'Lone, Lost And Found' Bell Joins Church Collection, Sparks Mystery

May 4, 2018

On a bright, breezy day in downtown Pittsburgh, the sound of church bells echoed up and down several blocks following a ceremony at Trinity Cathedral Episcopal to celebrate the rededication of their 10 church bells.

The gathered clergy, representing different congregations across Pittsburgh, sang a hymn accompanied by the bells that rang out high above them in the bell tower.

“The bells, as they sound out, not only summon us to worship in this community as they have for well over 100 years, they also send us out into the city,” Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh, said in his opening remarks.

In addition to rededicating the newly renovated bells in the tower, the bishop also blessed a smaller bell that sat on the front steps of the church during the ceremony. The bell was found in Trinity’s basement this past February, and David Schaap, Trinity’s organist and choirmaster, said that the new bell has been “a mystery” for the church.

“We are trying to do research on how it got here, and we really don’t have any records saying if it was donated, if it was purchased, when it came to the cathedral, who donated it, any of that,” Schaap said.

According to Schaap, the bell came from the same foundry as the other ten bells in the tower, but there is some speculation that it could be an old railroad bell.

“There was a cathedral member many years ago who was a Vice President of U.S. Steel and was in charge of all the railroad transport of U.S. Steel products across the country, and perhaps it was a retirement gift for him,” Schaap said. “And what do you do with a several hundred-pound bell? You donate it to a church.”

Bishop McConnell referred to it as the “lone, lost and found” bell in his opening remarks, and expressed his excitement in being able display its blessing for the congregation.

“We are delighted to have it present so we can actually bless something physical, as it represents the bells you can’t see in the tower, and there is something terribly profound and sacramental about that, but I’m not smart enough to figure out what it is,” the bishop joked.

Trinity’s congregation shared in his delight, according to Schaap.

“It’s been a lot of fun, we’ve had it on display in the parish hall so people have been able to take a look at it during coffee hour after church, and it will be on display until such point that we figure out exactly what we’re going to do with that,” he said.

Schaap said that they plan to send recordings of the found bell and the existing bells to a traditional bell foundry, in order to determine whether or not the sound of the new bell will fit in with the others in the bell tower, but there is no specific timeline for how long that may take. Though it would be the smallest bell, it wouldn’t necessarily have the highest pitch, according to Schaap.

The other ten bells were previously out of commission for a year and a half, but were renovated just in time to ring again last Christmas. The oldest bells, four in total, are from 1865. The largest bell weights between three and four thousand pounds.

Schaap said that the bells are programed to play between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and ring every half hour. Every day at half past noon, the bells play a hymn.

“We don’t want to annoy the neighbors, but also this church has been around much longer than the neighbors,” Schaap said of the bells ringing throughout the day. “You can hear them for blocks, and so far the public has said they really enjoy them. People not even connected to the church have complimented the daily chimes and playing of the hymns.”