If you were walking past Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) in St. John’s during this week in January of 1906 you might have been curious enough to approach the steps of the church to take a close look at the Joy Bells that sat on the steps of the Cathedral awaiting shipment to Ireland. They were being sent to the famous Murphy foundry on James Street, Dublin, where they were originally cast.
The bells in their day were considered some of the best in the new world.
The bell known as “St. John” built in 1850 was the largest ever cast in Ireland at that time, and won a Gold Medal at the Dublin Exhibition of Irish Manufacturers. The bell, a massive piece, weighs nearly two tons. Upon its arrival in St. John’s in February, 1851, it was hauled by hand to the Basilica, and installed in the East Tower.
The bells sitting on the steps of the Cathedral in January 1906 were made by Murphy, the celebrated Bell maker at Dublin in 1854.
In the tradition of the Catholic Church each of the bells was christened and named before being installed. In addition to having its own name each bell when originally installed had its own sound or personality.
The bells are:
Mary – 1854 – octave D
Patrick – 1854 -octave E
Bonaventure – 1863 – F sharp
Matthew – 1906
Anthony – 1906
Francis – 1906
James – 1906
These five bells completed the peal, viz.: G A B C (sharp) and D (octave)
Following their installation in 1906 the bells rang without interruption until 1988 at which time the cluster of bells was removed from the west tower of the Basilica because of structural weakness in the tower. The bells were placed in storage on site at the Basilica Cathedral. Following years of silence, the bells were again re-installed ringing out on (June 9, 2009) at noon, the first time in over twenty years.
Today you can hear the bells being rung on special “feast days” or special occasions like a wedding. The largest bell “St. John” rings at noon every day.
Recommended Reading: Tour of the Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s: http://www.thebasilica.ca/index.cfm?load=page&page=186
Recommended Website: After 21 years, the bells have been reinstalled in the bell tower of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n-ht7bQ8zA