Mataró initiates the works of the Functional Rehabilitation Project of the bell tower of Santa Maria, which include the casting of a new bell named ‘Carme’ and the renewal of all the supporting and counterweight elements of the other ones. This is the most significant intervention on the bell tower since the last century and will allow the restoration of the historical repertoire and ensure the continuity of manual bell ringing, declared as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and with long roots in the city. The purpose of the proposed rehabilitation is to reverse the dysfunctions and pathologies observed in the bells of the basilica, fully restore the instrumental dimension of the bell tower, and recover previous physical and intangible heritage elements.
The Bells of Santa Maria de Mataró
The bell tower of the parish basilica of Santa Maria in Mataró features five liturgical bells in the bell chamber and two civilian bells (hour bells) on its spire. Unlike in other municipalities, the tradition of manual bell ringing has been maintained in Mataró over the past centuries and continues to the present day. For over 40 years and following the vanishing of the official bell ringer role, a group of volunteer bell ringers has taken on the task of performing manual bell ringing for various festivities throughout the liturgical year, totalling over 80 peals annually.
The Reason for the Intervention
In 2017, a progressive crack in the sea bell, named ‘Carme,’ was observed, forcing its suspension. Subsequently, the study and preparations for the process leading to these works began. The analysis of the situation of the rest of the bells revealed the need for a comprehensive intervention on all the bells to stop their progressive deterioration. The functional alterations of the bell tower of Santa Maria are a result of the pass of time and the bad weather, but also due to counterproductive factors from interventions on the bells and the bell tower carried out in the last century. The Santa Maria Museum Archive preserves a copy of a ritual book from 1927 that details the ancient bell rings specific to the parish. The document serves as a historical guideline, enabling the recovery of centuries-old Mataró bell rings.
The Historical and Scientific Criteria
The intervention makes possible a full restoration of the bells, ensuring the continuity of manual bell ringing and highlighting the unique values of the bell tower from historical, architectural, and ethnographic perspectives. With the planned operations, documentary study, and reintroduced techniques, the city will be able to recover genuine bell rings and the characteristic technique of Catalan bell towers, with distinctive local features. The entire project is guided by the expertise of the country’s leading expert in campanology, Dr. Francesc Llop i Bayo, from the Cathedral of Valencia. He collaborates with various public institutions and international programs for the restoration of bell towers, reintegration of bells, and recovery of traditional bell ringing.
The new “Carme”
The new bell ‘Carme,’ which will replace the current one dating back to 1954, will have suitable decorations and inscriptions and will be commissioned by a master bell founder from Cantabria. It will include a relief of the Virgin Mary and another of the coat of arms of Mataró. It will also retain an epigraphy with precedents dating back to the 9th century. Likewise, it will maintain the shape, dimensions, and equivalent weight: 86 cm in diameter of the mouth, 73 cm in height, and an approximate weight of 400 kg. Not only that, but it will also preserve the original sound, the result of an acoustic study, although it will be designed with a contemporary conception. Like the rest of the bells, it will be appropriately displayed at the base of the bell tower and blessed before its installation in the tower.
Goal: Recovering the Instrument and its Unique Rings
The comprehensive intervention considers the bell tower as an instrumental whole, forming an organic, symbolic, and instrumental unit that represents an important heritage that needs to be protected. The rehabilitation process will allow an improvement from both a sound and conceptual perspective, in addition to the mentioned restoration of the disappeared manual rings. With the planned operations, it will be possible to distinguish between liturgical and civilian rings with the automatic execution of some of the civil ones and a new approach to the religious ones through gravity-operated hammers.
Mataró and the Intangible Cultural Heritage
Manual bell ringing was proclaimed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO last year. The popularity of the bells of Santa Maria and their manual ringings in the city is particularly evident on significant dates such as the town’s annual celebration of Les Santes when they draw attention to certain key events. Another indicator is the repeated success of open doors days held each year at the bell tower of the basilica, jointly organized by the Museum Archive and the City Council, on the European Heritage Days or the Candlemas festival. One of the objectives of the presented project is to expand the visitation program to help everyone’s understanding of the heritage value of the bell tower.
The actions in detail
The executive project includes the following actions:
- Casting of the new bell ‘Carme.’
- Dismantling, transportation to the workshop, and reinstallation of the other four liturgical bells after the works.
- Supply and installation of wooden yokes and headstocks for all liturgical bells, replacing the current ones, which are made of iron. The new ones will be straight-arming yokes, similar to those that existed in the church before the Civil War when all the bells dedicated to worship disappeared.
- Construction of new bell clappers and assembly of other functional elements.
- Acoustic enclosures for the bell chamber.
The budget and the contributions of the administrations
The estimated cost of the interventions, which already have an urban planning license and all the necessary approvals and permits, is more than €100,000. Of these, €44,000 is contributed by the Department of Culture of the Government of Catalonia, within the framework of the grant program for properties of notable cultural value. The City Council of Mataró will contribute another €44,000.
Santa Maria will launch a campaign to attract sponsorships from businesses and collect personal contributions to complete the funding for all planned interventions. As the parish is the recipient of the donations, all contributions may be eligible for tax deductions. Alongside the intervention and fundraising campaign, various communication actions are undertaken to bring the rich material and immaterial heritage contributed by the bell tower closer to the entire community. Another goal is to open the group of bell ringers for proper training to perform the rings that will be incorporated with the rehabilitated bells.
The casting of the new bell ‘Carme’ will take place first. In second place, during the first quarter of 2024, all the bells of the basilica – except for the two civilian ones, indicating quarters and hours – will be removed and transported to the workshop of a specialized company in Valencia, where they will undergo restoration and installation of new supporting and operating elements. The schedule anticipates that the functionally rehabilitated bells will be ready for the ringing cycle associated with the town’s annual celebration of Les Santes in 2024.