The clock of the Gothic cathedral of León has a sun and a moon with faces at the ends of its single needle and four figures that blow winds from the corners of the square where the sphere is housed. The streaks of this spring have brought the debate on the clock through the Union of the Leonese People (UPL) to Switzerland. This political group in opposition to the City Council, with three councilors, has asked the watchmaker Rolex to repair its machinery free of charge, as it did in 1992. The party assures that it does not work well, but it has collided with the Cabildo, which manages the Gothic temple and opposes the intervention of the Swiss experts, ensuring that everything is going wonderfully. Rolex has avoided controversy and has responded, after a first cordial contact that gave hope to UPL, that it will not do anything until it perceives consensus between politicians and clergy.
The deputy secretary for political training, Eduardo López Sendino, wrote a letter to the Swiss watchmaker on March 22. In it he recalled that in 1992 the firm repaired the clock, located in the right tower if you look at the facade from the front, after 20 years of paralysis. Then he covered the costs: almost three million pesetas (about 17,000 euros, 40,000 Swiss francs). The Cabildo assumed the disassembly and subsequent assembly of the piece, with the approval of the Ministry of Culture. Sendino claims that the “generous restoration” made the people of León proud, but that time has punished this “distinguished piece” and that the mechanism no longer works, while the wooden sphere is “totally deteriorated”. For this reason, he asks Rolex that, given its “sensitivity and taking into account these antecedents”, to act altruistically again and repair the watch.
Cédric Müller, general director of the company in Spain, replied that these tasks were carried out at the Wostep watchmaking school in Neuchatel and that, despite the “care and precision” of the company’s professionals, they cannot directly assume the work. Müller praised the “historical and sentimental value” of the Leonese watch and asked for a few days to contact teachers who could execute it, although with a warning: it might not be free.
This first Rolex movement stopped short after the Cabildo spoke. The religious entity has rejected that there are failures and has denied external interventions. Mario González, administrator of the cathedral, insists that “it works perfectly” and that he does not want debates on an issue that does not make sense. The deputy secretary of UPL sees the opposition of the cathedral body as “regrettable” because “neither the clock nor the cathedral are his, but the entire city.” The clock, meanwhile, makes the temple bells ring at a quarter past one in the afternoon, as if positioning itself with the religious against the politicians. It works, it works.
Sendino censures that the Cabildo incorporated an electrical and non-mechanical system, such as the one that had previously existed and that Rolex repaired, when in 2000 new changes had to be applied due to conservation problems. Thus, the rope system was replaced by the more comfortable electric model. This decision, says the councilor, attacked “the traditional model that Rolex fixed.” According to the formation, the clock does not strike the hours and its hand does not advance, something that the Cabildo has denied. Sendino is confident that the intervention will finally be carried out, something that he believes will be of benefit to all: the watch is improved, the heritage of the cathedral is valued and Rolex can make “legitimate commercial and advertising use”. Mario Gónzalez details that the installation of the electrical mechanism was due to the fact that the previous one “was delayed and advanced, and its maintenance was impossible”. Faced with the controversy, the Swiss watchmaker has already responded to Sendino through Javier del Pino, its director of technical service, who is going to disassociate himself from the issue.
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The current clock is the third since the construction of the cathedral, which began in the 13th century, and dates from 1788. Its creator was Ramón Durán and the work cost 50,000 reais. The Leonese historian Alejandro Valderas praises the “imposing” apparatus of the south tower of the cathedral, on top of the old sundial, and points out that the electrification of the mechanism implies that it does not sound the same as 20 years ago: “Many people say that it does not work , it is possible that some do not understand your system of a single hand and 24-hour dial ”. And Valderas admits: “It seems clear that the clock spends seasons stopped.”