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The Spanish Nuns in Hot Water for an ‘Unauthorized’ Organ Refurbishment

$170,000 for repairs or a $200,000 fine. Choose wisely.

The Convent of Santa Ines, in Seville, was founded in 1374.
The Convent of Santa Ines, in Seville, was founded in 1374. Jose Luis Filpo Cabana/CC BY 3.0

How do you solve a problem like … a broken, priceless church organ? The sisters of Santa Ines, a convent in Seville, Spain, had been wrangling with this conundrum for some three decades. The estimated cost for the repair was an eye-watering $177,000—well beyond the means of a convent that runs mostly on the sale of pastries. This income barely covers their bills and health benefits, the abbess Blanca Cervantes told ABC de Sevilla newspaper. Then, salvation. A local charity, the Alqvimia Musicae Foundation, agreed to cover the costs, and make the pipes of the organ carol and call once again—just in time for Christmas.

But the regional government of Andalusia saw this blessing as an unauthorized attack on the historic instrument. Dating from the 17th century, the organ was built and designed by the master Perez Valladolid, and was recognized as an Item of Cultural Significance by the regional Ministry of Culture in 1983. The authorities have slapped the nuns with a hefty 170,000€ (around $200,000) fine for the unlawful restoration. Speaking to the Spanish newspaper, a representative said: “We have simply done what the law obliges us to do.” Still, that fine could be reduced to a hardly merciful 103,000€ ($120,000) if the nuns agree to settle out of court. (The regional authorities, in their wisdom, seem happy enough that the restoration has been done and might net them a profit.)

The fate of that fine is now undetermined, and a debate is scheduled to take place in Spain’s parliament next Wednesday over claims that the government’s noncompliance was directly responsible for the organ’s disrepair. In the meantime, the charity, seeking to cover the nuns’ backs, have vowed that the sisters won’t pay a single cent. Instead, a charity lunch was held over the weekend to raise money for the fine, with a menu of “Santa Teresa stew,” drinks, snacks, and convent baked goods, such as their beloved bolitos. The nuns, for their part, have chosen peace over panic. “We remain calm,” Mother Blanca said, “because we believe we have done nothing wrong,”