Spanish nuns fined $199,000 for restoring priceless church organ without permission

A group of nuns in Seville, Spain have been fined $199,000 (170,000 euros) after they carried out restoration work on a priceless church organ without the state’s permission.

The sisters of Santa Ines in Seville, southern Spain, had decided that the organ at their convent needed to be repaired and had accepted an offer from a local charity to restore the instrument for free.

“It hasn’t worked for 30 years, and we couldn’t afford the estimated cost of more than 150,000 euros (£135,000). We only make enough money from the sale of sweets to cover our bills and national insurance payments,” said Abbess Blanca Cervantes, defending the nuns’ decision to restore the organ.

The nuns, however, did not expect that the local government would consider their actions as a criminal offense.

The regional government of Andalusia has fined the convent US$199,000 (170,000 euros) for the “unauthorized” work on the organ. However, it said that it will allow the charity to finish the restoration work in time for Christmas.

The organ, which was built by 17th-century master Perez Valladolid, had been listed by Andalusia’s Ministry of Culture as an Item of Cultural Significance in 1983. The ornately-decorated instrument is thought to be the inspiration behind Gustavo Adolfo Becquer’s celebrated story “Maese Peres, the Organist.”

According to The Olive Press, the penalty was imposed after technicians discovered that the nuns had transported the instrument to a different workshop other than the one sanctioned by the ministry.

The ministry contended that it is only applying the law, but it said that it is willing to show mercy to the nuns by cutting the fine down to US$119,000 if they settle and pay the penalty outside of court.

But the Alqvimia Musicae Foundation, the charity that is paying for the restoration of the instrument, has insisted that the nuns should not have to pay out of their own pockets. The group has organized a charity lunch on Nov. 19 to raise money for the fine. The menu for the event reportedly included “Santa Teresa stew,” drinks, snacks, and convent baked goods.

“We remain calm because we believe we have done nothing wrong,” Mother Blanca said, according to BBC, citing the ABC de Sevilla newspaper.

An article from Atlas Obscura noted that a debate has been scheduled to take place next Wednesday at the parliament over assertions that the noncompliance of the government was directly responsible for the organ’s state of deterioration.