Christ Church

This picture of Christ Church's Bells from the book, Christ Church the Things That Truly Last, by Louis C. Washbury
published 1925 by Macrae-Smith Co.

Christ Church was the first Anglican Parish in Philadelphia.  The present church's cornerstone was laid in 1724.  Notable persons who worshiped here include Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and the rest of the continental congress who adjourned here to  pray before making the decision to declare independence from England.  To see Christ's Church's official website click here.

The steeple remained unfinished until Benjamin Franklin began a lottery to raise the funds to complete the wooden part of the spire.

Christ Church's Bells are one of three rings of bells which were installed in the United States prior to the American Revolution.  The Bells were cast by the foundry at Whitechapel, England owned by Thomas Lester and Thomas Pack, the same firm which first cast the Liberty Bell two years before Christ Church's bells were cast in 1754.  These are the only bells of the three original Pre-Revolution sets of change ringing bells which can not be rung by change ringers.  The Bells of Old North Church in Boston (installed 1744) were restored to change ringing in 1975 in time for the nations bicentennial and the bells of Saint Michael's Church in Charlestown, SC (installed 1764) were restored for change ringing in 1993.

The minutes of The Vestry in 1758 reports that the ringers were paid at the rate of 19 pounds yearly for ringing the changes on Sundays; they were rung also on Christmas Day, New Years Day, Easter Sunday, Whitsuntide, May 29th and November 5th.  They were rung one night a week for the improvement in the art, and were not rung at any other time except upon the order of the Vestry and the payment of thirty shillings by the appellant to the ringers. The bells were certainly rung on July 8, 1776 to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.  A few months later the Liberty Bell and the bells of Christ Church were removed from and hidden in Old Zion Reformed Church in Allentown for safekeeping during the invasion of Philadelphia by the "red coats." The bells were returned and re-hung in August of 1778.  Interestingly, the removal and the re-hanging of the bells was paid out of the public treasury.

Change Ringing continued throughout the 19th century at Christ Church.  The highlight of  the history of the bells happened on June 19, 1850 when a group of British bell ringers touring the country with  P. T. Barnum  joined forces with some of Christ Church's ringers and rang the first peal in North America.  In fact, this was the first full peal ever rung outside of the British Isles.  A peal of Grandsire Triples was rung in 3 hours and 15 minutes.  Eyewitness accounts stated that the crowd gathered to listen was so great that the bell ringers, when coming down from the belfry, could have walked on top of the heads of the crowd with ease because there were so many people there to listen. (click on the picture to see the full view of the peal board.)

The bells of Christ Church tolled on for the remainder of the nineteenth century. It is likely, at some periods, that Christ Church had the only trained band of bells ringers on the continent.  The bells rang to changes up until the advent of the first world war.  At that time the band was mostly made up of British immigrants.  Many went back to England to fight in the war before the United States entered the conflict. At the wars end, most of the surviving members of the band did not return to Philadelphia.  The bells remained silent till the band was reunited in 1926 to ring for a visit of President Calvin Coolidge.  In the early 1930's the ringing room was overtaken by a large pipe organ.

Bells as they are now still in the original frame with ropes still in place on some of the wheels

Stays and wheel stays are still intact.

The bells remained silent until shortly after WW2.  In the early 1950's, three bells were added to the ring and the clappers were tied to steel cables. The control was given over to a carillon type clavier. (the added bells can be seen in hanging outside of the original frame in the b&w photo below.) The chime, (a set of bells played from a keyboard which has less than 23 bells is called a chime, 23 or more is a carillon) is rung on Sundays and holidays by a chimer.  

Picture of the bells taken from a brochure.

The tenor with a chipped lip

The Playing of Christ Church's Bells today.

What is in the future for Christ Church's Bells?  Will they be restored to change ringing?  Rumors continue to circulate.  If we hear anything, we will be the first to announce it.  The organ which occupied so much of the ringing room has been altered.  In fact the bell clavier sits atop a floor which is on top of some horizontal pedal pipes.  With some modification a ringing room could be constructed in this space.  

It is the hope and dream of many bell ringers that change ringing will someday be restored. 

  • To see more pictures of the Christ Church Bells, click here.

  • Two other websites provide some historical detail on the church.

cc4.jpg (45632 bytes)

cc4.jpg (45632 bytes)