La Merced Church Bells: Casco Viejo`s Oldest Object

Casco Viejo Panama

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La Merced at Night 2010

For a while now, the priest at La Merced Church has been working hard to recover the treasures of one of the oldest churches in Casco Viejo, Panama.  He recently commissioned (and finished) the restoration of one of the chapels and built a small museum that hosts the birth and marriage records of what used to be Panama City.  This past week, an expert was brought to check on the old bells and see if they could be restored. Manuel Quintana, a descendant of  a family dedicated to build and restore bells since 1639 came to check La Merced set of old bells.

And what a surprise! according to La Prensa`s article yesterday, the expert found out that the big bell is from year 1232… which means that it is 778 years old! Think about it.   Casco Viejo was founded in 1673 (see brief history here) . La Merced was built in 1688 (according to the article construction finished in 1796.. almost 108 years later, you know, for those thinking construction in Panama takes time and is always delayed for one reason or the other).  And since the religious order came to Panama in 1522, it means that they probably shipped with them bells they were not really using too much (I can guess the conversation went like: hey, bring me the old one, yes, the dusty one in the corner. We are not using it, right? let`s send it to the New Indias).  Yeah, the already 200 year old bell!

The sad part is that according to Mr. Quintana, the bells are cracked in a way it is impossible to repair.  But he recommended to declare them of “cultural interest” as they are extremely rare, for most bells of the same period got destroyed.

The best: the bells where signed.  Each one a unique piece by an artisan, La Merced bells have the signature of Imanuel Perea.

Here are some “before and after” photos of La Merced Church, which used to greet visitors into San Felipe through what was called the “Land Door”.

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