishes, 80 churches and chapels, about 102 secular and 6 regular priests, an episcopal seminary, at Ciudadela, an Instuto de segunda ensenanza at Mahon, 35 primary schools, 3 benevolent institutions conducted by the Sisters of Mercy, viz: a hospital and a foundling asylum at Mahon, and a foundling asylum at Ciudadela. The cathedral was built in 1287 on the site of a mosque, and having been partially destroyed in 1628, was restored in 1719. In 1795 it was raised to the rank of a cathedral.
Bidwell, The Balearic Islands (London, 1876); Cartailhac, Monuments primitifs des iles Baleares (Paris, 1892); Vuillier, Les iles oubliees (Paris, 1893); Salvator, Die Balearen (2 vols., Wurzburg and Leipzig, 1897); Fraisse, Skizzen von den Balearischen Inseln (Leipzig, 1898); Recensio Ecclesioe Maioricensis, 1906 (Palma, 1906, additionees et variationes, 1907); Sampol y Ripoli, Annuario bibliog., (1897), Apunt. Para una Biblioteca mallorquina (Palma, 1898).