I and a few friends spent yesterday afternoon traipsing around the city of Tianjin looking for old church bells. Why Tianjin, you may ask?
First of all, with the high speed train that runs every ten minutes between Beijing and Tianjin, it’s an easy ‘day trip’ destination. In our case, it was just an afternoon trip. We left at noon and were back in Beijing by 7:30.
Secondly, because of the city’s history of being colonized by numerous western powers (all at the same time), there are quite a few old churches there.
We confirmed the existence of 4 old bells, most likely brought over from Europe in the early part of the last century, and we saw a hundred year old bell made in China for a Catholic Church. We were only able to get a portion of the story of this bell, but we have some leads to get the rest of the story. When I have pieced it all together I’ll post the photo and story.
In the meantime, here are pictures of the towers in which the other 4 bells reside.
Wanghai Lou Catholic Church was established in 1869 by French Catholics. This current structure dates to 1903, and, as you can see is undergoing renovations. We wandered into the compound and talked with the engineers overseeing the project. They confirmed that there is a bell in the tower, but declined our requests for them to take us up to see it. Can’t blame them, really.
Xikai Catholic Church was built by the Jesuits in 1917, and is today the largest church in Tianjin. We had a long chat with the priest, who confirmed that there are bells in those towers, but he would not take us to see them.
The Anglican Church is now closed, but is a site protected managed by the Tianjin Bureau of Antiquities. We could see a giant bell hanging in the tower. I’m hoping the Antiquities Bureau has some information on the bell, and hopefully some photos.
Did they let you inside Wanghai Lou? There’s lots of special history tied into that church building, but over four years in Tianjin I never managed to get inside (though we tried more than once). Wanghai Lou was the scene of the “Tianjin Incident” (or Tianjin Massacre, depending on which country’s text book you’re reading), and is held up as a patriotic event in the Tianjin Museum’s giant mural of China’s liberation. Picture and explanation here: http://chinahopelive.net/2008/02/04/the-tianjin-incident
We were not able to go inside of the Wanghai Lou Church because of the renovations. We asked the construction boss if we could go in and he essentially said “no way….too dangerous.” Not surprised. I will go back there in the spring when the renovations are completed. I had read about that incident as well, so was eager to see the church.
Ha! They told me it would be done the summer of the Olympics. But there was no scaffolding then. Did you see the little metal building right next to it where the church actually meets? With Santa and reindeer painted on the side?
No, we didn’t go into the small chapel, but we did see some plastic red Christmas bells on a bulletin board, though. HEY LOOK! BELLS! We had a nice chat with the priest, who invited us to come back at Christmas. He was very helpful. I think they are making progress, since there was less scaffolding than I remember seeing when I was in Tianjin in April.