The "Joseph" and "Mary" bells have summoned Salt Lake area parishioners to pray, tolled at funerals and rung out to celebrate the end of wars, since about 1919. But the bells at the Cathedral of the Madeleine will soon be silent for a time.
Located 185 feet above east South Temple in the west tower of the 82-year-old cathedral, the bells will be taken down in the next few months.The bells, which are rung by cathedral sexton Jan Scholte, will be stored while seismic and other restoration work proceeds on the cathedral. Then the huge bells, which were cast at the Maryland Brass Foundry in 1917 and later blessed and named before being placed in the cathedral tower, will be cleaned, retuned and reinstalled in the tower.
"The mechanism we use now to ring them is in pretty bad shape. When they are reinstalled they will be located in a whole new home," said Greg Glenn, director of music at the cathedral.
Services are not being held in the cathedral until the restoration project is completed. However, Mass is regularly held at nearby Lowell Elementary School.
Agnes Johnson, who has been a member of the cathedral parish for nearly 52 years, says she will miss the sound of the bells.
"I really enjoy them. It's like a summons to stop and pray. I live about a half mile north of the cathedral. When the wind is blowing my way I can hear the bells. It is a wonderful thing. I can also tell when there is a funeral because the bells toll. When there's some happy occasion, the bells ring out joyously," Johnson said.
"You can tell (what the occasion is) by the way they are ringing. It is as though the bells are speaking to you," said Johnson, who will turn 89 on Easter Sunday, March 31.
The larger bell, named Joseph, weighs 2,650 pounds and measures 491/2 inches in diameter. It has a fundamental pitch of E. The 1,300-pound Mary bell is 39 inches in diameter and rings at a pitch of G-sharp.
Each bell is engraved with an inscription in Latin. Translated, the message on the Joseph bell reads: "The thunderbolts I scatter; I ring in the Sabbath; I hustle the sluggards; I drive away storms; I proclaim peace after bloodshed."
The bells signal important liturgical services at the cathedral, ringing prior to Mass, for funerals and the Angelus, a special prayer that dates back to medieval times.
Glenn, who is the organist and choirmaster at the cathedral, said the Joseph bell is usually rung for the Angelus at sunrise, noon and 6 p.m. The bell is struck three times with a clapper before the prayer, the "Hail Mary," is said. The bell is then struck three times again for a second and third time, before ringing continuously in deep, warm tones.
"It is a marvelous thing when a bell tolls, but there is a certain sense of being unfulfilled. You are anticipating when the bells will actually swing and you'll hear them in all their glory," Glenn said.
The bells were installed during the administration of Joseph S. Glass, second bishop of the diocese, and were rung at his funeral in 1926 and the funerals of many other Catholic leaders through the years.
Bernice M. Mooney, archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, says she remembers the bells being rung on VJ Day after World War II ended. The bells also were rung recently when the major conflict ended in the Middle East.
Mooney, whose book, "The Story of the Cathedral of the Madeleine," contains information on the bells, says she also remembers when the bells were rung for her own father's funeral in November 1939, at the cathedral.
"I was a very young girl. As we walked out of the cathedral the silence was pierced with the sad, somber tolling of the bells. It seemed full of sorrow and, suddenly, death seemed so final. Whenever I've attended funerals since then I've felt again that terrible loneliness when the bells toll as the funeral procession enters and leaves the cathedral," she said.
But during three of the Catholic Church's holiest days, the bells are not rung. They are Holy Thursday, which falls on March 28 this year; Good Friday, which will be March 29; and Holy Saturday, March 30. On the evening of Holy Saturday, the night before Easter Sunday, Catholics hold their most important service of the year.
During the singing of the "Gloria" on this night, the bells ring out again for the first time.
"The service on Saturday night is accompanied by a long vigil, a time of waiting for the announcement of the resurrection. The sound of the bells causes a reawakening. So in a sense, the bells kind of accompany the announcement of the resurrection of Christ," Glenn added.
When the Cathedral of the Madeleine bells are rehung, Catholic Church leaders are hoping that perhaps a third bell can be hung in the tower.
Originally, the two bells and other needed equipment to ring them were purchased for approximately $2,600 each.
But a new bell today would cost approximately $20,000.
"That's money we'd like to have but don't," Glenn said.