Páginas

domingo, 3 de enero de 2010

Memories of Alcalá 22: The Towers of My Town

Spanish original and photos

Back in the 1940s there was a song which raised the spirits of everybody who, for whatever reason, had to leave their home town. It went like this:

“La torre de mi pueblo no la puedo olvidar
No la puedo olvidar, porque le tengo amor.
No quisiera morir muy lejos de ella, no.”


[I cannot forget the tower of my town, because I love it, I wouldn't like to die far away from it.]

And certainly, the symbol which we all remember most fondly about our town is its tower.

What is more, Alcalá's tower is an impressive construction from the time when our church was first built, i.e. in the 15th century, at the expense of the first Marquis of Tarifa, don Fadrique Enríquez de Rivera. Later it went through various reconstructions in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. It can be seen from all corners of the town and gracefully dominates the whole municipality.

The tower is 785.56 metres above sea-level. In the top part there are five bells, four large and one small. It is crowned by a pyramid, topped by a cross and finished with eye-catching tiles. The view which you get from the bell tower is spectacular, with nothing to obscure it except the wall which leads from the tower to the castle keep.

The sound of the bells is deep, intensified by their size and amplified by the depth of their scale. The only thing which cuts through the quartet of their chimes is the small bell, which breaks in like a cry of joy amongst such gloomy sounds. The other bells conduct a melancholy concert, sorrowful and depressing. When the altar-boys went up to ring the bells on All Souls' Day, right through the night their chimes would fall on the town like a heavy blanket of mourning for those no longer with us.

Alcalá always boasted two towers: that of the Church of San Jorge, and the that of convent of the nuns of St Clare. The convent tower was in two parts; it served to communicate to the townsfolk the times for mass and other religious ceremonies. The convent, the church and the tower were constructed in the 16th century on the initiative of the family of los Duques, especially their natural son who later became San Juan de Ribera. His bell had a sound very familiar to the people of Alcalá, but they say that a priest, appointed to Alcalá at a time when religious artefacts were disappearing, took it off to Benalup.

The other belfries were not towers but gables. These gables were formed by a wall with recesses for the bells, topped by a cross. In those days there were four bell-gables in Alcalá. That of La Victoria, with two bells, dates from the middle of the 16th century. This was once the church of the monks of Mínimos, or Victorios. The church was still in use when I was a child [1940s], but the monks had left when the smaller monasteries were closed [1830s]. The belfry of Santo Domingo was not used, because that church had been closed at the same time. The one in the chapel of the Hospital de la Misericordia still existed, with a bell, but hadn't been used for many years. And finally the one in the Beatario, which was still in service for the chapel of the nunnery and the primary school.

Formerly, Alcalá had also had many other hermitages, which were gradually disappearing. They all had their own little belfry to call the faithful. The majority were gables, but others had campaniles, a piece of wall separate from the hermitage itself with an iron frame to hang the bell from. The oldest is that of San Vicente, dating from the 13th century with links back to the Visigothic era, situated right at the top of the Coracha. Another of the most ancient is that of San Ildefonso, erected after the victory of Alfonso X “The Wise”, in the 13th century. In the 15th century there was a church adjoining San Jorge, called Santa Águeda. The 16th century Hermitage of San Antonio, previously called Nuestra Señora de la Consolación, was was the first home of the Mínimos in Alcalá, while the monastery of La Victoria was being built.

The Church of Santa Catalina is mentioned by the General Visitor of the Diocese, don Felipe de Obregón, in the 16th century. It was apparently located in the old Casa de los Ribera, inside what was later the Convent of the Nuns of St Clare, whose tower belonged to the church. We must also remember the belfry of the Hermitage of la Vera Cruz, situated in the Alameda from the 16th century. Later on, in the 18th century, it was called la Soledad. With the departure of the Minimos, the hermitage fell into decay and was abandoned.

This, briefly, is the history of the towers of a town with ancient roots, one of the pioneers of the Christian faith, which grew out of the Hispano-Roman and Visigothic eras. Unfortunately, almost all physical traces have disappeared, but thanks to the tenacity and investigations of the historians we can know more about our history. And thanks to its tower, we are able to sing:

“La torre de mi pueblo no la puedo olvidar
No la puedo olvidar, porque le tengo amor.
No quisiera morir muy lejos de ella, no.”


JUAN LEIVA
Translated by Claire Lloyd

El tiempo que hará...