The voice of the big bell Tuba Dei can be heared on
and on other special occasions...
Since 24 June 2002 the tower is open for tourists. You are welcome to see Tuba Dei - the biggest medieval bell in this part of Europe (cast in 1500, 7500 kg heavy and 2.14 m wide of diameter), and the other bells as well as beautiful view of the old town from the top - 46 meters high!
We also recommend you to read the book entitled:
collective work edited by
by bishop Andrzej Suski
by T. Jaworski, M. Nasieniewski, K. Przegiętka
I. The bells of medieval Toruń,
by Waldemar Rozynkowski
II. Bells in the Town Hall of
by Katarzyna Kluczwajd
III. The bells of Chełmno and
their importance in the life of the town, by Anna Soborska-Zielińska
IV. Musical aspects of bells,
by Rev. Mariusz Klimek
V. “Vivos voco, mortuos
plango, fulgura frango” – an essay on bells, by Marek Grzegorz Zieliński
VI. On old and modern bell
by Bogumiła Felczyńska
The sad fate of Tuba Dei’s companions during the Nazi occupation
recalled by the witness of those times,
by Zdzisław Klemp
VIII. The bells of the Old and
the New Town of Toruń - their present state of preservation,
by Tomasz Jaworski, Marek Nasieniewski, Krzysztof Przegiętka
For Whom the Bell Tolls,
by Adam Paczuski (The article published by The Warsaw Voice after the symposium organized by bell-ringers of Tuba Dei on November 25th, 2000)
The bell Tuba Dei undoubtedly
belongs to the most precious monuments in Toruń. It was cast for the oldest
church in town in 1500 “to the glory of God as well as St John the Baptist and
St John the Evangelist“, the patrons of the parish church where Nicolaus
Copernicus was baptized.
This is the biggest medieval bell in Poland,
twenty years older than the Zygmunt bell
in Cracow and it is easy to imagine what historical events it accompanied. Its
majestic toll often welcomed the kings of Poland to Toruń, greeted General
Haller’s army, proclaimed the choice of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as Pope,
announced the arrival of Pope John Paul II to the town of Nicolaus Copernicus as
well as the establishment of the Toruń diocese and raising St John’s Basilica
to the status of a cathedral church.
The Toruń community received with great
joy the initiative of the ringers from St John’s cathedral, who are ardent
lovers of Tuba Dei and organized a symposium at the 500th anniversary of
this bell’s existence. We should also express our gratitude to the organizers
for editing the materials of the symposium.
+ Andrzej Suski
Bishop of Toruń
Toruń, 4 July, 2001
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Bells are special products of human hands. They are
usually closed in towers high above our heads and out of the reach of human
eyesight. Only the peal of bells reaching our ears betrays their existence. If
this sound manages to attract our attention even for a short while, it creates a
special atmosphere at that moment and distinguishes it from the silence.
Therefore, the sound of pealing bells does not only emphasize more or less
important events. In their sound, we can always hear the gentle but incessant
passing of time.
Bells are not very suitable for
the contemporary lifestyle, because they remind us of the inevitability of the
passage of time. Perhaps, that is the reason why we rarely reflect on their
significance for our culture, their fate, the way they are cast and the way in
which they utter sound. Usually, we do not know the appearance of the bells
which we hear every day. We do not even imagine the perspective from which they
accompany us – tiny beings bustling around at the bottom of their slender
seats. They often linger there for hundreds of years and they wake up only for a
few moments in the unchanging rhythm of passing days, church services and
saint's days. What changes is only the birds visiting them every day as well as
people who come to visit them climbing the winding and steep stairs.
Only some bells evoke our stronger emotions. These are usually the most
famous and the biggest bells, which occupy a special place in history. Their
enormous size and the force of their sound evoke admiration and respect for
their founders. It is big bells that emphasize the rank of important religious
and national celebrations. They proclaim momentous events and greet eminent
guests. Such bells usually become important symbols of great ideas and sometimes
they develop into legends. Fiction often becomes tangled with facts to such an
extent that we sometimes cannot distinguish between what is true and what is a
The great Tuba Dei hanging in the tower of St John’s
Cathedral in Toruń occupies a special place among Polish bells. This is the
biggest medieval bell in Poland. This bell can be compared to the famous
Romanesque Gniezno Doors dating back to the 12th century and to the
Renaissance bell Zygmunt from the Wawel Hill in Cracow cast in 1520.
However, relatively few people in Poland know about Tuba Dei and even in
Toruń its presence is still not appreciated enough. September, 2000 marked the
500th anniversary of the creation of this masterpiece of European bell founding.
In order to celebrate this anniversary and to emphasize the importance of its
presence, the bell-ringers of Tuba Dei organized a symposium which
resulted in this publication.
Here we would like to thank those who introduced us into the fascinating
atmosphere of Tuba Dei eleven years ago. We would like to extend our
thanks to the then parish-priest Rev. Zdzisław Wyrowiński, who allowed us to
fulfill the honourable function of bell-ringers as well as our first guide to
the tower and an expert in the secrets St John’s Cathedral – Mr Tadeusz
Nogalski. We appreciate the contribution of all our predecessors who took good
care of the bell during the last few centuries including the former group of
bell-ringers lead by Mr Ryszard Grzywiński. We are also grateful to Mr Adam
Bujak, a famous Cracow photographer, who was the first to pay attention to the
greatness, rank and austere beauty of Tuba Dei and presented it in his albums.
The following facts testify to the rank of Tuba Dei. First of all,
Tuba Dei is a great bell as far as its size is concerned. It is
2.27 meters in diameter and weighs about 7.5 tons. It is still the biggest
gothic bell not only in Poland, but also in Central Europe. In addition, this
bell is also a great work as far as its quality is concerned. It is a very
precise musical instrument, which continues to peal in a full polytonal voice
after 500 years. In addition to its basic tone, we can clearly hear five aliquot
tones. It should be mentioned that contemporary foundries guarantee such a
harmonic arrangement for only 25 years. It is important that this bell was cast
in Toruń by a local founder Marcin Szmidt. It testifies to the highest level of
skills of the craftsmen active in this region. It also proves that the
townspeople of Toruń had high cultural awareness and European ambitions as well
as considerable wealth.
It is difficult to give a full and honest description of old bells
because it is not easy to grasp all the aspects connected with them. First,
bells are peculiar musical instruments belonging to the group of so-called
idiophones. Second, bells are cast. Their durability and quality are strictly
connected with the kind of material used and the technological level of a given
foundry. Third, bells are works of art, whose shape and ornaments are connected
with the style and artistic trends of the period in which they were created.
Finally, bells are historical objects, which function in a particular way in the
religious and cultural life of a given community.
In order to be considered as an expert of old bells, one should have
extensive knowledge in such areas as music, bell founding, history and history
of art. Therefore, the bell-ringers of Tuba Dei invited experts in
different areas of science, art and craft to take part in the symposium
organized on November 25th, 2000. The meeting resulted in this interdisciplinary
publication, which is also intended for the general public. We hope that it will
acquaint the reader with the secrets of old bells, especially those from Toruń
Jaworski, Marek Nasieniewski i Krzysztof Przegiętka
The bell-ringers of Tuba Dei
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by Waldemar Rozynkowski
Bells were often plundered during military invasions and they were
treated like other spoils of war. In modern times, bells were also plundered
because of the value of the metal they were made of. They were often recast into
cannons during war-time. The oldest bells preserved in Poland date back to 14th
The first information about the bells of Toruń can be found in the
sources from the beginning of the 14th century. The church of St John had three large bells until the end of the 15th century and there were
about a dozen fair-sized bells within the boundaries of both towns (the Old Town
and the New Town).
Tuba Dei, cast at the turn of the Middle Ages and modern times
(1500), remains the biggest bell in Toruń. The decision to
cast it was probably taken because of religious reasons and reasons of prestige.
Toruń was one of the richest towns in Poland and it could afford to accomplish
such a big undertaking. In addition, the Church celebrated the whole anniversary
of the birth of Christ and the next jubilee year in 1500. There were also
fair-sized bells in the tower of the parish church of St James in
the New Town of Toruń. One of them dated back to the middle of the 15th century
and the other to the beginning of the 17th century. Unfortunately, both were
plundered by the Swedish troops in 1703.
Bells performed different sacral and secular functions in a medieval
town. The sound of a bell announced the most important parts of the Mass and
called for the Angelus. In the first half of the 15th century, the bells of Toruń
often tolled “pro pace”. Their
chime was to call on people to say the Lord’s Prayer and the “Hail Mary”
The bells in medieval Toruń also performed
important secular functions. Special bells signalled the sunrise, the time of
fire extinguishing, the working and the resting hours. The toll of a bell in the
evening (at 21:00 in the summer) signalled the dead hours. In 1402, the Town
Council decided that its members should gather when they heard the chime of a
bell. Those who did not abide by this rule were liable to fines. The Town Hall
bells announced the election of new town authorities. Besides, their tolling
announced the time of a fair and called the townspeople to arms. Bells also
sounded the alarm or joyfully greeted noble
guests entering the town.
the author: Waldemar Rozynkowski, PhD
is a lecturer in the Department of Medieval History at the Institute of History
and Science of Archive Administration of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in
Toruń. He studies the issues connected
with the history of the Church in medieval Poland, the changes in the
religious life and the Church in the state of the Teutonic Knights.
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by Katarzyna Kluczwajd
The presented information refers to modern bells
cast by the famous bell founders Daniel Tym (one bell) and Michael Wittwerck
(three bells). They are still preserved in the tower of the Toruń Town Hall.
Daniel Tym (Thieme) was
initially active as an itinerant bell founder. Then, he was active in Gdańsk
and finally he was appointed as head of the royal bell foundry in Warsaw founded
in 1634. The foundry made cannons, bells and utensils for customers including
those from the regions distant from the capital. Tym was charged with making
plaques with inscriptions and the statue of King Sigismund III, which was later
placed on the column in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
Michael Wittwerck, a
representative of the famous family of bell founders, which began its activity
in Gdańsk at the beginning of the 17th century, obtained the title of master
craftsman in 1700 after a period of apprenticeship at his father’s foundry,
which he took over six years later. He
was the author of the largest number of works among the Gdańsk bell founders
from the modern period. Interestingly enough, he also busied himself with
activities of other kind, namely with water engineering works (designs of
water-supply systems for Gdańsk).
It should be underlined
that the history of two of the four bells described below is peculiar because it
is closely connected with the history of religious relations in the 18th century
Toruń. These bells, one produced by Daniel Tym in 1648 and the other produced by Michael Wittwerck in 1729, were transferred to the Town Hall from the old-town
evangelical church after the events connected with the so-called Toruń
turmoil in 1724. As a result of the turmoil, the Lutherans had to leave all
the post-catholic churches and they had to let the Catholics enter the municipal
authorities. It is interesting to note that the bells continued to fulfill their
original liturgical functions in the new place. They were the property of the
old-town evangelical parish until 1899 when the tower of the evangelical church
near the Old Market was built and the bells were purchased by the municipality.
spite of the considerable difference in the time of their casting, both bells
have tulip shaped bowls, which have proportions characteristic of the 17th
century products, i.e. the bottom diameter approximating the height of the bell.
The proportions, the composition of the decoration and the size allow us to
draw a cautious conclusion that the Wittwerck bell may have been cast following
the design of the earlier bell from 1648.
The rich adornment of the Tym bell
testifies to the high skills of the master. Special attention should be paid to
the precise modeling of the plaque depicting Christ Resurrected, John the
Baptist – the patron of the Old Town of Toruń, the Virgin Mary with the Child
on her hand as well as the medallion with an emblem and the inscription MIT/
GOTES HÜLFE/ .GOS MICH./ D.AN/ 16../ TIEM.
The bell cast by Michael
Wittwerck in 1729 is
adorned among others with a quotation from Psalm 112 for which the master had a
special predilection: SIT NOMEN DOMINI
BENEDICTUM ANNO 1729, with a medallion from the emblem of Toruń
supported by an angel and with the signature of the master: DIVINO/
AVXILIO FVDIT/ .ME.MICHAEL/ WITTWERCK/ GEDANI, analogous to those in his
clock bells - described below.
following bells were commissioned by the Town Council especially for the Town
Hall tower: the big hour bell and the small quarter of an hour’s
bell. They made part of the tower clock, which was placed there in
1728. They were cast by Michael Wittwerck in 1728 and at the turn of 1728 and
1729 respectively. The loose translation of the texts written on the
bells is the following: the hour bell – THE
FREELY TOLLING BELL WAS ANNIHILATED BY AN AWFUL SWEDISH FIRE (1703).
NOW IS THE TIME FOR THE VOICE LIVING IN IT TO SOUND AGAIN (1728). REMEMBER THAT
YOU WILL DIE; the
quarter of an hour’s bell –
THE TOWN COUNCIL RESTORED IT IN A VERY SHORT TIME.
Both bells represent the
so-called dulcimer type because the bowl, motionless during the ringing, was
struck be a hammer. The bowls of both bells are tulip shaped and they have the
proportions characteristic of the 18th century products, i.e. the bottom
diameter bigger then the height.
The Wittwerck bells of
Toruń are unique because the documents connected with their commissioning have
been preserved. They are also unique because of their secular character. It is
known that Wittwerck cast bells for sacral buildings in the first place.
About the author: Katarzyna Kluczwajd, M.A. is a historian of art and custodian in the Regional Museum in Toruń. She works at the Town Hall in Toruń, where she occupies herself with the artistic craft section.
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by Anna Soborska-Zielińska
Now as in the past, the peal of a bell notifies people
of important events, adds the festive character to all kind of celebrations,
warns against danger, measures time and bids farewell to the dead. In bigger
towns, which had many churches and public buildings, bells fulfilled many more
functions than in other smaller urban centres. Chełmno can serve
as a good example here. Nowadays, it’s a little town with about 21,000
inhabitants, but in the past it was an important centre of religious and social
life. The war-time sequestration, both during the First and the Second World
War, stripped the town of its most valuable bells. Now, the town hall bell is
one of the oldest ones. It probably dates back to 1590, when the Toruń
watch-maker Grzegorz Wilhelm was commissioned to make a clock with an hour
striking mechanism after the Renaissance reconstruction of the Town Hall. There
were also other bells like the so-called council bell, which summoned the
councillors and the bell called Bierglocke,
which announced the closing of the gates for the night.
The churches of Chełmno used to have beautiful bells. The Vincent bell dating back to 1730 gained
the biggest fame. It was commissioned by the missionary priests for the parish
church on the occasion of St Vincent de Paul’s beatification.
The history of the medieval bell Thornan from the cathedral in Uppsala has not been
explained so far. It was taken away from Toruń in 1703 by the Swedish troops. It is interesting to note that there is a picture of the Chełmno
Town Council seal on its casing. The bell cast in 1724 is the most interesting
one due to its ellipsoidal shape. It was commissioned to the Toruń
foundry of Fryderyk Beck for the chapel in the Grudziądz Gate.
Smaller bells could be found in
schools. They have gone out of use by now and most of them have been liquidated.
Now, there is only one small iron bell in an interesting Secession setting in
the corridor of the Complex of Vocational Schools.
The peal of bells has filled
people with joy or sorrow for ages. Nowadays, it also reminds us of what is
important but elusive, although it is more and more difficult to pick it up from
the turmoil we live in.
About the author: Anna Soborska-Zielińska, M.A. is an archaeologist in the Museum of the Chełmno Region. She is interested in the history of Chełmno, especially in the 19th century and between the two world wars.
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by Mariusz Klimek
Bells are musical instruments.
They have their own key and tone. For centuries they have been made to chime by
human hand, often by the hand of an artist. It is a difficult task and not
everyone can get the most beautiful sounds out of them. Someone has said that
“the melody of their chime has often mirrored the soul of the man setting them
in motion”. Indeed, bells like all instruments producing natural sound need an
Within the family of musical
instruments bells should be categorized as idiophones. There are idiophones
consisting of one or two elements at most. Among them, we distinguish plate
idiophones, which include gongs and vessel idiophones, which include bells. The
main difference between a gong and a bell is that when struck a gong vibrates in
the centre while a bell only vibrates near the rim.
Bells occur as hollow instruments
or instruments supplied with a heart. Bells of the first kind fall into pendant
and supported ones and bells of the second kind fall into hanging and manual
ones. It is easy to become convinced that the variety of shapes is considerable
here. A strongly-bent tulip shaped plate is the best-known one. A
bell like that includes the following major elements starting from the bottom
upwards (Fig.IV.1): the bottom edge, the rim, the casing, the upper edge, the
helmet and the crown. The heart is inside.
The sound of a bell has its own
characteristic structure. There is the striking (main) tone and the upper
aliquot tones (harmonically higher): a quint, an octave, a decima, etc, and
non-harmonic constituent tones. The bell as an instrument produces a peculiar
sound, because its constituent tones do not mingle into a strictly specified
tone, but they are audible separately as the major chord, for example. The high
quality of the instrument sound depends on their harmony.
The attempts to mechanize the
technique of playing the instrument and to construct fully automatic musical
instruments led to the birth of mechanical instruments or autophones. They are
equipped with a rotating cylinder with spikes, with perforated discs or paper
bands, which are a peculiar kind of musical notation. A suitable combination of
this method of recording with a mechanism consisting of simple levers or
draw-gears makes it possible to get sounds out of the instrument automatically
and to obtain quite a faithful reproduction of a given composition.
The first autophones appeared in
the 13th century as sets of bells – so-called carillons
which could be combined with the mechanism of tower clocks. For example,
it was virtually impossible to find a town in Holland with a church or town hall
tower without such a mechanism. However, from the musical point of view they did
not matter much until the 16th century when carillons started to be set in
motion not automatically, but by means of a keyboard.
There are also bells which are
musical instruments in the strict sense of the word. They are used in symphony
orchestras. It is impossible to use church bells in an orchestra considering
their size, weight and cost. In spite of that, we find variously tuned bells in
orchestra scores, especially in musical and scenic works. Sometimes we find
several bells in the same work (for example, R. Wagner used four bells in
“Parsifal”: c, G, A, E).
For that reason, bells are replaced with instruments producing sounds similar to
About the author: The Reverend Mariusz Klimek, PhD, is musicologist, in charge of the Toruń Church Choir “Tibi Domine”.
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by Marek Grzegorz Zieliński
voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango
– I summon the living, I mourn the dead and I crush thunderbolts – this inscription can be seen on the cathedral bell in
Schaffhausen in Switzerland. The prayer which used to be said by bishops during
consecration was maintained in the same tone. This inscription fully renders the
function of bells, which set the rhythm of human life and it also expresses the
conviction that the peal of a bell protects against all possible calamities.
Thus, the peal of a bell assumes the proportions of the symbol of Divine
an irony of fate, what the bells were to protect people against was the biggest
threat for them at the same time. Wars, fires, lightning and gales as well as
natural wear and melting down are the major factors limiting the lifetime of
bells and their number.
charm and appeal of bells is so strong that the range of their influence is very
wide. They inspire men of letters evoking both aesthetic and patriotic feelings
making people reflect over the essence of life. Such poets as Friedrich Schiller
and Adam Mickiewicz succumbed to their charm. Bells are the source of many
stories and legends. It is enough to mention the legend of the bell Zygmunt of Cracow. The history the Toruń bell Tuba Dei is
also very impressive. The information about the weight of bells sometimes turns
and historians of art are also interested in bells. Unfortunately, our knowledge
about this is unsatisfactory. Why is that so? The answer is simple. First of
all, these are relics of material culture which are hardly available. Second,
their number is considerable and they are scattered all over the country and
abroad. Third, it is necessary to combine a difficult archival research with
their complete stock-taking, which is beyond the power of a single researcher.
The stock-taking of bells is indispensable. It should provide the most essential
data about the material a bell is made of, its size (the height, the diameter
and the girth), the time of its casting, the bell founders, the place where the
casting occurred, the stylistic identification of the ornamentation,
inscriptions and the sound value (tone and the duration of reverberation). The
archival research should not only bring rich knowledge about the social role of
bells, but also about the founders who cast them and who have often left no
trace in human memory. This is a very important task because only in this way
can we properly evaluate the importance of given bell founders and bell founding
centres. Stock-taking which is not supported with archival research can bring a
biased picture, because it is very probable that what has survived till our
times results from a conscious selection of the Nazi invaders during the Second
is beyond all doubt that the number of old bells in Poland is small if we
compare it to the number of bells in other European countries. The war-time
plunder has played an important role here. The oldest reference to that comes
from the Czech chronicle of Kosmas and refers to the plunder of huge bells from
Gniezno by Prince Brzetysław in 1039. The Swedes also plundered bells during
the so-called North War (1700 – 1721). The bell Tornan taken from the
church of the Benedictine nuns is still hanging in the cathedral in Uppsala.
The plunder of bells lasted till the 20th century. The First and the Second
World War were particularly devastating here. Bells were plundered by the
Germans, the Austrians and the Russians. The most devastating were the years
1915-1917 and 1941-1942. The losses should be estimated in the
thousands. Nevertheless, the bells that have survived still allow us to evaluate
the contribution of bell-founders to the cultural heritage of the country.
to the inscriptions on bells and archival materials, we can quote the names of
the most outstanding bell founders active in Poland and connected with Poland.
In the group of about 170 bell founders, we can find both home masters and
numerous foreigners. Most of the foreign bell founders arrived from such
countries as Germany, France, the Czech Republic and even from Hungary and
Sweden. The leading role in the Polish bell-founding was played by masters from
Nuremberg who mostly arrived at the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Since the beginning of the Renaissance the native bell founders started to
dominate, although such centres as Wrocław, Królewiec and Ryga continued to
influence the Polish territories. Bells were also imported from the Netherlands
during the 16th century. Moreover, in the 19th century bells were imported from
the big German foundries in Apold, Bochum and Recklighausen.
following towns were most important among the home centres: Gdańsk, Kraków,
Warszawa, Lwów, Wilno, Toruń, Poznań and Płock. Later, the following towns
also became important as bell founding centres: Kałusz, Węgrów, Chełmno,
Przemyśl, Pustelnik and Olsztyn. It is beyond all doubt that Gdańsk was the
leading centre of bell founding in the country. Both the number of bells cast by
the masters of Gdańsk and the range of their influence testify to that. Gdańsk
like no other city in the Polish Republic can pride itself on several
outstanding bell founding families in which this profession was passed from
generation to generation. The following families should be mentioned: Bennigk,
Wittwerck, Anthony, Weinhold and Schultz. Gdańsk continued to shined on the map
of Polish bell founding between the 15th and the 19th century. Toruń occupies a
significant, although undervalued place among the bell founding centres. It
became famous as a bell founding centre already at the beginning of the 16th
century, then in the second half of the 17th century and at the beginning of the
18th century. Toruń can pride itself on the activity of about a dozen bell
founders reckoned among the best in the country. We should mention here the
following bell founders: Marcin Szmidt, Łukasz Krieger, Tomasz Litkensee,
Dionizy Blandner, Augustyn Koesche, Henryk Wreden, Fryderyk Beck, Fryderyk
Rekman, Franciszek Krieger, Jerzy Fryderyk Henig and Mikołaj Petersilge.
About the author: Marek G. Zieliński, PhD is a historian at the Institute of Contemporary Polish History in the 16th and the 17th century at the Institute of History of the Academy of Bydgoszcz. He studies the culture and history of Chełmno.
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by Bogumiła Felczyńska
Bell founding belongs to those
fields of artistic craft whose very names evoke the atmosphere of the years gone
by. It is associated with something distant, mysterious and forgotten. “This
is a vanishing trade,” say ethnographers, museum managers, bell founders and
teachers. However, the growth of bell foundries in recent years and the constant
demand for their products point to something completely opposite.
Bell foundries mostly cast bells
but they also made cannons. Thus, they got orders both in war-time and
peace-time. The bell foundries existing today cast mainly bells. The less
attention a foundry pays to “secondary” output like plaques, monuments, etc,
the better. Being very jealous, bells want their creators to focus their
attention solely on them. They reciprocate with a beautiful sound and
Bells are cast in bronze. It is
an alloy of copper and tin (78 per cent of copper and 22 per cent of tin). The
content of other chemical elements should be vestigial. Therefore, to make
bronze, we use the purest metals that can be found. Then, the instrument is
sonorous and it has a clear tone as well as long “reverberation”. Bronze is
melted down in a furnace – a shaft furnace in our case. In order to obtain
desirable temperature (over 1000ºC), below atmospheric pressure is used. It
is created in the furnace chamber thanks to a chimney several
meters high. The furnace is first heated up with hard timber (oak, beech and
birch), then coke is put into it and finally metal is gradually added. The
preparation and heating up of the furnace take about three days and nights. When
the metal has attained appropriate parameters it is tapped. Molten bronze is
poured into successively opened moulds, which are buried in a founding pit.
The moulds used for bell founding
are made from clay. The core is built first, then the so-called
“false bell” and finally a “canopy”. These are three overlapping and
isolated elements, which are separated after the mould has been fired. The
“false bell” is destroyed then, but the core and canopy are preserved. Free
space shaped like the future bell is left between the core and the canopy. At
this stage, the mould is adorned with inscriptions and ornaments. The clay
surface is covered with a layer of animal tallow and ornamental elements made
from a wax mass are stuck to this layer. When the mould is being fired, the wax
and tallow are smelted leaving their negatives on the canopy.
The mould created in this way is
buried in the founding pit next to the furnace. At the same time, depending on
their weight, five or six bells are being cast. After the metal has been tapped,
the bells mature in the pit for about two days and nights. Afterwards, they are
dug up, the moulds are broken up and the casts are extracted. A yoke is fixed to
the polished and sandblasted bells and they are ready to chime for a long, long
Bell founding is an artistic
craft, which cannot be learned at any school. It is passed from generation to
generation solely within a family. The Felczyński family has been casting bells
since 1808. The first bell foundry was founded by Michał Felczyński in Kałusz
near Lwów. The foundry was taken over by his son Franciszek and then by
Franciszek’s sons – Ludwik, Michał, Jan and Kajetan. Nowadays several bell
foundries are in operation in Poland. Three of them are managed by the
descendants of Michał Felczyński. The bells from the Felczyński Foundry are
highly valued by experts, because the professional skills are passed from one
generation to another by the most traditional methods – an apprenticeship in
the foundry and personal contact with the material. The experience of the
generations of bell founders still accumulates and yields perfect work or work
very close to perfection...
It is difficult to count all the bells cast by the Felczyński Bell Foundry, but their number certainly approaches tens of thousand. They hang not only in the belfries of churches in Poland but in almost all the other countries in the world. On average the foundry casts about 120 bells a year. At present, middle-sized bells - from 100 to 1000 kilograms, usually in three-vocal sets - are in greatest demand.
About the author: Mrs
Bogumiła Felczyńska has
graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Nicolaus Copernicus
University in Toruń. She works at the Felczyński Bell Foundry in Taciszów
near Gliwice. She designs and produces adornments for bells.
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By the witness of
those times - Mr Zdzisław Klemp
Mr Zdzisław Klemp was born on July
29, 1925 in Toruń. Before the Second World War he was an altar-boy in the
church of St John. He remembers that there were the following five bells in the
tower at that time: Tuba Dei, Siostra
(Sister), Kulawy (Cripple), Pogrzebowy (The Funeral) and Kiejzegloka. The
big bell Tuba Dei
tolled twice a
year: at Easter and Corpus Christi. Soldiers from the Toruń garrison swung it,
while the older altar-boys had the privilege to swing the smaller bells on
During the Nazi
occupation Mr Klemp worked in the German military construction office
“Heeresbauamt Thorn”, whose seat was close to the church of St John. Several
times in 1942 or 1943, he heard the sound of a hand-saw coming from the tower
when he returned home after work in the evening. As he learned later from the
organist Mr Rutkowski, he heard the sound of Siostra’s
destruction. The Germans melted it down for raw material for the army.
Mr Klemp thinks that
the history of this bell should be studied and its plunder should not be
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by Tomasz Jaworski,
The Old Town of Toruń has been on the UNESCO list of the world cultural heritage since 1997. The
great bell Tuba Dei (The Horn of God) is its spiritual and material
complement as well as its integral part. This is the biggest medieval bell in
Central Europe. Its bottom diameter amounts to 2.27 metres, it
is 2.0 metres high including the crown and it weighs 7.5 tons (including the
200-kilo iron heart). It was cast in 1500 in Toruń by a local bell founder
called Marcin Szmidt. The presence of this great bell in Toruń, which used to
be one of the biggest towns in Poland, is not accidental. At that time Tuba
Dei testified to the greatness and significance of the town. It still evokes
admiration for its founder and respect for the townspeople who funded its
Tuba Dei has an austere gothic
ornamentation with only four small reliefs. These are the following figures of
the church patrons: St John the Baptist (who was also the patron of the town),
St John the Evangelist, St Barbara (the patron of bell founders) and St
Catherine. The following Latin inscription written in capital
letters can be read under the crown:
full translation of this inscription into English is the following:
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1500 ON THE 22ND DAY OF SEPTEMBER I, THE HORN OF GOD, WAS CAST TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND ST JOHN THE BAPTIST AND ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, THE PATRONS OF THIS CHURCH
Dei is still hanging in
the massive bell tower of St John’s Cathedral on the original
wooden entablature dating back to 1433. In order to place it 34 metres above the
ground, a long wooden ramp was built. Then seven pairs of oxen hauled the bell
over the roofs of the houses. One of the legends of Toruń is connected with
this event. Tuba Dei is a very precisely made musical instrument. It is
enough to strike this 7-ton giant very gently to make it vibrate. The fact that
legs, not hands, are used to set the bell in motion is another unusual feature
distinguishing it from other bells. An ingenious mechanism is used for that
purpose, but in spite of that five or six strong people are needed to make it
swing. The A flat tone from the small octave with four well
audible aliquot and other tones make a cord similar to the major key. The
characteristic uneven toll of Tuba Dei is caused by the slight deflection
of the bell from its optimum position so that the strokes of the heart are
weaker on one side of the bell. Thus, the mysterious and respected toll of the
great bell is well distinguishable from the choir of the other bells in Toruń.
Therefore, the toll of Tuba Dei has invariably emphasized the
significance of important events for 500 years and it has harmonized with the
atmosphere of the biggest festivals. Now it can only be heard several times a
year. The toll of Tuba Dei greets the New Year and the beginning of
Easter. It also signals the beginning of the Corpus Christi procession, adds
splendour to the celebration of the Independence Day (11th November) and
announces the coming of Christmas. It used to welcome Polish kings to Toruń and
on June 7th, 1999 it greeted Pope John Paul II.
This great bell, which is the pride of Toruń, has
happily survived the turmoil of history. Unfortunately, the other valuable bells
of Toruń did not avoid being plundered. The Swedes plundered the 15th century
bell from St James’s church in 1703. Now it can be found in the
northern tower of the cathedral in Uppsala, where it is called Thornan. It is about 1.70
metres in diameter and weighs 3 tons. Thanks to that, it enjoys the fame of the
biggest medieval bell in Sweden. At that time the Swedes also plundered the
biggest bell from St James’s church. However, this giant bell
cast in 1634 and weighing 6.2 tons cracked during transportation and four years
later it was melted down. It can also be found in the primate cathedral of
Uppsala and still remains the biggest Swedish bell. The worst fate befell the
bell called Siostra (Sister) cast in 1437, which was hanging next to Tuba
Dei. Siostra was 1.70 metres in diameter and weighed about 4 tons. In
1942 or 1943 it was cut up by the Germans. It was then transported from the
tower and melted down. Its valuable metal was used by the army.
The bell St Lawrence from the church of the Virgin Mary is the most outstanding one among the four gothic bells in
Toruń that have been preserved till our times. It was cast in bronze in 1386
and its bottom diameter amounts to 1.06 metres. Now it is still the third oldest bell in Poland after the bell Nowak from the cathedral on the
Wawel Hill, which dates back to the first half of the 14th century and the bell
from the parish church in Biecz cast in 1382.
Table: The bells which are
found within the medieval boundaries of the Old and the New Town of Toruń
according to the authors.
The date of casting, the bell founder
The name or the colloquial name of the bell
bottom diameter, the metal
the church of the Virgin Mary:
St John’s Cathedral:
Pogrzebowy (The Funeral)
1766, Mikołaj Petersilge
the church of St James:
the 14th/15th century
1770, Mikołaj Petersilge
1847, Fryderyk Schultz
the 19th/20th century
the church of St Catherine:
The church of the Holy Spirit:
The church of St Stephen:
The Town Hall:
The Hour Bell
1728, Michał Wittwerck
The Quarter of an Hour Bell
1729, Michał Wittwerck
About the authors:
Tomasz Jaworski,M.Sc., Marek Nasieniewsk,M.Sc. and Krzysztof Przegiętka,PhD
are employed at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Their private
passion is performing the honourable function of Tuba Dei bell-ringers.
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the symposium organized by bell-ringers of Tuba
Dei (on November 25th, 2000)
The Warsaw Voice published:
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Central Europe's largest Gothic bell, Tuba Dei (God's Trumpet) in Toruń, has turned 500. Its ringing will greet the coming of the new millennium.
The bell is the second largest historic bell in Poland. Only Wawel Cathedral's Sigismund, the famous Renaissance bell commissioned by King Zygmunt I, is bigger. The casting of Tuba Dei was partly connected with the Catholic Church's jubilee celebrations of Christ's birth in 1500 (interestingly enough, the most famous of all Torunians, Nicholas Copernicus, attended the ceremonies in Rome), and partly with the rivalry between Toruń and Gdańsk. Earlier, the citizens of Gdańsk had founded the six-ton Gratia Dei bell for the city's Mariacki Church. Toruń was not to be outdone.
Cast Sept. 22, 1500 by Toruń's master bell-founder Merten Schmidt, the bell was christened "God's Trumpet" and hung in the city's largest church, St. John's Cathedral. It is a masterpiece of the European art of bell-founding. Although it is second to the half-tonne heavier and 20-years-younger Sigismund, Tuba Dei remains the biggest Gothic bell in Poland and this part of Europe, with a weight of 7.5 tonnes, height of nearly 2 m, and a diameter of 227 cm. "It is the faithful witness and life companion of the community living in Toruń," said Toruń bishop, Andrzej Suski. "Its sound accompanies us from the day we are born to the day we die."
Bells had much more significance in the past than they do today. In ancient times, their resounding peal was believed to reach the heavens. Christianity began making use of them in the 7th century, cast from bronze, the biblical symbol of strength and resistance. The custom of adjoining a bell tower to a church became widespread in the times of Charlemagne. In 968, the pope christened the bell at St. John Basilica in Rome "John." From then on that bells have been christened, becoming not only sacral objects, but also as if gaining their own personalities. One of Toruń's bells has a characteristic inscription describing its function: "I call the living together, I mourn the dead, I crush the thunderbolt." Since the role of a bell was to remind people of prayer, the towers from which bells sounded above the city were often compared to preachers.
Towns not only had church bells, but also "lay" bells located in the city hall tower. Their ringing marked the hours of the day. In addition to chiming the hours, they announced local election results and called councilors to meetings (latecomers paid a fine). At 9 p.m. you could hear the so-called "beer bell." Woe betide the innkeeper who served beer to a townsman past that hour (the rule did not apply to visitors.) Anyone in the streets found with weapons after 9 p.m. was also fined, while those whose complete sobriety was doubted were taken straight to the stocks.
However, church bells were both larger and more important than their civic brothers. They rang at some church services and at fixed hours as a reminder of various virtues, such as peace. People rang the bell for joy when an important guest visited the town-Tuba Dei welcomed Pope John Paul II to Toruń in 1999-or in alarm, at moments of danger like fire or war. Bells were also believed to protect people from thunderbolts. Bells today no longer serve such purposes, but do, especially those of historical value, hold a special place in our memory, whether we are town residents or tourists. Even damaged bells outlive their ring, to become monuments, like Moscow's giant Kolokol. People today still believe that bells have magical powers: tourists climbing the high tower of Wawel Cathedral hope that touching Sigismund bell's clapper will bring them luck.
But the public does not usually have access to bells, which are hidden in high towers. The only people who come into direct contact with them are bell-ringers-an honorable occupation both today and in the past. To make a big bell like Tuba Dei in Toruń ring, an entire team of bell-ringers is needed. "Ringing a bell is not just about pulling a rope. It is an art you learn your whole life," said one of Toruń bell-ringers, Tomasz Jaworski. "Bells are musical instruments, historical items and works of art all in one. It is not easy, therefore, to be an expert on bells, which requires one to be a musician, historian and art historian at the same time."
Making bells is the bell-founder's job. It sometimes takes more than a year to cast one bell, depending on its size. The most time-consuming stage is the preparation of the clay mold, which is then buried underground. When the smelted metal attains the required temperature, it is poured into the mold. After around 24 hours, the bell is taken out of the hollow hole and the clay mold is removed. Today, bells in Poland are made by several bell-foundries, but only one of them casts bells according to traditional methods: the Felczyński family's bell-foundry, with a nearly 200-yearlong tradition, in Tarciszów near Gliwice in Silesia.
One hundred years ago in Poland, you could still find bells dating back even to the 11th and 12th centuries. The two world wars brought them devastation, and today the oldest bells in Poland date back no earlier than to the 13th century. Polish bells must have been of good quality, as they often fell prey to invading armies. The first mention of looting Polish bells is in the Kosmasa chronicle, which contains stories of the Gniezno bells stolen by Czech Prince Bretislav in the 11th century. Later, the material from which bells were cast, zinc bronze, became their undoing. Their destruction advanced with the progress of artillery, as bells were recast on a massive scale into weapons. Paradoxically, both guns and bells in the 15th and 16th centuries were often produced by the same craftsmen.
Toruń bells were also prey to robbers. The 1601 St. James's Church bell is today the biggest bell of Sweden, where it is called "Thornan." Confiscated by the army of Charles XII during the Northern War, it was taken to Uppsala's Cathedral, where it adorns the main Swedish house of prayer and the seat of the primate to this day. Legend has it that another Toruń bell-Zuzanna, from St. Nicholas's Church, which no longes exists today-sank to the bottom of the Vistula during an attempt by the Swedes to load it on a barge. It may still be there.
Today's Toruń is home to 11 historic bells that have survived wars, confiscation, and even the churches from which they originate. All of them, including the largest, Tuba Dei, rang together to greet the new millennium.
By Adam Paczuski
about the author:
January 7, 2001 No.1 (637)
Adam Paczuski - Toruń pressman, contributor to the local magazine "Promocje kujawsko-pomorskie" and correspondent of the weekly "The Warsaw Voice - Polish and Central European Review", preparing the issue of the "Special Supplement" devoted to Toruń region, including the bell story.
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Reviewed and www edited by K. Przegiętka