The Shrine Bells

Pilgrim listeners to Radio 3 early in the morning of May 31st might have been surprised, and certainly would have been delighted, to hear the Shrine’s carillon. This archive photograph of the blessing and baptism of the bells in 1931 was posted by us on the Archives Twitter account shortly afterwards. As news of it spread on social media this brief exposure sparked renewed interest in one of the Shrine’s significant but often overlooked assets. link to Fr Patten’s 1931 photograph album in which this appears The nine bells, made by Gillett & Johnson of Croydon, were blessed and baptised by Bishop O’Rorke, a Founding Guardian, on 10 Oct 1931. After washing the bells with holy water he anointed the outside of each with the Oil of the Sick and the inside with the Oil of Holy Chrism, a practice dating from medieval times. The bell tower (also first known as the bell hanger or campanile) was a temporary structure of wood, erected in 1931 over the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at Station 4 on the Via Dolorosa. The photograph (right) of the bell tower was a postcard of the time. The ivy-clad building on the left was the Refectory (now renamed the Pilgrim Hall). In 1938 the new Shrine Church was built and this area had to be redeveloped to accommodate it. The little chapel had to be demolished, the bells were moved to the Tower in the new church, and Station 4 is at the new smaller chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, as stands now. In Our Lady’s Mirror Autumn 1936 Fr Patten listed the bells and their dedications, as follows: There are nine at present. They were Baptized by Bishop O’Rorke five years ago. Below we give the list and their names. Some day we hope, by gradually adding to these we have at present, to possess a really fine carillon and a great bell which will boom out over the countryside and be heard by the fishermen on the sea off Wells. At present they are heard ringing at Wighton, Snoring and Houghton, and it is now quite the custom for people to mark the time by them and the Morning Angelus acts as an alarm for many in Walsingham. No. 1 S. Patrick, O.P.N. Derrick gave me. In memory, Ann Ayres. R.I.P. MCMXXXI. No. 2 S. Hugh of Lincoln, O.P.N. MCMXXXI No. 3 S. Francis of Assisi, O.P.N. “Praise and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks.” MCMXXXI No. 4 S. Peter, O.P.N. “Rejoice!” William Leeke, Priest. R.I.P. No. 5 Ave Maria, Gratia Plena, O.P.N., etc. Veronica S.S.P. R.I.P MCMXXXI. (This is the bell on which the Angelus is rung.) No. 6 S. Benedictus, A.C., O.P.N. MCMXXXI No. 7 S. Alban, O.P.N. No. 8 S. Andrew, O.P.N. In memory, Alfred Patten, R.I.P. XV. V. MCMXVII No. 9 S. George of England. Pray for Reunion. Constance Ritchie gave me. 1931 In 1964 a tenth bell, S. Thomas O.P.N.*, was added in memory of “Ada Mary” who had died the year before. As Fr Colin Stephenson noted at the time, “The new bell will give more scope to our Carilloner [sic] when he plays each evening.” Two more bells were added later to make up the current twelve. The first official carillonneur was William Frary, one of Fr Patten’s most valued early helpers until his untimely death in 1953. Leonard Whitmore then took on the task until 1982. Gradually the difficulty of access discouraged ringing: the late Fr Stuart Ramsden was the last and bravest to ascend the Tower to ring the bells whenever he came on pilgrimage. There was a complete refit in 2003, and Peter Macken, the then Shrine Organist, programmed over eighty hymn tunes, which cover not only Marian hymns but also seasonal tunes to reflect the Church year. In the ‘short-talk’ (carousel) slot at some Partnership Weekends he demonstrated the intricacies of the mechanism. There is a computer and keyboard in the organ loft, and another computer in the Tower. Hence the bells can now be controlled more comfortably from the organ loft, manually or automatically. Nick Kerrison, the present Shrine Organist, has provided this insight into his working of the carillon, as at the time of writing (July 2020). The system is set to ring: 1.30pm every day - one hymn tune, usually played twice. Wednesday 7.50pm - a selection of hymns prior to the Procession OLW Saturday 7.50pm – ditto Sunday 3.35pm - a selection of hymns prior to the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament. This timetable changes during the months of December to February when the Shrine is closed to pilgrims and there are no processions. The carillon also plays three times in the day of the National Pilgrimage and early in the morning of Christmas Day and Easter Day. Since the lockdown I have set the bells to ring the Angelus (or Regina Coeli in Eastertide) at 12 noon and 6pm prior to the live streaming of Shrine Prayers. I am also playing some appropriate hymns (linking in with the Gospel of the day) prior to the live streamed Mass which is now taking place on a Sunday morning at 9am. Many of us take the sound of the bells for granted, without thinking much about what they play, or when. We would miss their sound if they were not rung during our pilgrimages, although we would probably be hard put to it to explain their purpose and sequences to a visitor. But now we know all about them, and next time you’re at the Shrine, stop and listen for a moment. Although Fr Patten never got his “great bell” to boom out over the countryside, we can give thanks for the smaller ones, especially those nine which have served the Shrine for nearly ninety years. *O.P.N. ora pro nobis pray for us NB To revisit this page at any time, access it via the Select Index tab,under ‘bells’ top of page