One For Sorrow
The Carolina Brothers & The Black Madonna (What happened in room 16 at the Abeurador Hotel?)
“One for sorrow, two for mirth,
three for a funeral, and four for birth.”
Roberto and Fransisco Tomau were brothers, born and raised on the famous Carolina Estate, close to Artà, on the east part of the island. Their father, Don Sebastian Maria Tomau, was the third Don on the estate but had earned his respect by deed, not by blood.
Carolina stretched from Racó all the way down to Son Jordi, and Don Sebastian was as frequently on the fields as on the markets, which was a thorn in the side of some of the other four Dons in the area, but gave him a reputation solid as the island itself.
The two sons were more like their mother.
One Sunday in late August of 1956, the Carolina brothers sat at the infamous table of room 16 at the Abeurador Hotel in Artà, losing money they didn’t have in a game they should never have entered.
This was by no means a one-time mistake. The brothers had been known to appear where they were least wanted. Usually, one was saved by a sudden insight of the other or by the fortunate circumstances of belonging to the Carolina Estate.
But room 16 was something else. From the moment you stepped in, you were in debt to someone. And a seat by the table was irreversible. If you lost, you paid, and if you won, you were obliged to join the next game, and the next, until you lost more than you ever brought inside.
Unfortunately, the brothers had their eyes on the prize and lost sight of their losses. And by early Monday morning, the entire Carolina Estate was on the table while the brothers were convinced this was the round they would win everything back.
There are still some doubts regarding what drove them to such an extreme. Because not even the brothers Tomau would be foolish enough to gamble with their father’s life’s work and the family’s heritage. But, rumor has it, one of the lost Black Madonnas was in the stakes that night.
The legend of the Black Madonna of Lluc, “La Moreneta”, the Dear Dark One, is well known across the entire Balearic Islands. It’s not even a myth anymore, but rather a tourist attraction, told more or less as follows;
During the 9th century, a statue of a Black Madonna was hidden and buried somewhere in the Tramuntanas to protect her from the invading moors. Over four hundred years later, as the Christian Reconquista is about to settle, a young shepherd named Luke has a vision of a light and finds the Lady half buried in a cleft rock.
Excited by his findings, he leaves his flock of sheep, walks an hour to the small church of Sant Pere d’Escorca, and hands her over to the new parish priest. The priest graciously accepts and places her inside the church for all to see.
The following morning, the Black Madonna has disappeared. Upon hearing the news, the young shepherd returns to the rock and finds her again buried in the soil. He brings her to the priest for the second time, who puts her back on the altar, only to find her gone the next day.
This time the priest asks if he can join young Luke at the place where the Black Madonna was initially found. As they arrive and the young shepherd digs her up for a third time, the priest gets a revelation and builds her a chapel and a shrine, convinced “La Moreneta” is trying to tell him she doesn’t like to be moved.
Today that chapel and shrine is known as “Basílica de la Mare de Déu de Lluc”, by far considered the spiritual heart of the entire island.
Divine intervention is the most common explanation of how the statue could move from one place to another. A God trying to unite a divided community around a Christian Madonna with skin as dark as the Muslim rivals. A prophecy of building something new on untouched ground by the grace of a Maker who loves them all equally.
Different statues is another.
If you’re lucky enough to speak to the right person, they will tell you about three identical madonnas, hidden in the same spot and found one by one by a young and naive shepherd.
As soon as they were placed in the church of Sant Pere, they were stolen back by whoever felt she wasn’t for the church to keep. Until the last one, cunningly protected on the spot by the priest’s armed guard and the building of a chapel and a shrine.
This implies that two Black Madonnas would still be missing. And it explains why one of them allegedly was seen on a table in room 16 at the Abeurador Hotel that dark Sunday in late August of 1956.
It also explains, without justifying, why the brothers were willing to bet everything they had and more to get their hands on her. It’s easy to imagine how they envisioned themselves walking out of the hotel, knowing they’d secured the estate, carrying one of the lost madonnas up the stairs to the majestic church of Santa Maria d’Artà.
Regrettably, this didn’t happen.
There’re many places to hide on this island, but it’s still an island, and the ones bad enough to hide from, are also the ones who know every corner of every dirt hole, cave, or attic.
It is still unclear how they managed to escape. But, as they finally realized their mistake, the two brothers are said to have grabbed the statue and flipped the table before running out the door without looking back.
Somehow the mere surprise of it all got them enough head start to go off-trail into the hills of the Llevant, where they quickly disappeared out of sight.
“Five for heaven, six for hell,
seven for the devil, his own self.”
A loss is a debt until it gets paid, and in room 16, they never dealt very well with credits. So with the brothers gone, they turned to Don Sebastian Maria Tomau to claim what they considered theirs.
Don Sebastian insisted the estate wasn’t his sons’ to lose, but the collectors were implacable, and he found himself in a life against property situation. He gave away the keys with a vague promise of possible renegotiation if he returned with the statue. Then he left in search of his boys.
Nine days passed before he found them in a cave close to Cala Roja.
Young Fransisco on his back with an open skull and his arms neatly folded over his chest, and the older Roberto leaning against the wall with a hole in his head and a pistol in his hand. And in the corner, the Black Madonna watching over them.
It is believed that the brothers blamed each other for what happened and that hiding under the August heat without food and scarce access to water tinkered with their minds, making them both paranoid and scared. An accident? A mistake? A fight between brothers going terribly wrong? Death doesn’t do second chances, and while their father built a stretcher out of driftwood and grass, seven magpies taunted La Moreneta with a dance for her failure in protecting them.
Don Sebastian mounted the stretcher on his mule and dragged his sons all the way back to Artà. He cut them loose outside the Abeurador Hotel, rang the doorbell, then left town, never to be seen again. As far as we know, the Black Madonna came with him to share his grief.
The city’s inhabitants eventually closed the cave with rocks, sand, and shame, while the Carolina Estate was cut up in equal shares between the collectors. There’s a unity of farmers in the northern parts of the island today, but no one wants to remember why.
And while room 16 remains closed to those who ask but open to those who know, you can find magpies dancing outside the closed cave each year in August.