The daily bell toll out of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, alerts the faithful to prayer and Mass, and for others, it signals the beginning of lunchtime.
But the bell in St Patrick’s Cathedral will soon be blessed with eight new friends to form a new peal of bells that has been 165 years in the making.
The new additions, ranging in weight from 150 to 450 kilograms, will be installed in a ‘ring’ in the tower of the historic Cathedral.
Six of the bells are over 100 years old and were sourced from St Paul’s Anglican Church in Widnes, a suburb of Liverpool in England.
An additional two 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.
The blessing and subsequent installation of the bells will be a crowning moment in the reconstructed life of St Patrick’s Cathedral after the devastating fire of 19 February 1996, saw it destroyed and then rebuilt in a striking modern design by architect Romaldo Giurgola. The new Cathedral, incorporating part of the old sandstone church, was dedicated in 2003.
Talk of raising a set of bells in St Patrick’s dates to 1853, when the second St Patrick’s church was remodelled to accommodate 600 parishioners, twice as many as the first church. Local parishioners were charmed when Dean Coffey OFM unveiled plans for a new church described “as being of purely Gothic architecture that embraced a noble spire crowning the tower, in which a sonorous chime of sweet-toned bells would enliven with many a peal the inhabitants of Parramatta.”
But this enlarged church would never realise its peal of bells. Although the building was consecrated in 1854, it was not until 1878 that Archbishop Roger Vaughan, second Archbishop of Sydney, laid the foundation stone for the tower and spire.
The next reference to bells occurred in 1886, at a dinner party attended by Cardinal Patrick Moran and Archdeacon of Sydney and parish priest of Parramatta Monsignor John Rigney. Several Catholic laymen volunteered to pay for four bells, however nothing more came of the proposal.
By 1904, a single bell named after St Patrick was hung in the spire to commemorate Monsignor Rigney, who was parish priest of Parramatta from 1874 to 1889.
The bell was commissioned from Matthew O’Byrne Foundation Head Bell Foundry, Dublin, and was pronounced “one of the best of its size ever turned out of this foundry,” measuring 4ft 9in in height with a diameter of 3 ft 9 in, and weighing 17 cwt 2 gr 2lbs (which totals over 864kg).
In November 1904, “Patrick” was blessed by Archbishop Michael Kelly, fourth Archbishop of Sydney, in the grounds of the presbytery where it was temporarily housed.
The ceremony of the benediction or baptising of the bell was in accordance with the solemn rite prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church. The bell was washed in holy water, anointed with the holy oils and marked with the sign of the cross seven times externally and internally.
“The bell was hung on its mounting so that it could be rung at the conclusion of the ceremony. Rev Father T O’Reilly grasped the chain attached to the great wheel of the bell and rang it vigorously for some time. His example was followed by several of the parishioners who took the opportunity of being amongst the first to ring the new bell,” as reported in the Cumberland Argus and Fruit Growers Advocate on 17 November 1904.
Early in 1904 “Patrick” was installed in the tower and remained in place for 92 years until the fire of 1996 destroyed the sandstone Cathedral-Church. Stranded in the charred ruins of the tower, the bell was removed for storage, cleaning and conservation.
After the completion of the new Cathedral, the large bell was once again hung in the spire. At noon each day “Patrick” calls the faithful to prayer when he rings out with The Angelus. The bell’s solitary toll will soon be joined by eight ‘singing’ bells.
The peal of bells will be a glorious musical addition to St Patrick’s Cathedral, the cradle of Catholicism. Once hung, they will be rung down a scale in “rounds”, one after another. These preordained changes, memorised by bellringers, are known as “methods”. The methods progress from rounds and back again with none of the changes in between being repeated – that is, the bells are never rung in the same order.
The peal of bells will bring new dimension to the Cathedral precinct, calling us to the sacraments, to worship and in glory to God.
With the continued generosity and support of our community, the Diocese of Parramatta hope to install the Bells of St Patrick’s into the Cathedral bell tower in the near future. Each bell will be blessed, consecrated and christened during a future dedication ceremony.
The chime of Church bells invites us to pause and reflect, reminding us of God’s presence and the intrinsic roles that our faith and the Church play in our lives. The sound of bells stirs emotions, memories and spirituality; expressing the sentiments of sorrow, joy and hope; and touching the hearts and souls of our community.
We are thankful for the support of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, the Keltek Trust, the Malouf Family and the North Eastern Branch of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Bellringers who have most generously donated a bell to St Patrick’s Cathedral.
We are still seeking sponsorship of four bells to complete our peal of eight changing-ring bells.
For more information about fundraising efforts for the Peal of Bells, please visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/bellsappeal/
Information sourced from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, St Pat’s Matters, local historian June Barrett and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Bell Ringers.