Valencia's Cathedral Bell Ringers have been awarded by the Europa Nostra Jury of 2016 with a Special Mention
“CAMPANERS DE LA CATEDRAL DE VALENCIA” (VALENCIA’S CATHEDRAL BELL-RINGERS) is a non-profit cultural organisation which is in charge of the manual ringing of the Valencia Cathedral’s tower, known as “Torre del Micalet” along all the main festivities and celebrations of the year. This association belongs to the regional federation of bell-ringers, “FEDERACIÓ VALENCIANA DE CAMPANERS” that coordinates an amount of more than 30 different groups of voluntary bell-ringers in Valencia’s land (Comunitat Valenciana)
In addition to the bell ringing its members dedicate time to the study, research, conservation and diffusion of bell ringing heritage. This means a complete and professional management in order to spread, use, keep, understand and communicate the features of a communitarian musical instrument, which is conceived as the most ancient music if it is properly conserved. All these actions together shape an excellent model of managing Intangible Heritage (ICH) that is been exported to other Spanish regions and most importantly, foreign countries.
“CAMPANERS DE LA CATEDRAL DE VALENCIA” was found in 1989 under the name of “GREMI DE CAMPANERS VALENCIANS”. In 2004 the group was relaunched with its actual name. That old name belongs now to the regional federation that includes around 30 different groups along the region.
Bell ringing tradition started to be considered as heritage some years ago, due to the creation of this and other groups of bell ringers who continued the task of manual ringing after a period of silence and massive electrifications. Old bell ringers stopped their activity for some reasons during the 1960s: firstly because of the “new” concept of modernity, which meant that old traditions and activities were not longer useful in terms of progress; and secondly because bell ringers were replaced by engines so the traditional scores or chimes were destroyed and all ringing were the same in all towers.
The appearance of these voluntary bell ringers brought about a change in the vision of bell ringing. A new concept of traditional sound landscape emerged and more and more people in the city started to recognise the importance of maintaining their original and ancient “soundtrack”. Society, church and government conceive nowadays this activity as an example of proper managing of intangible heritage.
The contribution of making people being involved in their heritage is one of the most important achievements of this cultural movement along its existence during some decades. The social participation in the conservation, interpretation and spread of bell ringing as heritage means that all parts in society understand that phenomenon as interesting and included in the normal development of the city life.
The bell ringing tradition is seen now with normality and it is included in the daily rhythm of the city, with the sound of hours and the ordinary ringing of liturgical bells. It is nowadays a symbol of progress to have people creating that heritage that was destroyed, not by remembering the past times but by building our present with enthusiasm and joy, having the same music as our ancestors.
A new, contemporary, respectful and social model of managing intangible heritage has emerged by the activity of this group. Local, regional and national governments have recognised that feature and have tried to protect and promote their activities. In fact, the regional government declare this activity as ICH by passing a decree, recognising the labour of this group and others. This qualification is the most important level of protection given by the public authorities, responsible of Cultural Heritage.
A more professional and heritage-friendly way of restoration has been implemented because of the research and work of some of these people. Some of them working in the heritage field, have promoted a way of combine the electrifications with the manual ringing, and complementing each other. This model is now followed by every business doing these works of restoration. The focus is now on acoustic and musical restorations rather than just historical or artistic interventions. These restorations keep the music instrument and the intangible part (the ringing) alive through the centuries, bringing the original sound landscape of towns and cities.
The previous bell ringers and electrifications
The city of Valencia has been known as a city of multiple bell towers (even the writer Victor Hugo described the city in one of his works as the “city of the hundreds of towers”). The figure of the bell ringer was a must in each tower. These professional bell ringers, paid, were also enthusiasts of their job. Bells used to be rung all along the day for all the different services and celebrations. People perfectly understood this language and built their daily life around the sound of bells. The religious life was regulated by the bells’ music but also the social life, the ordinary life of the community. This feature constituted a very special and characteristic sound landscape, alive since the Middle Ages, when the Christians conquered the city and brought the first bells.
But it was around the 1960s when a new phenomenon started to take place. Lots of bells were destroyed years before due to the Civil War and new ones, industrially made, were cast to supply them. A new sense of modernity came across. We needed to be modern, to forget the ancient traditions and how we used to understand our life. New engines and installations were attached to the bells, to make them ring automatically without the presence of a bell ringer. The bell ringers were supposedly no more needed. These electrifications, clearly invasive, destroyed the original installations of wood headstocks and the way they could be rung. Moreover, the original and traditional chimes were substituted by just the ones the engines could do. All the existing ringing was destroyed and forgotten by the community, so, the entire intangible heritage was damaged and could not resist the new “modern” technology and ideology. The last bell ringers were interviewed and studied by a young anthropologist, Dr. Francesc Llop i Bayo, who discovered their cultural wealth.
New hands to ring the bells
A group of young people started an annual meeting in a little tower called “El Patriarca” since 1971. They rang the traditional chimes for the major celebration, the Corpus Christi. They decided to jump to the Cathedral’s tower. The bells from “La Torre del Micalet” were rung firstly, after some years of silence, in 1988. After that in 1989 the new cultural society called “Gremi de Campaners Valencians” (Valencian Bell ringers’ Guild) was established and started their activity by restoring the bells and also restoring also the traditional and ancient chimes.
More than 120.000€ have been invested in the restoration and adaptation of the chamber and the bells, in addition to the large number of hours of work dedicated by the members of the group. This amount of money comes from different financial resources, public and private, managed by the group. It also comes from all the activities that the group does along the territory.
A new annual calendar was set to ring for all the city major celebrations. The last historical scores were adapted to nowadays necessities and were passed by the Cathedral’s Council of Cannons.
In 2004 the group changed its name to “Campaners de la Catedral de Valencia”, because the original one would belong to the new autonomic federation, which is composed of all the bell ringers groups in Valencia’s land.
Young bell ringers, medieval tower and ancient bells
One of the most important aspects of the bell-ringing heritage in Valencia is the feature of its social relevance. People started to take part of ringing and also enjoying by visiting or hearing from the surroundings. Nowadays, people understood the bell ringing in the Cathedral and in the entire city, or even region, as something normal or common. Bells, their music and bell ringers are, again, part of the sound landscape. It has been needed a brave and hard work, both academic and social, to reach this perspective.
The sum of all the different procedures, activities, works and tasks done by the “Campaners de la Catedral de Valencia” have rerouted into a new and successful managing model of Intangible Cultural Heritage. At the end, the cultural heritage manifestation of ringing bells is kept by the community itself, taking part of its conservation.
The importance of this achievement is seen in a day of ringing. Going up the medieval tower, finding ancient bells and meeting a group of mostly young people in charge of the bells. That conjunction is one of the most significant goals achievements. Bell ringing heritage is alive in Valencia due to this fact. Society has joined its heritage and is using it, building their present with their past roots. They are interpreting the heritage by enjoying and spreading it.
Restoration, not just improvement
One of the hardest tasks for the group has been the consulting in bells restoration. And it has been hard because of the non-correct point of view from institutions, enterprises and people about what means to restore. A lot of bells and bell towers have renovated their installations. The 60s engines and iron headstocks have been substituted by wooden ancient style ones and modern electronic engines now closely reproduce the chimes. And also they allow the manual ringing.
What this group claims is that not only the renovations are needed but also the restoration of the original values of the instrument. It is highly important to guarantee the safety too. But what a restoration of a set of bells would consider is the recovery of the original, local, and characteristic ringing. This means the intangible heritage part. Bells are a communal musical instrument, so the core idea in a restoration should prioritize the musical aspect.
This can be done with a proper study of each case. But nowadays there is a real “fight” with those enterprises and clients that manage restorations. There is no consideration of the particularities that every set of bells has. Also there is no attention to the ancient bell ringers or even the actual ones, in order to fix the problems and maintain the original values. Sometimes it is seen as the industrialization of a wealthy and varied language.
With all the work of the group and the several related professionals working on it, the concept of restoration is being changed in the mind of enterprises, institutions and people, focusing on the evident intangible part of bell ringing.
This conception assumes possible electrifications which respect the traditional installation at the tower, the ancient scores and allows the manual ringing. This fact is considered now not only in Valencia’s land but in all Spain, and even in other European countries or others from Latin America. So all the work done is being recognised and is resourceful for other institutions and groups of bell ringers, and obviously for all the people working with this heritage. This is considered a good example of enhancement achieved by the work of this group and the professionals working in the field.
Manual ringing & sound landscape
But all the activity carried out is not only the conservation of manual and traditional bell ringing. As part of the intangible heritage, there is the need to preserve the sound landscape. Due to the fact that the ringers are not every day in the tower, there exists a minimum electrification that keeps ringing the daily chimes (hours and liturgical ringing). That is to say, every day the bells from the tower “Torre del Micalet” ring at some hours in order to mark the three praying moments (morning, midday and evening) and the ringing announcing the closing of the ancient doors of the Wall. The wall is not longer existing, but there are the doors still. Therefore, the city continues ringing at evenings to close their existing doors. This means that the elements that conform the heritage are still having their original values. Bells build, with their ringing, time and space, giving significance to daily life and also to its use by the community.
Nowadays bell ringers in Valencia can be considered as professionals but not for one aspect: they are not paid for their work. They are volunteers, passionate about their activity. So why professionals?
They are well taught in their mission, in their positions. Bell ringers need to learn the ringing technique in some ways and they also they need to care about what they are doing. So the first awareness measures need to be focused on the ringers. Different projects on bell ringer’s education come along during several times from now. Theoretical and practical contents are offered to them by professionals as Dr. Llop i Bayo. The ringers need to preserve the values of the ancient instruments (the bells) and the sense of using them nowadays, the way they communicate the intangible values too.
At this point, nowadays, we have the presence of this ancient tradition of communicating in today’s Valencia. After years of spreading through didactical proposals, concerts, publications, conferences and the possibility of being at the same chamber of the bells while ringing have brought an important achievement. Society nowadays recognise its bell ringers as part of their culture and traditions, and the community is glad to have this group of people volunteers.
People from different towns and cities ask the bell ringers to give talks, do concerts and ask for help to create new groups of ringers that could be in charge of the ringing in their tower.
Also different institutions and societies have given some recognition to the “Campaners de la Catedral de Valencia” as prizes or honours. This is understood as a social interest on the ringing activity and shows its importance in the cultural sector.
Such is the case that the autonomous government (“Consell de la Generalitat Valenciana”) passed a decree (111/2013) to recognise and protect bell ringing in four towers of Valencia’s land (including the tower of the Cathedral) as Intangible Cultural Heritage. This indicates that the public institutions also make efforts to boost the culture of bell ringing in the region, being the first autonomous region in Spain that passes a law including the intangible aspect of bell ringing.
It is obvious that the main difficulties are usually the economical ones, in order to keep the tower and bells in good and safe conditions. The group receives, as all the cultural associations in the city, a grant from the City Council which is used on the maintenance bills and to spread the annual calendar. There were other grants from public or private sources when needed. But they are always obtained by doing cultural activities or by professional academic works.
Furthermore a common obstacle is today’s conception of sounds in the cities or towns. Not everyone share the same opinion about daily sounds, and bell ringing is considered (by some) to be just part of the religious community. There have been even reports in order to stop the bells ringing. The hour bell (ringing since 1539), for example, is not ringing at nights because of the complaints from just one neighbour. It’s also the task of the bell ringers to spread the cultural part of bell ringing and its importance in our heritage.
Bells, bell ringers and Europe
It is a fact that bell ringing is present in the Christian tradition and that in Europe the phenomenon of ringing bells is spread out. Nowadays, with the European Union, there are several possibilities to join common projects. One example is the proposal “Europe is Ringing!” started by a bell ringer from Valencia’s Cathedral in order to make an active list of all bell ringers groups in Europe. Thanks to this initiative, it would be easier to meet for new projects that would deal with bell ringing heritage, including educational, communication or restoring issues.
Regarding other countries’ groups, the one existing in Valencia has become a referent, because of the professional and dedicational work done for years. Valencia is, in some cases, a place where informal meetings of bell ringers took place.
The internal structure of the cultural organisation is based in a simple managing team of 3-4 people who are in charge of the direction, the secretary issues and financial-legal issues. Apart from this small team, the structure of the group is completely participatory. All the members, in an annual ordinary meeting, evaluate all-important decisions as how to invest the economical budget. There are other meetings along the year, mainly the days of ringing, when the bell ringers gather in the bell’s chamber. Because the professional profile of each bell ringer is completely different, there are some of them that dedicate extra time to develop other activities as including didactics, inventories and communication works. Other members devote their time to the cleaning, conservation and maintenance of the bells and the chamber. Annually there is a general revision of all the security issues related to the bells and the space, done by a professional and authorised team. The group is open to every person who wants to join.
This cultural association has several goals, being the main objective to preserve this Intangible Cultural Heritage in all aspects. The most important aims are: