Maria Sans, the woman who inspired the character Maria in Ernest Hemingway's 1943 novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls", died in Mataro, a city outside this northeastern Spanish metropolis. She was 91.

Sans was born in 1920 in the Catalonian village of Arbeca and lived there until age 6, when her family moved to Mataro.

The young Sans met the famed American writer in that Mediterranean city while working as a nurse at a hospital that treated members of the International Brigades, who fought on the Republican side during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.

Sans had left her job at a textile factory to become a nurse at the hospital, where most of the doctors and health officers were foreign professionals in need of auxiliary staff.

According to writer Josep Puig, Sans fell in love there with a Swiss brigade member who transported wounded from the front lines by ambulance, but their relationship was thwarted by the International Brigades' later withdrawal from the conflict and the subsequent onset of World War II.

In "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Hemingway's protagonist, Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades, falls in love with Maria, a volunteer nurse and member of a band of anti-fascist guerrillas, during the Spanish Civil War, although he meets a tragic end when he is badly wounded by tank fire after dynamiting a bridge.

Hemingway, who drew on his own experiences as a reporter during that conflict in writing the novel, depicts Maria as a beautiful, selfless and helpful young woman, qualities that Sans - who did not acknowledge the link between herself and the fictional character until recently - must also have possessed.

It was Catalan architect Agapito Borras who determined through his research that the Catalan woman might be Hemingway's Maria, publishing his theory in an article published in 1996 in the daily La Vanguardia.

Sans, who was buried last week, was recognized by local media in Mataro and by officials in Arbeca as the muse for one of Hemingway's most acclaimed novels.

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