The silence of the fields of Castilla is also a form of oblivion. Abandonment quiets the villages, in many of which the bells no longer ring because there is no one to open the churches. Or maybe they ring every 15 days, when itinerant priests arrive to say mass. The Romanesque becomes a collateral victim of this silence. The cultural heritage of provinces such as Burgos and Palencia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of temples of this style —150—, seems as if it disappeared from the map despite public investments in their restoration and maintenance and despite the attempts of cultural institutions. as the Santa María la Real Foundation for using technology to revive the temples.
The battle in favor of the Romanesque as a source of tourism for Castilla y León and the effort to reactivate provinces with less than 160,000 inhabitants, such as Palencia, is ancient. It has been more than a decade since the Board, the Foundation and the bishoprics of Palencia and Burgos, along with other local institutions, launched the North Romanesque project, thanks to which 54 monuments were restored (such as Santa Marina, in Villanueva de la Torre; San Juan Bautista, in Respenda de Aguilar, and Santa María, in Canduela), with an investment of about 10 million euros. The intention was then to recover heritage and ensure a return to an area of more than 2,300 Romanesque testimonies (which includes all kinds of remains) in the nine provinces of the community (in Spain there are more than 9,000). That project included an initiative to keep the temples open: a card system, similar to the one used in hotels.
An example is worth to understand this proposal that remained in testimonial (only a pilot program was tested in two of the temples). A family decides to spend a few days on vacation in Palencia. Instead of hiring a guide to learn about the Romanesque of the region, he goes to the visitor center of the Monastery of Santa María la Real, registers after submitting his data, and they are given one or more cards to access the temples of a tour that they have previously requested. In addition, they receive QR codes to download audio guides to their phones. Once at the venue, they only have to swipe the card through a device at the entrance. They enter the temple and, after the visit, close the door. Carmen Molinos, Communication Director of the Santa María la Real Foundation, explains: “The price was not established because it could not be developed, but it is cheaper than taking a guide.”
It was not put into operation by the opposition of the Church, which feared theft and damage inside the temples for lack, argue several sources consulted, of guarantees with security. THE COUNTRY has contacted the diocese and they limit themselves to replying that they were unaware of this project. Sources from the Foundation and the Junta de Castilla y León assure this newspaper that during the development of the Romanesque North, work was carried out in commissions where all parties were represented, including the Church, and that the card system was exposed, among other projects. .
Gumersindo Bueno, general director of the Board’s Heritage, who was then part of the Foundation and participated in the North Romanesque project, points out: “The owners of the centers are more comfortable with a guide person, in addition to the custodian we call and kindly opens you ”. The custodians are all those people scattered throughout the towns who keep the keys to churches and parishes in their homes. In most cases it is older people, the one who remains in empty Spain. They work voluntarily and for free, and are not always available to meet the needs of tourism.
Although the Board made a large public investment in the restoration of some temples that remain closed, Bueno is sympathetic to another of the doubts that the Church expressed when it opposed this system. “Churches are places of worship, it is essential information,” says the CEO. “There is a community that makes use of the temples and, regardless of the beliefs of each one, we must respect the right to religious freedom, which prevents us from placing cameras inside. Regarding the security problem, the system could guarantee that there were no problems with the goods, many of which are of great value ”, he continues. “The first function of a church is not to be a tourist place, at least while it is sacred. Still, we have to convince the headlines that this is a guide. You cannot invest in what is not used ”.
Sources from the Foundation respond that at all times a system was proposed in which visitors would register by giving their data, including their ID, in order to know in case of damage or theft who had passed through there. “We have made it our fight, especially in rural areas,” explains Víctor Álvarez, director of the Foundation’s Tourism and Culture area. “We have a good example in Aguilar de Campoo, now it is a very important source of income.”
For a long time, Cristina Párbole, historian of the Foundation, guarded the church of Valle Espinosa de Aguilar, a Palencia town of 24 inhabitants, according to data from the INE of 2020. In that period, a program to open monuments managed by the Board and the Bishopric that allowed the temple to be opened from July to September. “Over the years the program was reduced. About three years ago, it was only open from mid-July to August, ”he recalls. It was then when he launched the campaign online #ForUnRománicoOpen destined, he says, so that “the people knew the situation”. The initiative reached the Cortes of Castilla y León and managed to extend the opening period this year from July 13 to September 13 in “some temples.”
With this decision, it was ensured that custodians such as Carlina, 90, who is responsible for the keys in Villanueva de la Torre, would be more freed from their work. Or that in Vallespinoso, where there is no person in charge, the church would be left open. “This summer visitors have grown by 20%,” recalls Párbole, who is still dissatisfied with the measures. “Technology is an ally, but it is no longer enough”, Álvarez continues, “it can be more useful to create employment programs so that young people can take care of churches, Art History students, for example”.
In conclusion, most of these temples remain closed except when there is liturgy, during vacation periods or when the custodians open the doors. But from the Foundation they warn: “In the next plans of restoration and conservation of the patrimony a pact with the Administration will be included so that it is a mandatory condition [a cambio de las subvenciones] that these centers can be visited ”.
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