A dream of 167 years has come true for the Catholic Church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, as St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, officially welcomed their new peal of eight bells.
The bells, adorned with hundreds of flowers, were baptised during a ceremony steeped in history, music and tradition at the Cathedral on Tuesday 8 September, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, presided over the baptism of the giant bells, ranging from 150kg to 400kg in weight, which were first proposed by parishioners in the mid-1800s.
The ritual used in the blessing of the bells dates from the 16th Century Pontificate of Pope Clement VIII. This was a revision of earlier Pontificals, a liturgical book that contains rites and ceremonies only celebrated by a bishop, from the medieval period and translated from the original Latin.
The service commenced with Campanae, composed especially for the bells by Bernard Kirkpatrick, St Patrick’s Cathedral Director of Music, with the Cathedral Choral Scholars singing words from Henry Charles Wilder, describing how bells are used in celebration, commemoration and worship.
During the ritual, each bell was baptised with Holy Water and anointed with oils, as per tradition. Seminarians from Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park, played an active role during the ceremony, particularly during the incensation of the bells as the cavity of each bell was filled with incense.
In his introductory remarks, Bishop Vincent welcomed attendees to this happy and joyous occasion and explained that the bells serve as a call to community and union with Christ.
“Bells have a special place in the life of God’s people: the peal of bells marks the hours for prayer and call us to the celebration of the liturgy: bells alert us to important events, both happy and sad, in the life of the Church and the wider community.
“Let us, then, participate devoutly in this celebration, so that whenever we hear the ringing of bells we will remember that we are one family, coming together to show our unity in Christ,” he said.
In comments made on ABC Radio, Fr Peter Williams, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia and Dean of the Cathedral, explained that the bells were always planned for the Cathedral during its reconstruction following the devastating fire in 1996.
“We always had the intention of wanting to do what our forefathers and foremothers wanted to do, and that was to actually have a full peal in the tower.
“While there are quite a number of towers around in churches, both Anglican and Catholic, that have bells in them, it’s particularly historic from the point of view of Parramatta, because Parramatta, in many ways, was, in a sense, where a lot of the history of the early colonial Catholics occurred,” he said.
Parishioners from the Cathedral Parish, members of the faithful across the Diocese of Parramatta, the Australian and New Zealand Association of Bellringers and Keltek Trust donated the full cost of the bells.
Six of the bells are over 100 years old and were sourced from St Paul’s Anglican Church in Widnes, a suburb of Liverpool, England.
The additional bells, including the tenor bell, were newly cast at John Taylor Bell Foundry in Leicestershire, England.
Together, the eight bells were tuned into an octave in the key of A Major at Matthew Higby & Co., Holcombe, Bath, England.
Each bell has been named after a saint:
- St Benedict (A) – In tribute to Ron Shepherd OAM, gifted by the Australian and New Zealand Association of Bellringers.
- St Brigid of Ireland ‘Jesu Ngananala’ (G#) – donated by Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, in commemoration of 200 years of Catholic education in the Diocese of Parramatta.
- St Bede the Venerable (F#) – donated by the Keltek Trust.
- St Anne (E) – In loving memory of Anne Vassallo, gifted with love by her family.
- St Charbel (D) – To the Glory of God, donated by Dr Joseph and Yvonne Malouf and Family.
- St Michael the Archangel (C#) – donated by John, Justine, Lorenzo, Joyce and Jeremy Ju and Peter, Priscilla and Patrick Newman.
- St Bernadette (B) – gifted by the Baiada Family.
- St Mary of the Cross MacKillop (Tenor A) – In honour of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan and Mother Marie-Adele Garnier, donated by the Nguyen Phan Family
The final stage in the bell’s lengthy journey to St Patrick’s Cathedral will be their installation in a ‘ring’ in the tower of the Cathedral, accompanying the existing bell named after St Patrick.
Re-watch the Blessing of the Bells of St Patrick’s Cathedral here or below: