A few weeks ago, two fellow intrepid bell hunters and I found ourselves in the bell tower of the Xishiku Catholic Cathedral (originally called Church of the Savior) in Beijing. It was originally established by the Jesuits in 1703, but this structure dates to 1890.
Actually, there are two towers. In one of the towers, we found a French bell that was cast in Toulouse in 1867. Then we climbed through the crawl space between ceiling of the sanctuary and the roof to the other tower and found an even larger bell that was cast in 1900.
Earlier in the day we had been to the Bell Museum in Beijing because we had heard that the bell from this church was actually on display at the museum. We found a bell that was labeled as having been an French Church, took a bunch of pictures, then headed to Xishiku to see if they could identify the bell in these photos as being theirs.
When we arrived at the cathedral, the nice lady at the gate told us we needed to speak to the priest, and took us to his office.
Now, imagine his surprise when 3 wacky women (2 foreign, 1 Chinese) walked into his office and started babbling about bells. We showed him the pictures we’d taken of the bell in the museum and asked if he could confirm if it was from his church. He didn’t know because he had never seen it.
“But there are still 2 bells up in the tower,” he told us.
Wait! What? There are more bells than the one in the museum?
“Yes,” he said. “They only took one of the bells to the museum, but we still have the other two.”
As you can imagine, that’s all we needed to hear for my Chinese friend to go into her “I will smile and ask him if we can go up into the towers until I wear him down” routine. After a few minutes, he relented and directed a young assistance to take us up into the tower.
In the east tower we found a bell from France that was cast in 1867. What was most exciting to us was that it was obviously a twin to the bell we had seen in the museum. The young man told us that the museum had taken one of the two bells that had hung in this tower, even pointing us to where it used to hang. This confirmed to us that the bell we had seen was the one from this tower.
From there we crawled over to the west tower to see the other bell. This one was much larger andhad the date 1900 on it. Interestingly, it also said “PEKING” so it was most likely made specifically for this church.
We found out that none of the bells had been taken or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The one at the museum had been taken later.
We are in Shanghai this weekend, with a list of 6 churches to visit. Our first stop this afternoon was a smashing success. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until next week to hear all about it!
If you’re new to this blog, and wondering what in the world these bell stories are all about, please see the following related posts: