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" The tale of a case"

Friday, 1 July 2022

The temporary exhibition “The tale of a case” is our museum’s latest cultural initiative aimed for the General Public; for those who visit regularly and for those visiting Julian Gayarre’s Museum for the first time, maybe attracted by this event.

Julian Gayarre’s philanthropy towards his village of birth and the Valley of Roncal as a whole was a constant throughout his life and it is well documented; he patronaged the building of Roncal’s pelota court, the local school, the valley’s road and he also helped rebuild the village of Jaurrieta in the neighbouring Valley of Salazar after it was burnt down in 1880.

Nevertheless, some of his philanthropic acts are less known and it is one of these acts that our exhibition is focused on.

In rural Roncal in the 19th century medical attention and the struggle to fight illnness and death was led by long standing professionals; doctors, practising physicians, pharmacysts, midwives, folk  doctors and some religuous orders. With few technical and scientific resources they faced times of frequent epidemics and many illnesses. Town Councils hired a doctor’s services back then and paid for the care of those with no means to pay for medical expenses. Local doctors had few and often inefficient medicines and often relied on herbal remedies and physical therapies of controversial results.

Gayarre himself used the services of a local folk doctor who helped restore his health in 1860. He would also suffer from cholera and malaria later on in his life.

In the spring of 1877, during his first opera singing season in England, Gayarre purchased a magnificient state- of- the- art doctor’s case at the prestigious firm Salomon Maw & Son, specialized in the manufacture and sale of surgical instruments and other medical and pharmaceutical supplies.

On July the 24th of this year, while in Paris on his journey to his home village for a summer break, Gayarre wrote a letter to his dear cousin and friend Gregorio Garjón:

“Tell Doctor José Muñoz that I am bringing him a present from London that will cause him fall over backwards. It consists of a bag containig all existing modern surgical instruments. He who has looked after me so well deserves this and more.”
We do not know of the local doctor’s reaction to this gift but thanks to a recorded certificate we do know it was used in Isaba on the 25th of April 1891 to practice the amputation of a leg on a patient with gangrene.

The bag contained the necessary instruments to help a doctor face the main surgical needs at the  time; abdominal and thoracic procedures, brain trepanation, fractures, amputations, bullet removal and stitching.
There were also tools destined to help deal with other scenarios such as difficult births, optical surgery, drawing urine and practising tracheoctomies.

The quality of the materials used to manufacture these tools to perfection was extraordinary.
Silver or stainless steel was used for the instruments and ivory for the handles. This would ensure their long lasting useful life.

In 1889, the so called Russian Flu, the last big pandemic in that century originated in Saint Petesburg. Gayarre was then in Madrid ready to start the winter season at the Royal Theatre after having enjoyed a summer break in his home village. He had been suffering from a laringeal illness when he contracted this flu. He was seen by prestiguous doctors who applied various remedies but his health worsened inevitably. On January the 3rd of 1890, after twelve days of pitiful struggle against the virus Gayarre passed away surrounded by relatives and friends.

This is the tale that awaits visitors, who will be left amazed.

Julian Gayarre’s Foundation wishes to thank Pablo Larranz, the Garjon Sanz family, Navarra’s  Diocesan Archive, Jose Ignacio Riezu Boj, Artús Restauración de Patrimonio S.L.Navarra’s Royal General Archive, Roncal Valley’s Basque linguistic service, Heda Comunicación, La Carteleria and Soluciones más que gráficas for their roles in making this exhibition possible.