Religious attitude and rituals


1. An annoying church bell ringer (1811)

A lawyer and fellow of the Middle Temple, John Carr was one of the first English travellers to write at length about Spain. He travelled through Spain during the Peninsular War and later recounted his experiences in his book Descriptive travels in the southern and eastern parts of Spain and the Balearic Isles (1811). His style of writing was often lampooned and in 1807 Edward Dubois published a pamphlet satirising Carr’s work entitled My Pocket Book; or Hints for a Ryghte Merrie and Conceitede Tour. Interestingly, one of Byron’s letters mentions that the famous poet met Carr in both Cadiz and Seville in 1809, but Carr himself does not allude to these encounters in either his books or correspondence. The following extract sees Carr complain about the excessive amount of bell-ringing in the garrison.

In the town, there is an excellent garrison library in a handsome detached building. To the balls given by the military, the families of the merchants are rarely, if ever, admitted. This unpleasant line of separation has been drawn in consequence of the great number of low and vulgar mercantile adventurers who have settled in Gibraltar. Universal toleration exists without, as might be expected, any inconvenience to the garrison, always excepting, however, the horrid nuisance produced by a fellow beating the bell of the Spanish Catholic church with a great hammer, many times in the course of the day, to the no little annoyance of everyone in its neighbourhood. This noisy functionary is a great coxcomb in his way, and says that the English have good bells, but do not know how to ring them, and that he alone possesses taste in this way! I was informed that an officer once, provoked by his noise, after repeatedly, but unavailing!, requesting him not to strike so hard, could not resist caning him when he descended, upon which the bellman brought his action, and obtained damages. He now, therefore, frequently shows his triumph by the additional vehemence with which he strikes his bell.

Sir John Carr, Descriptive travels in the southern and eastern parts of Spain and the Balearic Isles in the year 1809 (1811).

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2. A Protestant gentleman visits the Catholic Cathedral (1825)

I was in Gibraltar but a very short time, until my attention was attracted to the Spanish chapel, convenient to my hotel, by the almost incessant ringing of its bells. It is a large building, of modern construction, exhibiting nothing remarkable on its exterior. But within, the profusion of ornament, comprehending pictures, crucifixes, gilding, painting, &c. gives a brilliancy and glitter to the whole that to a stranger is very imposing. This, connected with the full-toned organ, accompanied with fine vocal musick, renders the place very attractive (but to me much more for the gratification of curiosity and amusement than the exercise of devotion). It is open at all hours of the day, and every evening there is quite a congregation assembled for evening prayers. If a stranger takes off his hat, it seems to be regarded as no intrusion to go quietly through the house, and look at all its exhibitions; even though he has to wind his way among the kneeling devotees, who may be scattered over the floor — offering their adorations before the pictures of saints or crucifixes, as each one likes best. There are no pews; the floor is quite vacant — except here and there some benches, where those who are disposed may sit, and give themselves to silent meditation. On one of these I have often sat, while my feelings were soothed and softened by the exquisite musick, and while I have wondered at the strange devotion going on around me. Each worshipper, as he enters, crosses or sprinkles himself with the consecrated water, contained in a large marble vase near the door; then goes to the situation preferred, generally before some painting or crucifix, where, dropping on his knees, he repeats in a low whisper his prayers, gazing on the object before him with a countenance of solemnity and awe, as if looking at the very Deity. Some, without any object before them, with closed eyes, seem to be absorbed in silent supplication. If appearances are to be trusted, there is much sincerity and reverence on the minds of many of these Roman Catholick worshippers, that do them credit; and which ought to put to shame, the profane thoughtlessness and levity that mark the appearance of many protestants during their pretended worship: for surely the worship is only pretended, where reverence and sincerity are wanting. The Roman Catholick worship, like the ancient temple service of the Jews, the pomp and ceremony of which it copies, is eminently calculated to affect the senses, while alas! it appears to furnish very little to enlighten the understanding, or to amend the heart. Whether the ringing of the bells is considered by them as belonging to the very matter of worship, I cannot say; but it really appears to me that nothing less will justify the serious annoyance, arising from its frequency and duration. I think, since I have been here, the bells of the chapel have rung nearly equal to the half of every day, putting the different times of their ringing together, besides a great deal at intervals through the night.

From all I have seen, it does appear to me, that the Roman Catholick religion is a most burdensome expense to the people who keep it up. The number of priests to be supported, for the daily and nightly drudgery of the chapel service; the amount of expenditure, to furnish the images and costly paintings, with which the chapel is ornamented; the loss of time, which an attendance on the various devotional exercises through the week necessarily calls for; with a large amount of etceteras; must be a grievous drawback on the temporal prosperity of any people, who are subject thereto. I never was so sensible of the greatness of the blessing, in a temporal point of view, conferred on protestant countries by the reformation, since I have been here. In the town of San Roque, where poverty and beggary seem to have fixed their abode, every particle of grandeur appears to be monopolized by the church. The town stands on an eminence, and the church occupies the crown of that eminence. To it all the principal streets point It is large, and its exterior indicates it to be very ancient. It looks indeed like a mouldering ruin. But on stepping into it, the magnificence and grandeur of ornaments strike one with astonishment. The interest of the capital expended in the establishment, added to the annual charge of supporting its service ... could not fail in a little time not only to renovate the population, but the whole face of the surrounding country.

There are but two places of protestant worship in Gibraltar. The one is occupied by the chaplain to the garrison, who of course is a member of the established church of England. The other belongs to a small society of Wesleyan Methodists. The chaplain, I am informed, is an excellent fox hunter on the hills of Spain; and a very conspicuous character at a ball, or a masquerade. This information removed from me every disposition to attend on his ministrations on the sabbath. I had therefore no alternative, but either to remain in the tavern, or partake with the methodists.

Anonymous, ‘Travels for Health in Europe in 1820,’ The Christian Advocate (1825).

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3. On Gibraltar’s Moral and Spiritual Emptiness (1830)

Pride, and particularly the pride of dress, is here a deadly evil among the civil part of the population; and that which grieves me greatly is that religion does not seem to cover any whole families. I know one instance of exception; but there may be more. There are no young persons, either male or female, for improving association. Mental cultivation is exceedingly low, and the want of religion occasions a sad dearth of all the materials for excitement to application. At present, I know of only one family with which I could associate, if I would; and the dangers arising from any seeming preference forbid that this should be much employed. I have, therefore, resolved to make few or no visits that are not truly pastoral, and these apply to all classes. Books are extremely scarce and unconscionably dear. There is nothing like a good bookseller’s shop; and no printing press but that which is in the hands of Government, nor am I aware that any printing is done but what is merely and strictly official.... Moors, Jews, and Catholics form the bulk of our population; and who can deny that ignorance, irreligion, and vice strongly mark their general character? True, they may, in many instances, be scrupulous about the formalities of their peculiar professions, and the more so from their being in the presence of those whose profession is different from their own; but what avails all this…? And then, even of the more instructed and enlightened among our population, I mean, the English inhabitants, how few are there of whom it can be fairly hoped that they live according to the Gospel of Christ, on which all their hopes, in profession at least, are, nevertheless, entirely dependent!

William Barber, Memoirs of the late rev. William Barber (1830).

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4. An English Missionary in Gibraltar (1832)

William Harris Rule was one of the first Wesleyan preachers to come to Gibraltar. He was born in Berwick-upon-Tweed, the son of an ex-military surgeon and a Cornish seamstress. Early in 1822 he left the Church of England and embraced Wesleyan Methodism, becoming a fully-fledged minister just a few years later. In 1832 he was sent to Gibraltar, where he founded the colony’s first charity school. He also learned Spanish and regularly preached to the Spanish-speaking civilians. In 1839 he tried to establish a Wesleyan mission in Cadiz, but encountered much official Spanish opposition to the project. Rule finally returned to England in July 1842, although he briefly revisited Gibraltar at the age of 76 in 1878. In this extract he discusses the state of missionary work on the Rock before his arrival in 1832.

The Missionaries, appointed but for three years ... were ignorant of the current language of the inhabitants, or if able to decipher a Spanish book, were yet ignorant of it as a vehicle of thought to others. Each week elapsed was [simply] ... more time counted off the tale.... No opening for labour appeared among the natives, because none was sought. And then, again, because none appeared, it was presumed that none existed; and, under this presumption of impracticability, no attempt was made. To have devoted a few hours daily to the acquisition of the language would have appeared to the English flock nothing better than literary idleness in their shepherd; and if at any time [the missionary] made an effort to benefit “the foreigners,” as he had none to assist, so neither had he any to sympathize. They over whom he presided did not direct their efforts nor their prayers to the conversion of “the foreigners,” as their own fellow-subjects and townsmen were erroneously called; and even if animated by a superior spirit, [the missionary] could scarcely hazard the alienation of their confidence or affection by employing any considerable part of his time in behalf of strangers, of whom it was even surmised by the few who had been longest in their neighbourhood, that they could scarcely be converted.

Being a Missionary, therefore, only in name, as regarded the native population, yet separated from the invigorating society of a flourishing and ever-increasing people, enjoying no interchange of sentiment with his brethren in the ministry, nor any relief by change of labours, and at the same time knowing of no good to be attained by lengthened residence on such a station, each [missionary] in turn availed himself of his privilege to go home at the expiration of the third year, and was succeeded by another, who should discharge the usual duties during an equal period. In such a situation, his energies would often flag, and, but for the sustaining grace of God, he would become weary of his position....

It does not appear that any request had proceeded thence for the appointment of a Missionary for the native population; but that the design originated in England, probably with the Rev. Richard Watson, who entertained a strong desire that the Society should extend its agencies to the countries bordering on the Mediterranean. Towards the close of the year 1824, Mr. William Barber, then a probationer for the ministry, was sent out with instructions to learn Spanish, and to try what could be effected. On his arrival, he described the state of things in the following terms in a letter since published: — “The great majority of the civil population here are Spaniards (Roman Catholics of course) and as they hold but little or no intercourse with the English, except when needed by business, and even then talking in a foreign language, Methodism has not existed for them.” He stated, however, that a member of the English society had been for a very short time previously engaged as a Local Preacher to some ten or twelve hearers; but the prospect was not encouraging. This first Spanish Preacher lost any little religion he might have had, and eventually withdrew from our company in disgrace. Mr. Barber himself soon became utterly discouraged. The little congregation dwindled away. A small class which had met for a few weeks was dispersed; and, in devising plans for the commencement of labour by himself, he thought the assemblage of a congregation at that time hopeless, and the very idea chimerical. It then appeared that little or nothing more could be done than to hold conversational meetings in order to excite attention, and impart information. And Mr. Barber was not alone in the suggestion of this measure; for in a well-known work, published about the time of his appointment, but which he could scarcely have seen, the judicious author, suggesting Gibraltar as a new station ... observes that “occasions of profitable intercourse with professing Christians might be enjoyed ... by a Missionary who should have acquired sufficient fluency to conduct, once or twice a week, a kind of public family prayer in Spanish, when the Scriptures might be read and explained, together with supplication for the benefit of those persons, either resident in Gibraltar, or visiting the place, who might otherwise not enjoy such means of religious edification.”

But our first Missionary, laboriously studying the language, suffering much from a diseased constitution, and struggling with many local difficulties, persevered to the extent of strength and opportunity; and, although he did not organize the Mission, he collected some materials, over which he prayed and toiled; and in the year 1827 the author found him encircled by Spanish acquaintances, and striving, not only in conversation, but in sermons, to bring them to the knowledge of the truth. It was his misfortune, indeed, to be dealing with persons who could not appreciate his motives, nor understand his object; but he persevered in hoping against hope, believing against sight, and commending his work to God who sent him. There is no reason to believe that his efforts were followed by the real conversion of a single soul, or that their immediate and visible result was anything more than fraudulent profession of religious feeling by a few persons from the dregs of the Gibraltar poor, and the Spanish refugees of that period; but they are remembered as honourable evidences of his patient and faithful perseverance, and were really useful as providing himself, and others after him, with necessary experience. Had not Mr. Barber led the way, it is probable that no other Missionary would have entered on it for many years, perhaps not to the present moment....

The close of his career was peculiarly mournful. In consequence of the removal of his Superintendent, he was left alone in charge of the English congregation and classes, in addition to his accustomed work. He had scarcely begun to enter on his additional engagements when the garrison and town were thrown into alarm by the appearance of an epidemic fever..... This began towards the end of August, 1828; and on the 26th of October he fell among the victims, after having discharged, for a few days, the duties of garrison Chaplain, he being the only surviving Minister on whom such duties could be devolved. Although extremely diffident, he had begun to acquire fluency in the use of the language; and, in spite of much discouragement, had persevered in those studies and labours by which the proposed object might be attained. He had made a journey of observation in Spain, proceeding as far as Granada, forming friendships and entering into correspondence with Spaniards; and thus he conciliated, by unaffected piety and an amiable disposition, the esteem of all who knew him; and the prospect just began to brighten, when it was suddenly overcast. Almost all the leading persons on the station were cut off by death, or dispersed, and many of the foreigners who survived left the garrison. The station was re-occupied in March or April, 1829; but the case of the foreign population remained almost unprovided for, there being no native agent capable of undertaking the work with usefulness and credit.

William Harris Rule, Memoir of a Mission to Gibraltar and Spain (1832).

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5. The smell of Gibraltar’s cemeteries (1835)

Robert Montgomery Martin was an Anglo-Irish doctor who quit medicine to become a high-ranking civil servant. He was one of the founding members of the Statistical Society of London and enjoyed great prestige as an expert on all matters relating to Britain’s overseas possessions. Here he elaborates on the unhygienic conditions encountered in Gibraltar’s cemeteries.

The burial-places of Gibraltar were suspected of being very efficient agents in the production of the epidemic of 1813. The smell issuing from the principal one is described by Dr. Robertson as having been extremely offensive, and he expresses his astonishment that with such a source of fever existing within it, the garrison was ever free from that disease. The old burial ground in South Port Ditch was suspected of similar ill effects. Whether these suspicions were well or ill founded, the main causes of complaint have been removed, and the principal burying ground is now on the neutral ground. Charnel-house effluvia occasionally arise from it, and in some instances water has flowed into the graves, which might have afforded similar exhalations on evaporation, but the perpetual current of air, the grand neutralizer of all insalubrious miasmata, renders them innocuous to the inhabitants of the town.

The Red Sands, between the Grand Parade and the South Pavilion, was formerly the principal receptacle for the dead. The greater part of these sands is now converted into gardens, and only a very small spot remains, which is occasionally used for officers. The Jews, also, have a burial ground on Windmill Hill, in a very airy and elevated situation. An old burial ground, now no longer used, is situated on the side of the hill, above the red sands, and another of a similar description lies within South Port. Upon the whole, the places of sepulture for Gibraltar afford little cause for suspicion at present. The depositing of bodies within the Spanish church, which was so common a practice fifty years ago, that Colonel James says, “all the Roman Catholics were buried there,” is now discontinued. Nothing but the quantity of lime thrown over the bodies, could have prevented the most dangerous consequences resulting from this practice. It is now so rare to deposit a body in the church, that a thousand dollars were lately paid by the family of a Spanish gentlemen for permission to do so.

Robert Montgomery Martin, History of the British colonies (1835).

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6. A North Front Funeral (1842)

Edward Hungerford D. Elers Napier was the son of Edward Elers, a Royal Navy lieutenant from Scotland. He took on the additional name of Napier in honour of his stepfather Admiral Charles Napier, the famous military reformer. He was educated at Sandhurst and spent several years posted in India. On his return to Europe, his regiment was sent to Gibraltar, from where he made several hunting excursions into Spain and Morocco. He was a good friend of the famous English author George Borrow and went to live in Portugal after he retired. In this extract Napier gives us a detailed account of a military funeral held at North Front cemetery.

All the Sergeants of the garrison, and most of the officers of the regiment, as a mark of respect, attended the funeral of poor Sergeant Homer, which took place shortly after daylight in the morning. A custom was introduced in the garrison during the prevalence of the yellow fever, and which has continued ever since, of making funeral parties go silently along the “line wall,” and without the usual melancholy accompaniment of the dead march, which always plays on such occasions. This was first established here in order not to alarm the inhabitants, by making public the number of deaths which daily, nay, hourly, took place at the time of the epidemic. On the present occasion, our mournful procession followed the usual road, skirting along the fortifications, until it reached the Casemate barracks, when, after issuing from the gates at Landport, the muffled drums struck up the “dead march.”

The scene was peculiarly solemn: a Levanter had been blowing during the night, which covered the rock with a canopy of clouds, and the dense vapour gradually descending, at last enveloped our lugubrious procession, giving us a most shadowy and unearthly appearance. By the time we had reached the burial place on the neutral ground, the bare and perpendicular face of the rock at the “north front,” and which extends to the immense height of fifteen hundred feet above the sea, was but dimly visible; and ere the ceremony had been concluded with the usual salvo of musketry over the “soldier’s sepulchre,” we were all dripping with moisture. On looking into the grave, I was astonished to observe, at this dry season of the year, that water had been come at about five feet from the surface. This water, though in a sandy soil, and on a level with the adjacent seas, is said to be perfectly sweet, and free from any brackish taste.

The quantity of tombstones here bear witness to the number of inhabitants of this “last bourne of the weary;” but is no argument against the salubrity of the Rock, when it is recollected how dense a population it contains, and that, with the exception of two small cemeteries in the South, one of which is appropriated to the officers of the garrison, this is, and has been for years, its only place of burial. It is surrounded by a low hedge of the aloe plant, whilst scattered beyond its precincts are numerous slabs, the Hebrew characters on which denote them to belong to those of the tribe of Israel now resting in Abraham’s bosom.

The Jews, who are here extremely numerous, have at present another spot appropriated to their sepulchral rites, on the upper part of the rock, immediately above Windmill Hill barracks, where, from our house, we can frequently see them performing their last duties to the dead.

The “Levanter” which I have just mentioned is one of the greatest drawbacks we have: it is a “damper” to everything, both moral and physical; and even the giant “Calpe,” mourns the event, in a shroud of clouds and vapour, which then invariably crowns his venerable head. One’s spirits are depressed, an universal dampness pervades everything, and this unenviable state of things is only rectified by the salubrious and freshening “Poniente,” (western breeze,) which from the broad Atlantic brings us a supply of health, coolness, and comfort.

Edward Delaval Hungerford Elers Napier, Excursions Along the Shores of the Mediterranean (1842).

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7. Scandal at the Cemetery (1879)

Last Sunday afternoon, some soldiers, about seven in number, who had gone to the cemetery on [the] occasion of two military non-Catholic funerals, passed over to the catholic portion of said sacred ground and standing round a tree therein proceeded to relieve themselves in a very open and indelicate manner to the extreme confusion and annoyance of the Catholics, including females and children, who had gone there to visit the graves of their dear departed relatives and friends and to offer up prayers, according to holy Catholic faith and practice, for their eternal repose.

Naturally, the individuals whose delicacy has been thus so deeply wounded, shrunk from allowing their names to be put forwards in connection with such a complaint.

Besides, it were useless to do so; inasmuch as, having been obliged to turn away and retire in disgust, they could not identify the parties. I am assured that the lamentable occurrence was palpable and obvious to all, so that the officials of the cemetery and others can hardly have failed to observe it.

I am, furthermore, assured that said occurrence was not the first of the kind; but that visitors to the Catholic portion of the Cemetery have been more than once shocked by similar violations of the first principles of decorum and propriety.

Letter from a Catholic priest to the Secretary of the Cemetery Committee, 18 June 1879. 


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