St. James Episcopal Cathedral, Chicago, IL

St. James Episcopal Cathedral tower, Chicago, IL

St. James Episcopal Cathedral in the Near North Side Chicago neighborhood is known for its exquisite choir and organ music. Not surprisingly, they complete their sacral soundscape with bells.

The talented and gracious Stephen Buzzard, the organist and choirmaster, showed me around one afternoon.

The chimestand for the ten-bell chime was replaced many years ago with this small keyboard in the sanctuary for ease of performance. Now the organist or choir member can sidle over before the service begins to play a hymn. With the windows closed, we could just barely hear the bells.


We climbed the winding staircase to view the bells. They were cast by Meneely of Troy back in 1876, so on the older side for bells in Chicago. I still haven’t found anything older than the United Church of Hyde Park bell dated 1870.


These bells are played mostly automatically; the Westminster Quarters every fifteen minutes through the day and the Angelus at 6 p.m. They are one of the very few instances of real bells ringing out over downtown Chicago. May they keep ringing!

Thank you, Stephen and St. James’ Cathedral!

2 thoughts on “St. James Episcopal Cathedral, Chicago, IL

    1. Hi BDF! To describe it as simply as possible, a computer controls the clappers on the outside of each bell. A pre-programmed tune, or in this case, the Westminster Quarters, is rung when the automatic playing mechanism, directed by the computer, releases the clapper to allow it to strike against the bell.

      Playing from the small keyboard also controls the outside clappers, but in that case, the performer is playing the tune on the keyboard in real time–that’s not what I consider “automatic playing.” Although in the case of this keyboard, there is more technological mediation between the bells and the performer compared to a ring, chime, or carillon. The dynamics cannot be controlled via this finger keyboard mechanism.

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