Casting a Bell

Each time I discovered an old bell in China, I found myself wondering “how in the world did it get here?” They were, after all, from the United States, Russia, France, and Germany.

I didn’t give much thought to how the giant bells were made. So when I ran across this video recently, I was dumbfounded. I had no idea of what was involved in casting a big bell. Now I have an even greater appreciation for them! (email readers, go here to see the video)

This is a fast-motion clip from a German documentary about bell-casting. The entire documentary can be found here; but take note: it’s in German!

 

Casting a Bell

In my book The Bells Are Not Silent, I write about the origin of the use of bells in the church:

Catholic tradition has it that the first time bells would have been heard in a church was in the Roman city of Nola, near modern-day Naples. Saint Paulinas, the Bishop of Nola, initially used them to call the monks to worship. Pope Sabinianus approved them to call parishioners to mass in the seventh century, and in the eighth century they were being used at Requiem Masses. By the ninth century, bells were being rung from churches in towns and hamlets all over the Europe.

One of the oldest foundries casting bells is the Marinelli Bell Foundry, in Agnone.

Campane Marinelli foundry has a very long history; the first bell was made around the year one thousand and since then their work has been a long sequence of success and honors. One of the most significant honor that the foundry can boast, is the possibility to use the Papal Arm Coast in their production; it was Pope Pio XI in 1924 to grant the privilege to the foundry. Campane Marinelli foundry, considered to be the oldest foundry in the world, is located in Agnone (Agnéune in the local dialect), a small Italian town of 5,200 inhabitants in the province of Isernia in Molise.

Here’s a short video about the history of the foundry: (email readers, go here to see the video)

Something tells me I’m going to need to make a research trip to Italy!

Friday Photo: St. Paul’s Church

One of the bells I write about in my book, The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China hangs in the bell tower of this old Lutheran church in Qingdao.

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Here’s how the chapter opens:

Amy and I slipped quietly into the pew at the old St. Paul’s Church in Qingdao, now known simply as Guanxiang Road Christian Church. An usher, who for some reason was dressed in a gleaming white suit that seemed more suitable for a night out in Las Vegas than a Chinese church, spotted us, smiled, and came over to where we were sitting.

Uh-oh, I thought. He’s going to ask us to leave.

Guess you’ll have to get the book to learn the rest of the story!

 

Twin Bells?

The second bell that Noël Piper and I found in China was at a church in Ya’an, Sichuan Province. Like the bell we had found the day before, this one was cast in a foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio. The pastor didn’t know what had happened to the bell during the Cultural Revolution, and how it had survived. She did know, however, that it had been taken from the old church building (no longer standing) in the 1960s and returned in the 1980s.

BW yaan bell

Inside the main entryway of the downtown campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis sits a giant black bell tucked unceremoniously in the corner. Unless you’re paying attention, you will probably not even notice it. But as you can see, there is a striking similarity to the bell in Ya’an. Hmm…

BW bbcbell

Is that just a coincidence, or is there an actual link between the old bell at Bethlehem Baptist Church and the one in Ya’an? In order to learn the answer to that question, you’ll have to read my book, The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China OR come on out to the north campus of Bethlehem on Saturday, February 11 at 6:30PM.

I will be telling the story of these bells as well as few others I found in China. As fun as the stories are, however, the bells also serve as vehicles for telling the story of God’s faithfulness to the church in China.

And speaking of fun, here’s a bonus photo of a very young Pastor John Piper with the old Bethlehem church bell! (Thanks, Noël!)

old bbc bell

Event details:

Bethlehem Baptist Church (north campus)
5151 Program Ave.
Mounds View, MN
Time: 6:30PM

If you’re in the Twin Cities, come on over!

Yibin: Then and Now

The first bell that I found in China was in the city of Yibin, in Sichuan Province. The American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society began work there in the late 1800’s and in the early 1900s they built a church and hung a bell that had been brought over from the United States!

Here’s what the city looked like in 1940:

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Here’s what it looks like today:

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The bell I write about would have been present for both photos! You can read about it in The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China.

Image source: clickme.net

Related Posts:

Friday Photo: Xishiku Catholic Church

Published: The Bells Are Not Silent

 

Friday Photo: Xishiku Catholic Church

This is one of the churches that I write about in my book The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China. The Xishiku Catholic Church was founded in 1703 and was originally christened The Church of Our Savior.

Xishiku Catholic Church

My fellow bell-hunters and I somehow convinced the priest to let his assistant take us up into the towers to see the old bells. We climbed up the dusty stairs into the east steeple (on the right in the photo) to see the bell hanging there. But where was the second bell?

It was in the west tower, which meant in order to see it we would have to climb into the space between the sanctuary ceiling and the roof of the cathedral and crawl across some ancient dust-covered beams. Spring did her best to talk me out of it, fearing that I might fall through the ceiling and land on the parishioners praying in the sanctuary. But I was not to be thwarted; I was determined to see this bell, her pleadings notwithstanding. (p. 76)

You can read the whole story in the book!

The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China

 

Published: “The Bells Are Not Silent”

For a long time, friends and colleagues of mine have urged me to write a book about China. “You lived in China for nearly three decades,” they say. “Surely you have something to say.”

My standard reply has been that there are so many books written about China each year; I don’t want to write one until and unless I have something new to say — some angle or perspective or story to tell that hasn’t been told.

In March 2012, I travelled with my friend Noël Piper to Sichuan Province. We dubbed our trip “The Esther Expedition” because we were researching the life and work of Esther Nelson, a woman from our church who had served as a missionary in that region from the 1920s to the 1950s. It was during that trip that I stumbled onto an untold story.

It was the story of an 126-year-old American bell hanging in the steeple of a church in a remote city of Sichuan. If you were reading my blog then, perhaps you remember my post about that discovery.

In the months between that discovery and moving back to Minnesota, I travelled around China looking for more bells. I found bells from Germany, France, and Russia hanging in Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Well, it has taken me almost five years, but I have finally put the stories of these bells into a book: “The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China.”

The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China

Here is the description from the back cover:

When Joann discovered a 126-year-old bell hanging in a church in southwest China she knew that there was a story to tell. Who had decided to ship it? How had it been transported? How had it survived the political turmoil of the 1950s and 1960s? She also knew that if there was one bell, there must be others. Over the course of eight months she travelled around China looking for old church bells, finding ones from France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. This book is a collection of stories about those bells. But more importantly, they are stories of God’s faithfulness to his church in China.

It is now available on Amazon in both print and kindle editions.

Additional photos and information can be seen at my public Facebook page. Click on over and give it a “like.”