The Bells of Saint Peter Cathedral
Heard but not seen
In 1903, the twelve bronze bells of the Cathedral were heard for the first time and have provided dignified sentinels to all moments of Church life for over a century. The bells, known as a chime, were first presented to the congregation and the city of Erie by Bishop John Edmund Fitzmaurice that year.
Cast by the Old Meneely Bell Foundry at Waterviliet, New York, first founded in 1826, the Cathedral’s bells were made of bonze, a metal composed of proportional elements of tin, copper and brass. For the first forty-some years they were played manually, from a keyboard high in the tower, and used for special occasions. In 1927, Bishop John Mark Gannon installed a playing mechanism that would permit the playing of a melody at each of the quarter hours. It was the bishop himself who composed the unique melody still heard today. Unline the Westminster Chime Melody, the Cathedral’s melody has five, not four notes per quarter hour played cumulatively, with the full melody played at the full hour. The melody, copyrighted with the Library of Congress, was first heard on Christmas Day, 1927. A Sister of Saint Joseph who taught at the Cathedral grade school wrote the following words to fit the melody:
Little God of Love, In your sky of blue
Earth is waiting now For a glipse of you.
You will come to us In Your tender way.
Nestle in our hearts On this Christmas Day.
In 1947, the I.F. Verdin company of Cincinnati installed a keyboard that allowed the bells to be struck with electric power. Used rarely, the playing mechanism needed to be updated. In 1994, the VanBergen Company of Cherleston installed new clappers and equipment. Most recently a new playing system using fiber-optics is playing the bells and permits more versatile use with a safer and more dependable mechanism that is capable of retaining and playing up to 20,000 melodies.
The Cathedral’s bells are named and consecrated as follows:
|C natural||Saint Peter||4,500 lbs||62″|
|D natural||Virgin Mary||3,000 lbs||53″|
|E natural||Saint Joseph||2,100 lbs||47″|
|F natural||Saint John||1,800 lbs||45″|
|F sharp||Saint Michael||1,500 lbs||42″|
|G natural||Saint Gabriel||1,250 lbs||39″|
|A natural||Saint Patrick||1,000 lbs||37″|
|B flat||Saint Boniface||800 lbs||34″|
|B natural||Saint Stanislaus||750 lbs||33″|
|C natural||Saint Aloysius||650 lbs||32″|
|D natural||Saint Agnes||450 lbs||28″|
|E natural||Saint Agatha||375 lbs||27″|
If purchased new today, the Cathedral Bells would cost at minimum $250,000 with additional costs for playing equipment. Bishop Fitzmaurice recognized quality!
The great bell, Saint Peter, sounds the hour daily and is the tenor of bourdon for the other bells. It also serves as toller for funerals.
New to our use are bells for the CALL TO WORSHIP, rung five minutes before Mass: Saint Aloysius, Sundays at 7:55, a peal (Saint Aloysius, Saint Patrick, Saint Gabriel) at 9:10 Sundays, and at 10:55 on Sundays. The above peal is augmented for weddings and festive moments with the addition of the Saint Joseph and Saint Peter Bells.
Seasonal melodies are played daily at 12:05 and 5:05 PM. The great Saint Peter bell sounds the Angelus at noon and 6:00 PM.