Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The day Buenavista lost part of its history

The rebuilt Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios in Buenavista del Norte

June 22 marks the anniversary of the tragic fire that devastated the church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, a temple with more than 500 years of history that housed a rich cultural and religious heritage. (Photos of the fire and the aftermath). When I moved to the municipality in 1999, news of the fire was still on everyone's lips, the smell of burning barely having cleared, the church was in ruins and in process of being stripped to rebuild it. 

On Saturday, June 22, 1996, Spain played the quarterfinals of the European Championship against England. The afternoon had just begun and most of the town of Buenavista del Norte was paying attention to the game, except for some residents who alerted the rest of the tragic event: the church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios was on fire.

The fire, which began in the area of ​​the presbytery but quickly spread to the entire temple, also destroyed several images, including those of the patron saint, the Virgin of Los Remedios, a 17th-century carving from the Sevillian school, attributed to Miguel Adán. It also destroyed the Mudejar-inspired coffered ceiling; an elegant baroque altarpiece from the Martín de Andújar school; much of the splendid stonework; and the valuable museum of sacred art. Only one image could be saved: that of Santa Cecilia.

The image of Saint Cecilia in Buenavista del Norte

The speed with which the flames spread, due in part to the materials that were in the building, such as tea wood, was of such magnitude that it was about to affect the old barn, which was later used as a parish hall. The fire was a real catastrophe that left the town orphaned of one of its main patrimonial, historical and religious assets. 

The church, with 500 years of history, began to be built in 1513 thanks to the efforts of twelve residents who wanted to have a house of God.

The reaction was immediate. That same night a pro-reconstruction commission was created with all the groups, associations and political forces of Buenavista. Also the speed with which the administrations were organized. That same day, given the magnitude of the event, various authorities attended the scene and did not hesitate to offer their support to the then mayor, Aurelio Abreu. From the former Civil Governor of the Province, Heliodoro Rodríguez; through vice president of the Cabildo de Tenerife, Ricardo Melchior; the Bishop of the Nivariense Diocese, Felipe Fernández; the Deputy Minister of Culture of the Government of the Canary Islands, Ángel Marrero; and the mayors of the neighbouring municipalities of Icod de los Vinos, La Guancha, El Tanque, Garachico and Los Silos, among others.

All of them set themselves the objective of recovering the temple, a task that would not be easy but in which they began to believe that it was possible twelve days later, when the Parliament of the Canary Islands unanimously urged the regional government to release 300 million the old pesetas (about £1.5 million) to rebuild the church. It was the first time that a proposal outside the agenda was approved unanimously, recalled Abreu.

The commitment of Pedro Rodríguez Zaragoza, then Regional Minister of the Treasury, stands out, with whom he spent the whole night before trying to release budget items of the different ministries of the autonomous Executive to obtain the money.

After the suffering of a terrifying day, it was necessary to mark a before and after and rebuild the church, despite the fact that the General Directorate of Heritage of the Government of the Canary Islands initially considered this option unfeasible given the seriousness of the incident. Within a few days there was a group of people who were dedicated body and soul to work. The neighbourhood commission, whose president was Manuel Mesa, met every Monday with the mayor and the priest to coordinate actions and organize events for the purpose of raising funds.

José Miguel Márquez Zárate was the architect responsible for the project to recover the historical heritage destroyed by the raging fire. He considers that the work carried out is "a benchmark" due to the "absolute rigor" with which it was done. “If we had to repeat it, it would be impossible due to the efforts that it entailed, both human and economic. It was a real challenge”, he stresses. To cite just one example, all the pieces of the flooring were recovered, classified, restored and replaced by hand one-by-one. 

Márquez places special emphasis on the historic baptismal font, broken into a thousand pieces when a part of the roof fell on it. It was patiently restored thanks to the painstaking classification made of all the materials that were in the ruined church. 

Finally, after eight years of intense work, on June 5, 2004 the church reopened its doors. More than 3,000 people, in addition to the civil, religious and military authorities of the region wanted to witness a long-awaited event, which also served as a tribute to the entire town, the true architect of the reconstruction.

El aciago día en que Buenavista perdió una parte de su historia

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