José Luis Camacho analyses one of the pieces on an illuminated table. Salvador Salas
The local expert restoring Jaén Cathedral's stained glass

The local expert restoring Jaén Cathedral's stained glass

A craftsman from Malaga, José Luis, is repairing the windows as part of the application for it to be named as a World Heritage Site

Juan Soto

Friday, 24 March 2023, 12:38

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With great patience and dedication, José Luis Camacho is working hard each day to make a stained glass window showing the image of Our Lady of the Assumption glow as brightly as possible. In his workshop, in the Malaga district of Fuente Olletas, he is currently looking after and restoring pieces of enormous historic value from Jaén Cathedral which date from 1720 to 1911.

Despite being hundreds of kilometres away from Jaén, his skill and the neatness of his work attracted the attention of the Church authorities there and they commissioned him to restore all the windows in the cathedral. This is a job which involves tremendous responsibility because the restoration is one of the conditions stipulated by Unesco for the cathedral to be classified as a World Heritage Site.

José Luis has begun with some of the stained glass windows from the northern nave. He made an initial visit to the cathedral and brought back numerous colourless pieces of glass (which are the oldest), the image of Santa Ana, more than half of the central image of the Virgin of the Assumption and part of the main façade of the Saviour of the World. He will be restoring 85 windows in total and estimates that it will take more than a year and a half.

The craftsman from Malaga will restore 85 pieces dating from the period 1720 to 1911

"You have to be extremely careful because some of the pieces have deteriorated badly," he says.

The chance to collaborate with the cathedral restoration arose thanks to the involvement of local company Construcciones Calderón, which was contracted to repair the roofs. After setting up the scaffolding prior to starting, the technicians noticed that the stained glass windows were in a very poor condition. That was in 2020. They carried out some urgent roof repairs and then two years later the authorities rang again to ask them to carry on with the rest. The total project is expected to cost one million euros.

José Luis Camacho, who has been working with stained glass since 1996, says the windows had been badly affected by the wind, which blows so strongly that the lead had deteriorated and some of the putty that held the windows in place was lost. Some parts had been blown off altogether, and now he will have to reconstruct them in his workshop using ancient images and checking historical archives for guidance.

In addition to the restoration itself, José Luis and his team are responsible for dismantling and transporting the windows to Malaga, which they are doing in sections rather than bringing them all at once. This generally takes over a week, because it needs maximum rigour and safety. "Some have deteriorated so much that we have to wrap them in plastic because they can fall apart in your hands," he says.

Once in the workshop, each piece is like a world in itself and requires specific work. On the work table they analyse the pieces in great detail and then start the restoration. Most of the time the lead needs to be consolidated because it has broken at the soldering points, new putty has to be applied to hold the windows in place and any broken glass is repaired or replaced. Afterwards the windows are cleaned "with a little distilled water, alcohol, brushes and the help of a scalpel," he explains. And to protect them from the weather conditions, isothermic glass is to be installed in the cathedral.

Jaén cathedral was designed in the 16th century to replace the previous Gothic church, although its construction took several centuries. The translucent windows they are working on were made by glassmakers Pedro Sol and Juan González and they correspond to the classicist tastes of the 16th to 18th centuries. The decorative windows are from La Veneciana stained glass workshop and Casa Maumejean.

José Luis Camacho started working with glass as a student on a course organised by the Molina Larios workshop school. Although the course lasted two years, he only did one year because the supervisor who held the course gave him a job in his workshop, Viarca, where he remained for six years.

Later the Junta de Andalucía commissioned him to teach different courses in the villages and even in the prison, until in 2010 he opened his own workshop. Initially it was in Calle Cristo de la Epidemia, but in 2015 he moved it to Calle Manrique, which is where it is now.

Among the numerous works carried out over all those years, José Luis particularly mentions those he has done for the Church authorities in Almería, the restoration of several churches in Malaga and Marbella, the work at the Miramar Hotel and the project he carried out for Los Patios de Beatas restaurant.

"Since I have had my own workshop I have been lucky enough never to have to go looking for work; all the commissions have come to me," he says, proudly.

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