Ownership of Sant Bertomeu

Row over ownership of Xàbia Church


September 22nd 2009

The Archdiocese of Valencia has taken a first step to gain ownership of the church of Sant Bertomeu de Xàbia. This church which was begun in 1513 and is one of the late Gothic architectural gems in the Valencia Region. The church is listed as building 50,870 in the property registry of Xàbia and on August 21 was registered in the name of the diocese.

The priest of Sant Bertomeu, Vicent Gilabert, was requested on 16 June to record that the archdiocese would be listed as full owner of the building. The petition calls on Article 206 of the Mortgage Law, which allows any public administration and also the Catholic Church to register property for which there is no title deed. It also invokes the religious use that the archbishopric has made of Xàbia church "since time immemorial"

However, the parish church of Sant Bertomeu has always had a strong civilian use, since it was built as a church-fortress and was therefore a shelter for the population of the ancient medieval village. In addition, the Consell de la Vila (equivalent to Town Hall) defrayed all the works carried out in Sant Bertomeu, such as in 1885, when it replaced the main floor.

The building, which the Republic declared a National Artistic Monument in 1931, was listed as a municipal heritage property in all inventories of the council until the late 1950s. Levante newspaper has been able to determine this point in the inventories of the years 1924-25, 1925-26, 1929, 1941, 1942 and 1945. After then, the church simply stopped appearing in the inventories, with the alleged connivance of the then mayor of the town, and its true ownership was diluted. So much so, that the council now has to pay 9,000 euros per annum to the parish to open the building to visitors.

The attempt by the diocese of Valencia to take over the church of Sant Bertomeu has sparked angry reactions from Xàbia. The Socialists have called for support from all parties for the town to initiate the process to register its name as the "church-fortress of Sant Bertomeu" and that other buildings which are also vulnerable should similarly be recorded as municipal property. They have compiled dated documents to support their case.

The church-fortress of Sant Bertomeu was declared an item of special cultural interest (BIC). It is one of the most remarkable examples of late Gothic architecture or Elizabethan style in the Valencia Region. Its architect ( "mestre picapedrer) was Domingo de Urteaga. The central dome of this church, the comprehensive restoration of which is pending, began to be constructed in 1513.

From Levante: El Arzibispado...

Editor's note: This is not the first such conflict between a town hall and the Archdiocese of Valencia. Other cases are recorded in Vallada, Alzira, Alberic, L'Alcora, Sueca, Oliva and Massamagrell.

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