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The church of Santa María del Castillo has been sitting at the highest point of the small village of Castronuño, in Spain’s northwestern Valladolid province, since the 13th century. But it was only recently that one of its 860 residents noticed something oddly out of place on one of its ancient stone walls: modern grey cement.
An unknown individual had taken it upon himself to “restore” a historical structure built in the Romanesque architectural style and listed as an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC in its Spanish acronym) by the regional government of Castilla y León.
The unauthorized work has damaged the artistic value of the temple and left two questions lingering in the air: who did it, and above all, when? Some locals believe the amateur restoration must have taken place recently, while others suspect it was probably done some time ago but was only noticed now. Some experts, however, think it unlikely that in such a small village, nobody knows who put the cement there.
Villagers are also accusing the regional government of failing to act in time to make the structural improvements that the building clearly needs. The last time any restoration of note was carried out was 60 years ago, say local authorities.
A stroll around the walls of the church’s side aisles offers sweeping views of the Douro River (or Río Duero in Spanish) as it crosses the vast moorlands of Castilla. Mayor Enrique Seoane points up at a small window located around four meters above ground level, where the cement job is clearly visible. He notes that the unknown worker must have used a ladder and a bucket to do the deed without being seen. While critical of this impromptu restoration, Seoane underscores that there are large cracks in the church walls where weeds are growing unchecked, and that the roof also needs repairs. “The cement thing is just anecdotal,” he says.
The mayor adds that the building’s BIC status, which should theoretically provide increased protection and conservation, is in fact a hurdle against efforts by local and provincial authorities to pay for improvements. “Nothing can be done without being greenlighted first by the Archbishopric and the Heritage agency, and no money has been forthcoming,” he says. The regional government is currently restoring some altarpieces, but Seoane notes that without fixing the structural damage to the building, this will be of little use. He says that the last restoration work took place 60 years ago, and is afraid that by the time anything new gets done, it might be “too late.”
Javier Castán, who teaches art history at Valladolid University and has written extensively on the church, formerly known as the Church of Saint John the Baptist, is skeptical about the fact that nobody seems to know who did it. “It’s hard to believe that in a place with 800 residents, nobody saw the individual or individuals who acted in such a shoddy, irresponsible way, unless we are dealing with another case like the Ecce Homo of Borja [a widely reported botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012],” he notes.
This expert underscores the high value of the church, which epitomizes the late Romanesque style of Castilla y León and additionally contains the funerary chapel of Fernán Rodríguez de Valbuena, who was a prior of the military order of Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, better known as the Knights of Malta, and a crucial historical figure under the reign of Alfonso XI of Castile.
Over at the local bar, El Descanso, nobody seems to know who was behind the job. The waiter, Ángel Villareal, says several villagers have complained about the fact that whoever it was did not even bother to use white cement, so it would at least be less visible. If the perpetrator is ever found, the locals have a punishment in store: “If he is caught, he should be given a shake. This is an attack against a historical monument.”
Representatives for the Archbishop of Valladolid say that the cement patches will be eliminated. Spokespeople for the Heritage agency say they would investigate the matter and coordinate with the diocese to repair the damage.
Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says
Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.
In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.
She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.
“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”
Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.
However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”
Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.
“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”
“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.
“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”
“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”
Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.
She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.
She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.
Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.
She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.
Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.
She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.
Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows
The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.
A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.
The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.
A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.
The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.
Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.
The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.
Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.
The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.
Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.
For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.
Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.
The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.
The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.
The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.
The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.
There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.
Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.
‘I was so proud to be Navajo and so proud to be Irish’
Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says
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