The thick cobwebs hung like curtains on the walls. Colonies of bats filled the corners of the room like dark shadows. A stark sliver of light ran across the floor, bathing the room in an eerie glow. The air, damp and heavy, stood completely still as if the entire room was holding its breath.
These are the thoughts that ran vividly through our minds as we slowly and carefully ascended the narrow concrete staircase that seemingly went on forever. One foot carefully placed in front of the next as our hearts and imaginations raced with anticipation, finally ending at a small landing barely wide enough to turn around to see the swirling steps disappear behind us. As we stopped to catch what was left of our breath, the door creaked open. Across a small room stood a rickety spiral metal stairway that seemed more like it was suspended from the ceiling than sitting firmly on the ground beneath. With one last laboured inhalation, our curiosity compelled us further upward until we finally found ourselves face to face with a wooden door at the very top. This is what we had come to see. As our eyes locked in one last alacritous moment, we grasped the doorknob and swung the door open.
Thank you so much for joining us again today as we continue one of our very favourite running photo-blog series we call “Christ Church Cathedral“, a part of our larger series “The Anglican Church Project“. Today’s post takes us up,up,up into the clouds as we explore the the bell tower at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. Just about everything we thought we knew about bell towers was turned upside down as we were met by what can only be described as an indescribable scene.
I am convinced that even the most well-learned in our midst would forgive our apparently naive expectation of finding some lovely bells hanging majestically from their tops, ready to sway and ring out melodious notes to the appreciative folks below. So you can well imagine the bewilderment that immediately flooded us as we stood scratching our heads trying desperately to make sense of this large landscape of upside-down bells. It was as if we had jumped off the page of a C.S. Lewis story, straight through Alice’s magical looking glass.
Cast in England in 1935 as there was no foundry in Victoria or its environs, these bells were placed in the tower in crates before its completion. The large steel girders that support the bells were constructed similarly to how ships were built and craned up the massive tower. An impressive amount of engineering, even by today’s standards, went into creating the pulley system. Placing the bells upside-down cleverly exploits the centre of gravity and allows the heavy bells to swing with relatively little effort by pulling the ropes that hang in the ringing chamber on the level beneath. Described to us as “Victoria’s first truly heavy metal band”, this formidable set of bells weighs in at about ten thousand pounds and sits proudly approximately a hundred and twenty feet above the bustling city streets below.
The original eight bells, replicas of those at Westminster Abbey, were dedicated in 1936 and two more bells were added in 1983 in the presence of the Queen and Prince Philip to bring the total to ten.
The colourful red paint on the end of the clappers does much more than simply making them festive. The rough paint holds a leather covering called a muffle in place, which when rung gives the bells the characteristic “bing, bing, bing, bong, bong, bong” effect that produces the beautiful cascading melody we are all familiar with.
Becoming an accomplished bell ringer is a long labour of love. It takes years to perfect with countless hours of practice and patience required. We were utterly amazed to learn that to play a complete song or “peal” takes upwards of three consecutive hours with no two lines being the same until the final one.
If you are up to the task however, great reward comes in the form of one of these beautiful plaques awarded to those who, through sheer determination and pure joy, manage to complete an entire peal.
I guess I never fully appreciated the concerted effort that goes into creating those hauntingly beautiful sounds that stop me in my tracks every Sunday morning in a moment akin to smelling that proverbial rose. Who ever would have guessed that it’s some wonderfully talented folks and their upside-down bells?
Thank you ever so much for coming along on our bell tower adventure! This was truly one of our very favourite places to explore and learn about. For those of you who would like to know more about the bell tower and other hidden treasures at Christ Church Cathedral, please visit their website here.
We will be bringing you many more amazing stories about this very special place so please do stay tuned! And of course, please do leave your wonderful comments and stories for us to share. We really do love to hear from you!
Until next time!