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A joyful noise: Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral welcomes the bells of the carillon

12-13-2016

It’s a familiar sound. Church bells ring, and the faithful hasten their steps and approach church. A simple chime they have heard before – and will hear again – serves as their call to Mass.

It’s a scene that’s sure to happen at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral after its dedication in 2017. Recently the arrival and blessing of bells marked a joyful and significant step toward calling the faithful to worship.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge recently blessed 10 of the 50 bells which will perch high above the city of Raleigh in the cathedral’s bell tower. The blessing took place in a simple parking lot at the construction site. The bronze-cast bells sat securely fastened to the truck that transported them to Raleigh from Verdin Bells & Clocks in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Five of the bells were inscribed with the names and mottos of the five bishops of the Diocese of Raleigh. The smallest bell was inscribed with Bishop Burbidge’s name and motto.

“My motto is ‘walk humbly with God,’ so they had to give me the smallest bell,” Bishop Burbidge joked after presiding over the blessing.

A day marked by generosity

Several months before this blessing, Debbie Gordon was admiring a model of the new cathedral with Father Mark Reamer in the lobby of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh when she noticed that something seemed to be missing.

“I asked where the bells were going to be,” Mrs. Gordon said. Father Reamer explained that the sound of bells would likely be electronically automated.

“That the cathedral wouldn’t have real bells haunted me,” Mrs. Gordon said. After much prayer and a meeting with Bishop Burbidge, she and her husband, Joseph, decided to provide the gift of a carillon, a musical instrument that plays a commissioned set of bells.

“It is just an honor to share in this opportunity to remind people that the healing presence of God is with us all the time,” Mrs. Gordon said.

The other five bells at the blessing were inscribed with Scripture passages that Dr. and Mrs. Gordon dedicated to their families. For their parents, a bell was inscribed “The greatest of these is love,” from 1 Corinthians. 

Mrs. Gordon’s parents, Ben and Barbara Kapp, were present at the blessing. For them, it was a day they would never forget, and one they could not have imagined.

“I came in here in 1950 on a football scholarship to N.C. State. At the time, there were 1,100 Catholics in Raleigh, and over 400 of those were from the college.” Mr. Kapp said. Looking in awe at the structure of the cathedral, he added, “I never thought anything like this could ever exist here.”

A tradition of calling the sacred to mind

Tim Verdin, plant manager of Verdin Bells & Clocks, said this project has been a great honor in his life.

“We do a lot of work with the Church across the country and all over the world,” Mr. Verdin said. “To have a chance to work with any cathedral is special, but to be involved in a new cathedral, especially one like this, I’ve told Monsignor [Brockman] a thousand times, this is our honor to be chosen and to be able to do this.”

His family’s trade – of which he represents the sixth generation involved – has given him special insight to the role that bells play for people.

“Bells are the voice … they can be heard even when the church [building] can’t be seen. We hear stories all the time about what hearing church bells has meant to people in their lives. [For example,] ‘I was in the hospital and I could hear the bells from two blocks away, and it gave me hope and faith that there was something bigger than my illness,’” Mr. Verdin said.

Bishop Burbidge echoed Mr. Verdin’s thoughts and added that bells play to our physical senses. “We are not only spirit, we are body and spirit, and our body has senses. The bells call to those senses. They call our minds to be attentive to the sacred,” Bishop Burbidge said. 

This is, in large part, why Dr. and Mrs. Gordon felt compelled to make the gift. “These bells will chime, and it will be a constant reminder that with us always is the presence of the Holy Spirit and the healing presence of God,” Mrs. Gordon said.

The carillon of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

The bell tower will hold 50 bells. Forty-nine are the new, bronze-cast, commissioned bells. One special, older bell is historic and links the past to the present. That bell belonged to Holy Name of Jesus Chapel, which once stood on the same property where the new cathedral is being built.

Two octaves, or 23 tuned bells, are required for an instrument to be considered a carillon. Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will have four octaves, which makes it a concert carillon and, according to Mr. Verdin, “in the upper echelon of the biggest carillons in the country.”

Each bell represents a note on the musical scale, and each bell can be played in three ways. 

The first way is by a carillonneur, who sits in a small room just below the bell tower and plays the organ-like instrument with baton-like keys, which are mechanically connected to the bells above.

The second way is through a midi note, five-octave keyboard that resembles a piano. Retro-fitted to include pistons, this piano connects to the main carillon console. When someone plays the keyboard, the console’s baton keys move similar to a player-piano.

A third way is to allow the carillon to play through pre-programmed automation. In this instance, a computer is connected to the console that will allow for any music to be programmed and played according to a schedule. This program can be connected remotely, allowing for changes in programming from anywhere at any time.

A look at technique

Made of 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin, the bells were created in sand molds that could only be used one time. Each sand cast is individually made with the size of the bell – as well as any inscription – in mind. The inscription is made with wax and inserted into the sand mixture mold. Once the mold is set, the wax is either peeled or melted out. That leaves the exact mirror image of the inscription in the sand so that when the bronze is poured in, it fills the cavity left behind and the bell is completely cast and inscribed in one piece.

The bells are tuned with a precision machine that methodically removes circles of metal from inside the bell until the note is true. “It’s an incredibly intense process, and there’s probably less than half a dozen people in the world who know how to tune bells. It’s an art form that takes half a lifetime to learn,” Mr. Verdin said.

Once fully installed, only four bells of the carillon will actually be on hinges and swing. Those bells have traditional clappers in them that swing back and forth with the movement of the bells. The clappers within the other bells stay very close to the side of the bell and are activated mechanically through automation or playing of the instrument. 

The four swinging bells will also be connected to a wireless remote control, which would allow a celebrant to push a button and ring bells as Mass ends.

The bells are scheduled to be installed in the bell tower in the beginning of 2017.

For the faithful, there are endless possibilities for the bells. From Christmas music ringing over Raleigh to Ave Maria announcing love for Mary, the music of these bells will be a constant reminder of generosity, love and the sacred presence of God.

5 bells, 5 mottos

Five of the bells of Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral carry the names and mottos of the bishops who served the Diocese of Raleigh.

“Emitte Spiritum Tuum” (Send forth thy spirit) – Most Reverend William J. Hafey (served 1925-1937)

“Omnia Omnibus” (All things to all men, from 1 Corinthians 9:22) – Most Reverend Eugene J. McGuinness (1937-1944)

“Omnia Per Mariam” (All through Mary) – Most Reverend Vincent S. Waters (1945-1974)

“To serve, not be served” – Most Reverend F. Joseph Gossman (1975-2006)

“Walk humbly with God” – Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge (2006-2016)

- Article by Mandy Howard