“Why are you so interested in bells?” asked Father Z, the priest at Xikai Catholic Church in Tianjin. “There’s nothing especially interesting about bells.”
Until that point I had let my Chinese friend do all the talking, explaining to him that this foreigner from Beijing was doing research on old church bells. This, however, was a question I wanted to answer myself.
I told him about finding the old bell in Yibin and how I believed that each surviving bell in China has a story and that embedded in that story is the story of God’s love for the church in China.
His countenance immediately changed and I moved from being simply a foreigner who was a pest to a foreigner to be helped, and perhaps even liked.
As we kept talking he started rummaging through a notebook on his desk, looking for something.
He told us that there were old bells in the bell tower, one bronze, one steel, that dated back to the early 1900’s, but resolutely refused my Chinese friends entreaties to let us go up and see them.
“We do have a small bell I can let you see,” he said, as he found the paper he had been searching for. He handed it to us and said “Here, take a picture of this.” It was a hand-written note that said “I found this bell in Shandong Province, and want to give it to the church.” It was signed and dated December 14, 2009.
The bell had been found by a reclycler who decided that the bell would have value to a church, so rather than sell it, he gave it to the Tianjin church.
“Would you be interested in seeing this bell?” Father Z. asked
I’m sure you can guess our response.
So Father Z, with his assistant in tow, took us to a shed behind the church building to see this old iron bell that was sitting under a table. It was too heavy to move out from under the table so we had to content ourselves with crawling around underneath to get some photos.
The bell has Chinese writing on it, indicating that it was made for a Catholic church in a specific town.
We are still trying to get in touch with the man who gave the bell to the church.