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 (LiveIbiza Archive
article Weekly Edition 033 of 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.
The 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?
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.
LI: Under what circumstances, or
for what purposes, were the bells rung?
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
LI: 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?
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 from
LI: What were the different types of religious
FTP: There were so many that you would probably
feel bored if I enumerated them all!
LI: No, I
wouldn't, and neither would my readers.
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 LiveIbiza Archive
article Weekly Edition 006 of 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 accordingly.
Well, I must say, it's getting more interesting as we go on. Please continue!
FTP: 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
There 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.
FTP: 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
LI: By all means. We'll take you up on
your offer in the near future.
Next 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 giants.