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Weekly Edition 052: Saturday 23th February 2002

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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Bells of Santa María - Part Three

Hello everybody and welcome back to the history page. This week we will finish our study of the bells of Santa María, turning our attention to the practical aspects of their imminent restoration. Unknown to many, plans to repair the bells have been in quiet progress for the past decade. The Island Council is now embarking on the final lap of financial negotiations that will enable this costly and delicate restoration to become a physical reality.  

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men

But you know, all along there was really no rush. Islanders have always known that mañana always comes, in its own good time - which is generally a much better time than we ourselves can arrange. There is something about the suddenness of 'today' that is altogether too precipitous for the modus operandi of Ibiza. After all, to dive headlong into a particular course of action carries with it the risk of overlooking some crucial factor, some fatal flaw in the game plan that will come to light only when it is too late to remedy. As we shall see, Ibiza's 'Watch and Wait' system has proved itself to be the ally of the wise - at least as far as the bells of Santa María are concerned.

It was ten years ago that a specialized team of campanologists from Valencia was called in to assess the state of the Santa María bells and to present an estimate of the reparation costs. The bells had not been tolled since the 1970s when Ibiza's last bell-ringer died, and had suffered the ravages of disuse: progressive warping, cracking and oxidation. Eventually, the bells could not even strike the hour without ringing off key, and, once that practise was stopped, the belfry became a microhabitat for a prosperous colony of nesting pigeons. In the early 1990s, the authorities began to ponder the possibility of having the bells mended as Palma de Majorca had already taken steps to do the same for their cathedral, La Seo - much to their subsequent regret.

At any rate, the campanologists arrived in Ibiza, inspected the bells and drew up an estimate. The project would no doubt have gone on to completion had it not been for the sagacious counsel of Francisco Torres Peters. This priest, scholar and musician, who was, in fact, the prime mover of the restoration campaign, would not agree to the terms of reparation. The company proposed to melt down the bells and recast them in the image of the originals. In Peters' well-informed opinion, such a procedure was tantamount to cultural patricide in that it was an act of aggression against one's own patrimony. "If one of the Crown Jewels was found to have a fissure, it would be unheard of to melt it down and make a new ring, say" argues Peters. "A specialized jeweller would be called in to repair it. Perhaps a replica would be made to insure the survival of the piece, but the original piece would not, under any circumstances, be melted down and remoulded. Bells are works of art," he continues, "historical elements of singular value. Every detail must be respected to the maximum - their inscriptions, their curvature, the very chains from which they hang. All I can say is, thank goodness we waited until the job could be done properly. La Seo's bells, for example, were melted down and robbed of 90% of their historical merit."

Year of the Bell

The long-awaited moment has finally arrived. A confluence of fortunate circumstances has made 2002 the Year of the Bell in Ibiza. First of all, the Santa María belfry was repaired last year under the auspices of Spain's National Cathedral Fund. Eivissa had been earmarked to receive this state-financed aid for some time, as its bell tower had been designated as one of the country's artistic-historical monuments all the way back in the 1950s (a little-known fact with which to impress your friends). Of course, once the restoration of the belfry was finished, the only logical thing to do was restore the bells as well. Happily, by this time, technology in bell reparation, as well as sensitivity to their extraordinary cultural value, had advanced light-years.

Last year, Peters took the initiative to contact one of the new campanology companies that have sprung up, this one also in Valencia. Their proposal met with the priest's approval and steps were initiated on the bureaucratic level to appropriate funds for the project. It is still uncertain where the funding will come from, but it is only a matter of months until the final bill in this long procedure will signed sealed and delivered. Naturally, when that day comes, expect to read about it all here at LiveIbiza.


Join us next week for a closer look at local politics as Ibiza celebrates the Day of Balearic Autonomy on 1st March. Until then, have a good week,

Emily Kaufman

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