The Chaste Diana Bandits
America had its tough outlaws and robbers in the 1930’s, such as the gun-toting Ma Barker and Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie & Clyde fame). However, Murcia had its own notorious female gang of thieves and robbers, more than twenty years before the Depression hit era of Parker and Ma Barker. In the two years between 1911 and 1913, a gang of seven female bandits and outlaws, nicknamed the ‘Chaste Dianas’, apparently terrorised the countryside around what is now Murcia City. Their robberies and hold-ups were put to an end in 1913 when they were arrested after an epic gun battle with Civil Guards (in which one Civil Guard was killed). These female brigands were named after the important Ancient Greek and Roman goddess Diana, who was considered to be a virginal deity who oversaw the countryside, hunting, crossroads, the moon and childbirth. Precisely what made these seven Murcian women into ruthless robbers is unclear. A range of British newspapers and magazines carried the story, but in a rather restrained style. In 1913, suffragette activity in Britain was at its height, with women planning bomb attacks and other militant activities in order to promote their cause. As a result, some journalists were possibly uncertain about how to treat the story of a rampaging gang of female Murcian outlaws involved in gunfights and widespread robbery and violence. Nevertheless, the Westminster Gazette of 1913 still managed a little wordplay in its account of the Diana bandits, which ended by saying that the women had been ‘chaste and captured’.
Murcia’s Musical Leviathan
In 1854, parts of historic Murcia Cathedral were badly damaged by fire. It was therefore entirely appropriate that as part of the cathedral’s refurbishments, the firm of Merklin & Schutze was engaged to construct a massive new organ for the church. By late September 1856, the organ (described as a great musical leviathan by some British newspapers) was ready to travel to the cathedral. Joseph Merklin was one of the world’s greatest church organ makers and the organ he made for Murcia Cathedral was designed and made in Brussels. The company that Merklin ran with his brother-in-law Schutze, produced church organs mostly designed for places of worship in Belgium and France, although two were sent to Mexico and one went to Italy (in addition to the one destined for Murcia).
Merklin’s great Murcian church organ, which can still be seen today, was certainly a considerable artistic and technological achievement. The organ stood between 65-70 feet high and its front measured over 43 feet in length. The instrument had 4700 pipes, 68 stops, 4 complete keyboards and 11 pedals. A newly invented pneumatic lever enabled all keys to be played with ease, despite the massive weight of the overall construction. The organ was also constructed with frontages which were both Gothic and Renaissance in style. The Brussels-made giant organ aroused considerable interest across Europe in the days before it made its way to Murcia. Crowds assembled in the city to hear eminent music professors play intricate pieces of music on the organ and information about this new Merklin masterpiece of design was published in newspapers and journals around the world.