Church Bells

64… Two churches, two bells, two men and two towns…

tino, caretaker of the church, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson

Tino and his beloved Bishop Reyes Cathedral face another sunset.

I knew this would be an interesting photograph. A man, who, in his face, had seen much of what life has to offer, a church bell framed by its belfry and a natural backdrop stretching from Mirador to Sierra Madres. All were lit by a low brillant sun whose golden rays were diffused by humid shimmering heat waves. We only had a moment to take this photo, as we were speaking he was summoned to fix a pressing property emergency, this is what maestro Tino did. I asked him to look towards the sun and pressed the shutter button. One click and done, another moment saved for the future, this is what Anders does.

Caretaker and bell at Aduana church, near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson

Caretaker of Nuestra Senora de Balvanere Church in nearby Aduana.

La Aduana on a midweek day in late Spring is peaceful. Take away the sounds of birds, insects, burros, dogs and a handful of kids and it is really quiet. Few cars will be heard for hours.
This is a place where the past lingers on, mining sites and ruins litter hillsides, a lonely plaza’s dry fountain surrounded by buildings once busy including a store where customers’ shoes for hundreds of year have cut a groove into the floor. I visit the small church and met the caretaker who takes me on the roof so I can see the town from where the bells of Nuestra Senora de Balvanere are. The church has an interesting story involving a beautiful maiden, Indians and some rocks, but that is for a coming journal entry. It is hard to imagine what it is like when
thousands of pilgrims arrive in La Aduana, many walking along arroyos from Alamos, to honor the Virgin of Balvanere every November 21st. A breeze kicks up dust on an empty road, a crow calls, three boys in a dry creek bed laugh and the day moves on. Life in Aduana 1996 is much different than life in Aduana 1700, one can only wonder what it will be like in Aduana 2020.

two church bells at bishop reyes cathedral, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photos Gary Ruble and Anders Tomlinson.

A tale of two bells, one old, one new, and how they toll.

The bells of Bishop Reyes Cathedral are part of Alamos’ daily fabric, they are a prominent voice in a complex orchestral sonic landscape. Here are old and new: a cracked bell was replaced by a shinny bell. I was raised to believe if you don’t have something good to say about something don’t say anything. This is a good rule of thumb, especially in small rural communities. There are always exceptions: this new bell didn’t make me feel good. It wasn’t inviting me, its clang was more of a warning. It is possible that the bell vibrates discordantly only to me, but I find this hard to believe, I have a good ear. Maybe it was the bell ringer’s technique. 14 years have passed, maybe it has mellowed with age. I hope so. A town so culturally rich should have a bell that touches the heart and inspires the imagination. Maybe it does now.

This marker celebrates the birthplace of Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Dr. Ortiz Tirado is another Alamos native that touched the world.

Dr. Ortiz Tirado was born in Alamos and spent his early tears in Culican, Sinola before moving with his newly widowed mother and family to Mexico City. He became a successful doctor specializing in plastic surgery and was Frida Kahlo’s bedside doctor. He made vast contibutions to the medical world. And he could sing. His beautiful tenor entertained audiences across continents. Alamos hosts a grand music festival in his honor, The Festival International Dr. Arturo Ortiz Tirado, that includes dance, art and music with workshops, lectures and concerts. The festival entertainment, centered in Alamos, also performs across Sonora visiting venues in Nogales, Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregon, Hutabampo and Navojoa.
The ten day event is held each year in late January.

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