Two Chicago Bell Festivals in May

Friends, we have two bell festivals, one on change ringing and one on the carillon, coming up here in the month of May.

First, the 6th Annual Illinois Tower Bell Bash will take place May 19-20. Ringers will gather to ring changes (what else?) at the Mitchell Tower at the University of Chicago on Saturday and at St. Paul’s, Riverside on Sunday. Saturday’s ringing will have the silencer on, but if you ask Tom Farthing very nicely, he may allow you to watch the ringers in person, maybe even try it out! On Sunday the bells will ring out for everyone to hear. More details and contact information on the North American Guild of Change Ringers webpage.

Second, the Rockefeller Carillon New Music Festival will take place May 25-26. Carillonneurs from here and abroad will premiere sixteen compositions, some including collaborations with electronics and other instruments. Augusta Read Thomas’ Ripple Effects for 24 hands (yikes) will premiere on Friday at 6 pm. Fill your hearts and souls with new music for the bells, even meet the performers and composers. More details on the Rockefeller webpage.

I’ll try to make both of these–see you there!

Homage to MLK Jr.

The National Civil Rights Museum is calling on churches and institutions in the United States and beyond to ring their bells to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On April 4, 2018, bells will ring to commemorate 50 years after Dr. King’s death and his legacy in the Civil Rights Movement. Bells will toll 39 times to honor the years of his life.

The acoustic commemoration will mirror the spread of the news on April 4, 1968. Bells will ring first at the National Civil Rights Museum and the King Center at 6:01 pm, next they will ring in the city of Memphis at 6:03 pm, then nationally at 6:05 pm, and finally internationally at 6:07 pm. This is a beautiful representation of the impact of one man and his death around the globe.

If you have tower bells to ring, consider participating! You can register your church’s or institution’s participation here.

The Oldest Bell in Chicago

On Sunday, December 10th, the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Chicago celebrated the 40th anniversary of the installation of their single bell. This is no ordinary bell, however. This bell was bought from St. Mary’s Parish Church in Everton, Bedfordshire, England. Misfortune for St. Mary’s meant a welcome opportunity for the Church of Our Saviour. Lightning struck the tower of St. Mary’s in 1974, and all five bells toppled out of the tower. In order to raise funds to re-mount just one of the bells, the church decided to sell the other four. Meanwhile, the vestry of the Church of Our Saviour was searching for a way to honor the Reverend J. Wilson Reed on his tenth anniversary as rector. The junior warden was notified of an ad in The Ringing World placed by the church to sell their four bells. One of the bells soon became a gift to the rector and installed in 1976.

This bell dates all the way back to the late 16th century. This could be the oldest bell in Chicago! Of course, with no complete inventory of all the bells in Chicago, we can never be sure.

It’s nice-looking, despite the bright blue-green patina (due to air pollution). The inscription reads Johannes Dien hanc campanam fecit (John Dien cast this bell). And a nice sound too.

Thank you, Joan Flanagan, for inviting me!

Church of Our Saviour
Bell in Church of Our Saviour
Church of Our Savior
Bell-shaped cookies for reception

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church, Chicago

Dear readers, All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church in Chicago has not one bell tower, but two!

The one on the left is leased by T-Mobile for their use.

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church

The one on the right has the good stuff…three bells cast by McShane of Baltimore in 1914. They were installed shortly after the church was erected.

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church

These bells are rung before Sunday services and for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Let’s take a closer look.

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church

The bells are dedicated to Saints Anthony, Mary, and Joseph.

And here’s a glimpse of the current automatic ringing mechanism from Verdin (the bells no longer swing).

All Saints St. Anthony Catholic Church

Noel, the building manager, took time out of his busy day to guide me up the tower. Thanks, Noel!

First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Chicago

I found another church here in Chicago that rings the bells during the Lord’s PrayerFirst Lutheran Church of the Trinity. Perhaps this is a specifically Lutheran tradition?

This Lutheran church was the third in the city and the first one south of the Chicago River. The church formed in 1865, although the current building they occupy was built by them in 1912.

The three bells were cast by Stuckstede in 1913. Here are two of the fine beauties.

First Lutheran Church of the Trinity

First Lutheran Church of the Trinity

The congregants were German immigrants, and bible verses in German grace the bells.

Smallest bell: In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? Psalms 56:4

Medium bell: But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

Largest bell: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy spirit be with all of you. Amen 2 Corinthians 13:14

Thanks, Rich Albrecht, for showing me the bells!



St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church, Chicago

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church in Chicago purchased the Salem Lutheran Church attended by Swedish immigrants in 1922.

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church before

Nowadays, the church looks like this. Still beautiful.

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church

Fr. Ivica Majstorović showed me around one cool, blustery day. Not only did I see bells, but I saw the closets full of the colorful ethnic costumes used for their festivals! I sorely regret not taking pictures of them.

I traversed narrow planks of wood over roof insulation to approach the belfry. This was a rare case of short ladders into the bell chamber, but the ladder was weirdly positioned relative to the hatch. Fr. Ivica was clever enough to maneuver up there. And what great pictures!

There are three bells, all cast by Stuckstede in St. Louis. Two from 1914 and one from 1923. They are dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, Our Lady of Sinj, and St. Jerome. They ring every day in the morning (Mass or prayer), at noon (Angelus), and in the evening (Angelus) and before Sunday services.

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church

If you forget that the white stuff are bird droppings, they actually give the bell a nice visual appeal.

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church


And a lovely view from the tower.

St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church

The church is planning to rebuild parts of the church, including the cupola. I’m glad to hear that the bells will remain an important part of the church and congregation for years to come. Keep ’em ringing!

St. James Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL

A local celebrity graciously showed me the St. James Lutheran Church bells–Warren Gast, the recently-retired principal of St. James Lutheran School. In crossing the street from the office to the church, at least two people gleefully shouted their greetings and chatted with us. And the street was given an honorary name after him! So I felt very honored.

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church
St. James Lutheran Church bell tower

The church has two bells, both cast by Vanduzen & Tift company (of Cincinnati) in 1882. They have lovely inscriptions.

Dienet dem Herrn mit Freuden Kommt vor sein Angesicht mit Frohlocken [Serve the Lord with gladness(.) Come before his presence with singing]

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church
Smaller bell with German inscription

Gloria in Excelsis Deo et in Terra Pax Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis [Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will]

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church
Larger bell with Latin inscription

Only one functions now as a swinging bell, the larger of the two. It is rung by a rope before the Sunday services.

Warren told me that the smaller bell used to ring three times during the service’s Lord’s Prayer. I never heard of this tradition! Apparently this dates back to the middle ages when the church tower bell was rung at the beginning, middle, and end of the Lord’s Prayer so that those outside of the church (working in the fields, perhaps), could pray along with the faithful inside.

Thanks, Warren, for a wonderful visit!

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church
Stained glass in choir loft

Madonna della Strada Chapel, Loyola University, Chicago

Steve Betancourt and John Paul from the Madonna della Strada chapel at Loyola University kindly showed me their magnificent four swinging bells.

First off, check out that view of Lake Michigan!

Loyola University chapel
view from chapel entrance
Loyola University chapel
chapel interior
Loyola University Chapel
entrance mosaic

This tower had a lot of ladders. We screwed up our courage and climbed up there. The ladders didn’t give Steve the heebie jeebies about continuing up the belfry, but the spiders did.

Loyola University chapel
Madonna della Strada bell tower

And check out these beauties—shiny and sleek! Only three years old!

Loyola University chapel
Madonna della Strada bells

These bells mark time with the Madonna quarters, a melody composed by Steve. The third part of the melody is based on the Jesuit hymn “Take, Lord, Receive,” which is fitting since Loyola is a Jesuit university.

The fundraising efforts for these bells were reinvigorated after the priest of the church witnessed the incredible bells of Taizé, France while on a trip there. As you can see for yourself, listeners on the ground can watch the bells in full peal. It’s an excellent reminder that seeing and hearing bells up close is their best marketing tool.

Bell Founding of Beit Chabab, Lebanon

This recent find about the last bell founder in Lebanon piqued my interest in bells in the middle east. I was intrigued by the explanation that the casting of big bells didn’t arrive in Lebanon until the Crusaders came through in the twelfth century.*

Hadn’t they been making bells already for a long time? Yes, the people in the ancient middle eastern civilizations (Persian, Egyptian, Byzantine) made bells—but only smaller ones, no larger than hand bells. These bells were used for religious ceremonies, among other uses. The early Christians adopted the use of bells from the local pagan rituals, and early Christian missionaries from Egypt spread the use of hand bells to Ireland and then to continental Europe.

At first, small bells were used during Masses similar to those used in pagan rituals. The first evidence we have that bells were used to summon the faithful to Mass comes from the sixth century. A cleric from Carthage (modern-day Libya) sends a bell to an abbot near Naples, Italy, with the instruction to ring it to gather together the people for worship. The tradition of ringing bells before Christian services, then, dates back at least 1500 years and likely originates from Africa.

Western churches spread the use of bells until by the eleventh and twelfth centuries, even small country churches had tower bells to signal to the congregation. In Lebanon and most of the middle east, the Arab invasion of the seventh century brought a halt to bell ringing. The new dominant regime of Islam forced the cessation of bells; Christianity had to go further underground. Despite the hostile rulers, the Maronites, a branch of Christianity, survived in the mountains of Lebanon. When the first wave of Crusaders came through the region on their way to Jerusalem in the twelfth century, the Maronites welcomed them. The Crusaders, in turn, introduced them to bell casting. The casting of large tower bells in the middle east was born. With the departure of the Crusaders in the thirteenth century, most middle eastern bells fell silent. Because of their isolation, however, the Maronites maintained their bell-ringing tradition.

Beit Chabab’s bell founding could date back as far as the twelfth century when the Crusaders marched through. Naffah Naffah, the last of the town’s bell founders, traces his metallurgical roots back to the eighteenth century, when Russians taught his ancestor how to cast bells, a craft that has been handed down through the family ever since.

*Information from this post taken from Percival Price, Bells & Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 84-98.