Report on the bell tower and possible bells of San Juan del Hospital

Francesc Llop i Bayo (Valencia, 1951), Spanish anthropologist and bell ringer. He is an expert in all aspects of hoods (conservation, restoration and touches) and bell ringers. He has made an inventory of all the bells of the cathedrals of Spain sponsored by the Ministry of Culture (1.076 bells in 94 cathedrals).

Bell towerDuring the development of the Raphael project, in 1996-97 and due to the archaeological excavations carried out in the south patio of the San Juan del Hospital Complex, we got in touch with Francés Llop, who was responsible, in the General Directorate of Heritage, from the area of ​​Archeology and Ethnology.

Your advice and interest and kind attention, they were a support from the beginning.

Later when starting the Master Plan on the monument and dependencies, by the Ministry of Culture, in which each area of ​​the complex was studied in detail, We decided to inform and guide the study of the church bell tower, difficult to access.

Francès Llop is a great connoisseur and expert in bell towers and their touches. Ha sido durante años el organizador y recuperador de esta tradición. No one better than him to tell us what he saw, how it was and why some questions about the abandoned tower.

It was not easy to go up to see her. The beginning of the spiral staircase that goes up to where the bells were, it starts inside a hidden camera, whose access is almost seven meters high and you have to climb a ladder supported by the ashlars that arches due to the weight.

The ancient access to this chamber, it was carried out inside the wall, in a "caraçol" (as the documents say), very narrow, oculta a su vez la entrada al mismo.

Keep in mind that the bell tower had not yet been built. What was in its place was a belfry over the Romanesque door, as can be seen in the plane of P. Tosca.

When building, and in the s. XVIII, the current bell tower, its walls leaned on the pointed arches of the hidden room, serving as download. Building an exterior staircase in the remodeling of the patio and adjoining rooms, all in terrible condition, was demolished; thus being isolated the tower that no longer had, neither its bells nor any other function after the War of Independence and subsequent confiscation.

French Wolf, He accessed it and was able to tell us what we publish here today.


The tower and the bells

We were able to ascend to the tower of San Juan del Hospital, difficult to access, taking advantage of the opportunity of the scaffolding located in the side chapel that serves as a sacristy, a 14 July of 2001, accompanying the Rector, D. Manuel de Sancristóval y Murua, to Doña Margarita Ordeig, responsible for the artistic collections of the group, and a man who acts as a servant of the church.

The bell room, small in size (a square of 2 side meters) has four openings, covered with wire mesh to prevent the entry of pigeons, and one of them partially blinded by a wooden panel that serves as access to the roof of the church.

In the room there are several remains that denote the existence of two medium bells, one in front of the other, as well as another small perpendicular to these, and some mechinales in the windows that correspond to that small campaign as well as another partially blocked by brickwork. There are also a couple of holes in the wall under the two missing bells, as well as two work benches, probably for the ringer's rest. In the helical staircase to access the bells there are two wooden boards with a pair of holes each, that should have served as guides for the strings that allowed the bells to be played from below.

Existing bells

There is no bell today, but we think there were two big bells, probably still existing in the parish of San Juan y San Vicente, as well as another minor, for signals.

The existence of two bells is confirmed by two different ways. There is a manuscript, work of Mariano Folch, que describe las campanas de la ciudad de València, starting counting from the smallest and indicating the orientation of the largest. This document is dated to 1840, when the convents were confiscated. Talk about two bells, Barbara and John the baptist, located the largest to the south. One is dedicated to Santa Barbara, for his Brotherhood, and the other to San Juan Bautista for being the head of the parish.

On the other hand, in the new parish of San Juan and San Vicente there are two bells, located on a terrace overlooking Isabel la Católica street, and installed with iron yoke but without automatic mechanisms, and that practically does not touch (one of the last times they rang, of which we were involuntary witnesses, it was the death of Papa Juan XXIII). These two bells, pre-civil war, they lack a proper name, and according to the data we have, the minor carries the AV inscriptionAND MARY FULL GRACE as well as the engravings of the Crucifixion, of the Immaculate, of Saint Barbara and a Maltese cross, as well as a shield of Spain surrounded by flags. It could be dated to the end of the XVIII. The other bell bears the inscription AT THE EXPENSES OF MR. CARE D. JOSE CASANOVA GIMENEZ YEAR 1900, as well as the brand of VICENTE ROSES AND THOSE WILL GET TIRED. It is adorned with a cross, an anagram of Jesus and an anagram of Mary. The first has a diameter of 63 cm and a weight of about 144 kilos, while the second has 74 cm y 234 kilos approximately,.

The different denomination is not contradictory: it is usual among Valencian bells that the assigned name, the name by which they are traditionally known, does not match that written on its flanks. Today those names coincide, but formerly the absence of a name was not strange (like the ejaculation of the minor bell or the dedication of the major bell) in the way that we understand and apply today.

According to information from Folch, the main bell was located to the south, this is towards the side of the church roof.

Surely there was a third bell, much less, in the tower, located on the east side, and that probably served as much for the daily announcements (prayers) as for the signals to the bell ringers to perform their touches.

In consecuense, along the ladder there would be two ropes: one for the main bell and its signals (prayer touches, of souls, even touch signal to mass) and another rope for the "signaling" bell, that is, this minor, now non-existent, and it probably wouldn't flip but would swing, although according to the hands and knowledge of the sacristan he could play with slow blows, like it's mid-flight, to repeated blows after a silence, as if turning.

The bell room

The absence of graffiti in the room gives us little information about bell ringers, bells and rings, if we discount a cross, unusual in our bell towers, located precisely on the possible largest bell and painted with the same reddish used for the outdoor preservation of the wooden yokes. Other graphite, made this time with the oil used to grease the axles of the bells and facilitate their turning, indicates "Barbara", the minor bell of the tower.

Bell towerHowever, a set of four holes in the two east-west windows caught our attention., where the two largest bells were not. In the east window the span had been reduced, by means of two attached pillars, so that the aforementioned small bell of signals was located at its end. En el lado contrario el vano se cegó parcialmente con un muro, probably to avoid drafts for the ringer as well as to improve the acoustics of the room. At a low height there is a wooden board, which is explained with the four mechinales mentioned above.

These holes can be understood as the base for two wooden beams on which a series of boards would be installed to facilitate the manual turning of the two largest bells.; consequently the board located on the west side would serve as a night rail (bells were located on the other three sides). The presence of this intermediate platform supposes an impoverishment of the ringing of bells, since a single person can turn both bells or two children can take care of that turning, with much less grace and rhythmic variety. The two holes located about 70 cm in the wall panel that closes the base of the opening (that among the Valencian bell ringers is called "mamperlat") Their function is to make small jumps necessary for turning by means of a rope wrapped around the arm of the bell.. This technique, somewhat more complicated allows even the ringing of the two bells by one person, as long as you have the technique and stamina to do it. As we have pointed, the later appearance of the dais would indicate the touch by children or elderly, as an alternative measure.

Room restoration proposals

The room must keep the four “mamperlats” of about 100 cm high, that not only serve to protect people who access, but and especially for acoustics. An upper vault must also be recovered, disappeared, and that would increase the resonance of the room. It would be equally convenient, at the time of the tower restoration, locate two vertical holes, in the center of each of the arches of the windows, about 6 diameter cm, to facilitate the passage of slings or other systems to climb, move and keep the bells in the room.

Protection against pigeons, now happily resolved by means of a temporary metallic mesh that covers the openings on the inside, It must be considered in one way or another depending on how the set of temple bells is conceived in the case of turning bells, these should not have obstacles for their movement, while in the case of fixed hoods, they can stay inside the tower, with a defensive closure against birds. One or another alternative depends on the bells chosen for the tower.

The bells: possible alternatives

The small dimensions of the tower, the cultic vitality of the temple as well as other cultural or liturgical components delimit the framework of use of the new bells. There are other limitations, how are the visuals or the low height of the tower, that further frame the location possibilities of a set of bells.

  • Number of bells - It seems necessary to increase the number of bells for the tower: From, as in the past they are insufficient. It probably takes at least four, unless we choose a carillon, gifted at least twelve.
  • Touch type: winding bells - Views the dimensions of the tower, only four turning bells could be located, which is the traditional way of playing in the city of Valencia. However, this way, sound and visual, is very limited by the conditions of the bell tower, that only visible from the courtyard of the church itself. The bells would hardly be seen turning, even if they were heard The installation of a set of bells that could be turned over automatically or, as is customary now, would be limited not only by the lack of visibility of the tower, but also because of the difficult access to it, now by means of a scaffold and later by a long vertical ladder. Probably the four bells should be called, from lowest to highest, St. Josemaría, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, St. John the Baptist, locating the largest now towards the north patio, the median to the south deck, the Maria to the east and the small to the west.
  • Touch type: carillon - The carillon, This is the set of bells tuned to play melodies, it is unusual in our lands. There is hardly a historical one, out of use, in the Cathedral of Xátiva, and a concert in the Basilica of Sant Pasqual de Vila-real, a monumental instrument of 72 bells (plus others 12 turning). However, there is already a small instrument much closer to this tower, in the Hermitage of Santa Llúcia in the capital itself, with only 8 bells, constituting the core of a future concert instrument, and they play melodies, religious or civil, every hour on the dot from ten in the morning to eight at night, apart from the touches of prayer and souls, as well as the signs to mass.

Church San Juan de el HospitalThis instrument has no moving bells, but it serves to create melodies, that is to say a different way, much more cultured, ringing by bells For the carillon to be a concert instrument it should have at least 21 bells, and a manual keyboard, apart from electronic mechanisms for automatic touch. The greater number of bells could imply a smaller size., and possible participation of various donors, even inscribing his name on the bell (although the smallest possible decorations and inscriptions are recommended, because of the musicality of the bells). The rise up to twenty-four and even thirty-six bells (more are difficult to locate, if the keyboard needs to be added) could turn not only the ensemble into a concert instrument but, and above all, in a sound landmark of the city. Of course, it should always be tried to include a manual keyboard that allows to have international artists, while with an electric keyboard they would not want to play the instrument.

The two alternatives are exclusive, due to the small dimensions of the tower, both in internal volume and in height. Probably the flip, more spectacular, was more typical of the traditional parish, but in these moments when the Church of Sn Juan del Hospital constitutes a special center of spirituality, this difference could also be marked by different ringing of bells.

We believe that all these elements of judgment must be taken into account, before proceeding with the restoration of the tower, since the architectural action to be carried out also depends on one or another decision.

Valencia, 22 July 2001

Dr. Francesc LLOP I BAYO




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