Norwich bell CD to benefit restoration of historic bell at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Apr. 22, 2013
The nearly 100-year-old steel bell at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Greeneville was cast in Russia. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
The nearly 100-year-old steel bell at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Greeneville was cast in Russia. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Sales of a CD which features the music of bells from throughout the city will benefit the restoration of a rare century-old steel bell in the belfry of a Greeneville church. “Ring Out Rose City,” compiled by the Friends of the Norwich Bells, includes recordings of a hundred Norwich bells large and small, from the pealing one-ton Meneely bell in the Cathedral of St. Patrick to the tinkly “Customer Satisfaction Bell” at Big Y Supermarket. There’s even a 1860s doorbell from a home on Broadway.

“We went around hunting for bells,” said FNB president Kevin Harkins. “It’s hard to believe but there are a few we didn’t get.” Those include the bell at Central Baptist Church on Centennial Square, which was undergoing restoration until last fall, and the St. Mary Church bell, which currently is not in ringable condition.

Harkins said that the FNB voted in March to use proceeds from the CD to repair some of Norwich’s great bells. The organization picked up steam last summer, when its efforts were instrumental in the casting of a bell to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The bell at St. Nicholas is as old as the church itself, built in 1915. It was cast in Russia during World War II, just a few years before the Russian revolution. “What make it curious is that it’s made of steel,” said the church’s pastor, Father Nicholas Dellermann. He suspects that the more typical bell-casting metals were needed for the war effort, and that this bell was made from structural debris from war-damaged buildings. He is uncertain how much the bell weighs. “It weighs enough to go through the floor. That’s what we’re worried about,” he said.

It’s a tight fit up the hatch into the cramped bell tower where the bell sits. The bell is speckled with corrosion, and the tongue, or external striker, is bent. Dellermann said that probably happened when someone in the past tried to ring the bell by simultaneously striking it and making it swing in its carriage.

Bell experts from Verlin Company in Cincinnati, which cast the Norwich Freedom bell last summer, have estimated that full restoration of the bell would cost about $4,500, said Dellermann. The bell would remain in the steeple while it is removed from its yoke and cleaned of rust and corrosion. Before it is replaced, its carriage would be immobilized and secured and the bent tongue either repaired or replaced, he said.

Despite its condition, the bell is rung with its striker every Sunday to call worshippers to church, and during the reading of the Creed, he said. “In Orthodox tradition, the bell is static and it’s rung by moving the tongue,” he said. “The way the tongue is right now, it’s a little odd for traditional Orthodoxy. My guess is that was done after the problems with the carriage.” Also odd is the fact that the bell seems to carry no inscription or maker’s mark. None of his current parishioners knows anything about the bell’s origin or history, he said.

The St. Nicholas bell does appear on the Ring Out Rose City playlist, along with the church’s thurible bells, sleigh-bell like instruments rung during the liturgy. Also included are trolley bells, railroad bells and the Last Alarm bell rung to honor Taftville firefighters who have died, among many others.

The CD, which costs $15, is currently available for purchase at the Slater Museum, the Leffingwell House Museum and the Otis Library. It can also be purchased through http://www.orgsites.com/ct/friendsofthenorwichbells/.


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