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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Bells of Santa María

Part Two

Historical Information

Welcome to the history page. This week we will resume our study of campanology where we left off two weeks ago, with a description of the Santa María cathedral bells. Once again we will draw on the extensive research of the historian/priest, Francisco Torres Peters for a close-angle look at the beliefs and practices of yesteryear.

In The Bells of Santa Maria - Part One (that was featured in our LiveIbiza Archive article Weekly Edition 048 of Saturday 26th January 2002), Peters enumerated several of the social and religious functions that the bells played in island life, e.g. calling people to mass, calling the clergy to their prayers, convoking government councils, etc. This instalment, the second of three, will focus on the actual bells themselves, their size, their estimated weight as well as the inscriptions that were engraved on their inner rim.

Bells As Theophany

One interesting point that should preface this rather empirical collection of data is the fact that each bell had its own specific personality and, in most cases, was dubbed with some sort of endearing nickname. Peters explains that, given the theocentric (i.e. God centred) belief systems of all pre-industrial societies, the ringing of bells was considered a manifestation of God's voice. Put simply, when the bells rang, it was as if heaven had spoken.

Each bell had a particular message (a sentence, if you will), which, when woven into a medley of several bells ringing in succession, formed a composite message with a more complex meaning (a paragraph, let's say). These 'Postcards from Heaven' (to steal a stellar phrase from The Lighthouse Family) were like manna to the earthbound population, nourishing the spirit and furnishing all the proof that was deemed necessary of God's Providence. Put into the simple faith of yesterday, these thoughts might translate as: 'The bells are ringing, ergo, God is nigh.'

Bell-Making: A Skilled Craft

Another interesting point is that all of the bells that have ever inhabited the Santa María belfry were made right here in Ibiza, in a little foundry in Dalt Vila. The maker of the bells, on the other hand, was generally a non-Ibicenco. Peters explains that, as with most skilled artists and craftsmen, bell-makers formed part of a travelling guild whose central workshop was located in a city and whose members were hired out as needed. One such bell-maker was Pere Ribot, summoned to Ibiza from Majorca in 1608, and (judging from Santa María's five remaining bells) the only visiting craftsman to 'sign' his work with his full name. Just as a matter of curiosity, some of the other guilds that operated nomadically were organ-makers, painters, architects and master builders.

Vital Bell Statistics

The oldest bell in the Santa María belfry is known by the name of Sant Sagrat or 'Holy Saint'. Many readers will remember that this was the bell used to placate the raging tempest and that the bell ringer was exposed to real and present danger when he undertook these tolls. In fact, the Santa María belfry has been struck by lightning several times during the course of history, a fact that explains the current sawed-off look of its steeple. Originally, the steeple ended in a spire topped by a weather vein in the shape of an angel. Apparently however, the last time lightening struck, the steeple was never reconstructed, but rather patched up as best as means allowed.

Sant Sagrat was cast in 1565 by an unknown bell maker and weighs an estimated 151 kilos. Until the bells are actually removed from the belfry (which is due to occur in the near future when they are sent to Germany for repairs), Peters has made preliminary weight calculations using the mathematical principles of mass, volume and density. He reminds us that the final results may vary to a certain extent, although we can still gain a fairly accurate idea of the size and thickness of each bell, factors that greatly modify the pitch and resonance of the different tolls. The Latin inscription on the inner rim of Sant Sagrat reads:

Contra Ictum Sis Nobis (Protect us against strikes (of lightning)

The second oldest bell in the belfry has no particular nickname, nor do we know who its maker was. Even the date of manufacture was omitted from its inscription. Peters, however, was able to pin down the datum by going to the archives armed with what little concrete knowledge he did have about the bell: 1) that it weighs approximately 216 kilos, and 2) that it was commissioned by the priest Pere Puig. Our historical sleuth found a bill of purchase for a bell of identical characteristics that was cast in 1583. As all of the other bells are dated, by sheer logic, this date must correspond to 'Charlemagne' - an unlikely epithet I have assigned to the bell, stemming from its inscription, one of the Carolinian Acclamations:

Christus Vencit · Christus Regnat · Christus Ymperat · Christus Ab Omni Malo Me Defendet

(Roughly: Christ Vanquishes, Christ Reigns, Christ Rules, Christ Defends Me From All Evil)

This prayer was thought to imbue the people of Ibiza with its protective power whenever the bell was rung.

The third oldest bell in the belfry was known as Santa Barbara. She was made in 1630 by G. R. (whose full identity Peters prefers not to reveal until his research yields more conclusive proof) and weighs a hefty 450 kilos. Originally, there were two bells cast this year, but only Santa Barbara has survived. One interesting titbit is that she was made partially from bronze scraps that were left over from the minting of coins. Her inscription reads:

Jesus · Maria · Joseph · Intercedit Pro Nobis · Santa Barbara Ora Pro Nobis · Ecce Dominus Noster Jesus · G.R.

(Roughly: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, intercede for us. Santa Barbara, pray for us. Behold our Lord Jesus)

Last but not least come 'Asterisk and Obelisk ', both made by Pere Ribot in 1680. As my rather anachronistic epithets imply, these bells varied vastly in size. In truth, they were actually nicknamed 'Campana Xica' and 'Campana Major', meaning 'Little Bell' and 'Big Bell'. Xica weighs only 56 kilos, while Major weighs an impressive 700 kilos, and, according to Peters and other campanologists, is of exceptional quality. Not only was Campana Major large, it was also very thick-walled. When in good condition, it produced a deep, penetrating knell that could move an unbeliever to tears. Its inscription, Ave Maria, has always been one of moving reverence:

Ave Maria · Gratia Plena · Dominus Tecum · Bendicta Tu In Mulieribus · Pere Ribot Me Fecit · Añi 1680

(Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord blesses you · Pere Ribot made me, Year 1680)

Campana Xica, obviously, produced the opposite effect of celebration and gaiety or, depending on the toll, of alarm and urgency. In fact, it was the bell used to call men to arms as its inscription implies:

Sancte Michael · Defende Nos In Proelia · Pere Ribot Me Fecit · Anno 1680

(Saint Michael, Defend us in combat, Pere Ribot made me, Year 1680)


That's all for this week. Join us next time for an exciting adventure in with Ciro Intoccia.

Emily Kaufman