and welcome. This week we have the pleasure of receiving one of Ibiza's top
historians, Francisco Torres Peters, as our guest at the history page. Many
readers will remember our first interview with this award-winning scholar (Weekly
Edition 033, Saturday 13th October 2001) in which he described the
development of music during the 16th, 17th and 18th
centuries. This week, Peters will explain the fascinating system of communication
by bells that was used in Ibiza from the end of the 13th century
until as recently as the 1950s.
historical value of Santa María's Renaissance bells came into the spotlight
last November when local papers announced that long-overdue repairs would be
made on the cathedral's now mute bells in a specialized foundry in Germany.
The news item stuck in my mind as a particularly pertinent subject for this
page, and, naturally, Peters, with his life-long love of music, came to mind
as the perfect source. What follows is a detailed account of the crucial role
that bells played in island life during nearly seven centuries.
Why were bells such an important part of island society?
Torres Peters: Basically,
because, in a rural society such as Ibiza, the tolling of bells was the only
means by which public announcements could be made. Until the advent of radios
and telephones, bells were used to alert people to imminent danger, to call
the congregation to mass, to announce the death of an islander and to mark time.
There were virtually no time-keeping devices in pre-modern Ibiza, apart from
the rising and the setting of the sun. Hardly anyone had a watch or even a wall
clock, especially not county folk.
How far afield could the bells be heard?
In theory, across the whole island, when the weather was clear. Remember
that, prior to industrialization, island life was a very silent affair. Apart
from the fact that there were very few people, there were no machines to make
much noise. The only urban hub was Dalt Vila, while the rest of the people lived
scattered across the countryside. In any case, as I'm sure you know, Ibicencos
have never been a noisy bunch. They spoke very sparingly and, then, only when
necessary. If the weather was muggy or rainy, it would muffle the sound of the
bells, but their pealing would always carry at least to the south-eastern quarter
of the island: Sant Jordi, Jesús, Puig den Vals, the part of Sant Rafel to the
east of the hill, etc.
Under what circumstances, or for what purposes, were the bells rung?
Under many circumstances and for several purposes. There were two broad types
of ringing: civil tolls and religious tolls. The civil tolls were rung for three
purposes: 1) when it was necessary to convene the General Council, which was
the island's governing body. It was made up of freely elected representatives,
many of whom lived in the country and, therefore, had to be summoned to meetings
using the bell system. The second civil toll was called the toque
de queda or 'curfew', which warned people that the gates to the city walls
would soon, close for the night. Town-dwellers who had been out in the country
that day would have to conclude their business and make their way back home,
or else spend the night outside the walls.
Once the gates were closed was there any chance that the gatekeeper might open
them to let in a latecomer?
I doubt it. Security was
very tight in those days! But people had plenty of time to get back. Curfew
tolls were repeated at progressive intervals so that when people heard the first
toll they could begin to make their way back. A second toll was rung to remind
them that evening was nigh, and a final toll was rung at sunset, after which
the gates would be closed until daybreak. One interesting note is that the Spanish
term for 'curfew' is still toque de queda,
even though bells are no longer used to mark the hour of return.
could not resist looking up the etymology of the English word 'curfew', which
I discovered comes from the French couvrefeu, literally 'cover fire'.)
What was the third type of civil toll?
It was called avalot in Ibicenco and
was used to sound the alarm of imminent danger. For example, if a pirate ship
was spotted near shore, the bells were rung and, hopefully, people would be
able to reach a safe place in time. All women and children were allowed to take
refuge inside the city walls, whether they actually resided in Dalt Vila or
not, while the men would arm themselves and try to fend off the invaders in
hand to hand combat. Avalot was also
rung if a forest fire broke out or some other life-threatening situation arose.
How did people know which type of toll was being rung?
Each toll was unique and could be distinguished from the others. The Santa María
belfry had five or six bells, depending on the time period, and each was tuned
to a different note in the scale. The interplay of these tones created little
songs or jingles that even children soon came to recognize. Also, the pacing
of the strokes played an important part in differentiating one bell-message
What were the different types of religious tolls?
There were so many that you would probably feel bored if I enumerated them all!
No, I wouldn't, and neither would my readers.
Well, I'll tell you a few of the most important ones. Unlike the civil tolls,
which were usually a call to action of some sort, the religious tolls were often
merely reminders that a moment of inner reverence was necessary, that some aspect
of faith should be reflected on and taken to heart, so as to keep the spirit
strong. For example, the Chime of Souls was rung every evening so that deceased
family members would be remembered and prayed for. Ave María was played three
times a day, at dawn, noon and dusk, as a reminder of the Annunciation. It is
still played in many local churches on the island, though not always in full.
Here at Sant Jordi church, we play it only once a day at noon.
You mentioned earlier that the bells called people to mass.
Yes, that was another of their many functions. Also, the type of mass was signalled
by different types of pealing. If it was High Mass, such as at Christmas, the
bell-ringer played a virtual concerto. There were also bells that called people
to religious processions. Corpus Christi was the biggest, followed by the Easter
procession and the Santa María procession on 5th August in honour
of Ibiza's patron saint. There was also a very popular parade on 5th
April in honour of Sant Vicent. He was a charismatic evangelist and healer from
Valencia who often preached in the Balearics and was much loved by the people.
(See Weekly Edition 006, Saturday 7th April 2001, Sant Vicent)
Well, so far you've mentioned four religious tolls, but you haven't succeeded
in boring us! You'd better try a little harder!
Very well. You asked for it. There were certain tolls meant only for the clergy.
For example, in the same way that the General Council was convened by bells,
so were clerical (or Chapter) meetings announced by the toll of the bell. Another
clergy-specific toll was a twice-daily call to the Divine Offices, a set of
prayers that were sung in Latin every morning and evening. In English, I believe
you say 'evensong' and 'morning prayer'. This was an important toll, at least
to the priests, because if they missed these services, they were not paid their
full wage. A bookkeeper made a note of each clergy member's attendance and,
if any of the Divine Offices were missed, the truant member's salary was docked
Well, I must say, it's getting more interesting as we go on. Please continue!
If you insist. One of the most dreaded knells was the death toll. There were
several types of tolls in this category, marking the different stages in the
dying process. When someone was in the final throes of illness, the bells were
rung continuously for as long as it took the person to die. We called this the
'Toll of the End' (Toque de la Fi).
Once the ill or wounded person had died, the toll changed to signal his departure
from the land of the living. Finally, there was a funeral toll to call people
to pay their respects if they so wished. Each of these tolls was different depending
on the gender and social status of the deceased. There was generally no confusion
about who had died as the bells revealed whether the person was a man, woman
or child, and what station he/she had occupied in life. The death of a bishop,
for example, was marked by a cacophony of sound, while the death of a slave
- if he was a Christian - was chimed quickly and plainly. For lay people, there
were three degrees of death tolls; the most complex obviously cost the most
money, while the simplest were the least expensive. Then, on the Day of the
Dead, 2nd November, the bells tolled for 24 hours, to commemorate
all of the departed souls that had left their earthly life.
was also an often used but little-known knell called Toque
de Sant Sagrat or 'Knell of the Holy Saint'. It was used during storms in
an attempt to calm the raging winds and eschew lightning bolts. The bell ringer
was exposed to great risk at these times, as the heavy metal bells attracted
lightning and could easily electrocute anyone pulling on the ropes below. What's
more, the ringer had to stay up all night or until the storm abated, whichever
came first. It was an act of true bravery and endurance.
Well, thank you very much for leading us on this interesting journey through
campanology. It's been a real pleasure.
The pleasure's been mine. Thank you for your interest. There are some other
points of interest concerning the description of the bells, if you care to go
a bit deeper into the subject.
By all means. We’ll take you up on your offer in the near future.
week we will devote our history page to the life and works of Don Joan Marí
Cardona. Many readers will already know that this eminent historian and scholar
passed away the evening of 18th January. While everyone who knew
him well knew that he was quite ill, it was still a deep shock when his actual
death occurred. Don Joan was my primary source of post-Conquest history and
his name will be familiar to anyone who reads this page.
Please join us next week for an inside look at one of Ibiza’s historical