Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bell, Bells, Beautiful Bells! - The Grassmayr Bell Foundry in Innsbruck

I woke up this morning to the glorious sound of church bells ringing all over Innsbruck! All of the Alt Stadt (Old Town) churches and the Dom St. Jakob (the cathedral) were ringing wildly, announcing morning mass. As I sat in the cool breeze, pondering whether or not I should actually venture to get up, I breathed in the sounds of the bells and wondered about their stories and about bell ringing in general.
Dom St. Jakob, Innsbruck July 2013
Here in Innsbruck lies the Grassmayr Bell Foundry where, since 1599, bells of all shapes and sizes have been cast and sold. In the beginning of my time here, I visited the foundry.
Moved by the unending desire to create a ‘Stradivarius among bells’ ….
(© Peter and Johannes GRASSMAYR)

Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck  July 2013

The largest bell in Austria is the New Pummerin at 44,380 lbs. It is the “third largest swinging bell in Europe after the 23,500 kg (51,810 lb) Peter in Cologne Cathedral and the 22,700 kg Maria Dolens in Rovereto, Italy” (Wiki). This Rovereto Campana della Pace is located on the top of a small mountain and tolls every evening 100 times for the fallen in all wars. I hiked up to his bell in 2010. In Austria, you hear bells at several times during each day, chiming the hour or announcing a mass or another event. Every Friday, bells ring at 3:00 p.m. to remember Christ's suffering and death on the cross.
Campana della Pace, the great Maria dolens bell of peace in Rovereto, Italy (2010)
The largest bell from the Grassmayr foundry weighs 10 tons. Every evening at 5:00 p.m. in Telfs/Mösern in North Tyrol, this Peace Bell Friedensglocke  sounds for peace in the Alps.
The oldest bell in Austria was cast in 1200 and is from St. Martin am Ybbsfeld. Three hundred years later, Bartime Grassmayr , a bronze worker, set about on his travels tin Tirol to practice his skills and ended up in the art of bell-making. As Bach's musical inscriptions began with Solo Dei Gloria, so did Bartime's journals of his travels. The Grassmayr family has since worked together for over 400 years to stabilize their family company throughout historical events.
Molten metal is poured. Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013
Today, it is Peter and Johannes Grassmayr who continue the family's tradition locally. Their craftsmanship team consists of sculptors, casters, musicians, metalworkers, carpenters and electricians. In at least 100 countries, their bells can be heard and they still have a lively and international business going on today. In addition to taking commissions and casting new bells, they have developed materials that go along with manufacturing bells, ringing systems, and bell upkeep. The company is also widely known for historic bell restoration.
Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck
A craftsman works to carve the outside of a new bell, July 2013
The foundry takes special care to tune their bells and if they are more than 1/16 of a half step “off”, the bell must be cracked and they must start all over. How frustrating! Bells sit at least a month in a cast before being removed to test. The last steps include the decoration of the outside of the bell. Grassmayr bells have a unique ribbed design and are capable of producing many notes. The tones last a VERY long time as well. They continue to make all kinds of bells, including church bells (inside and out), bowl bells, cowbells, and long-sounding orchestral bells. The foundry keeps its exact process secret, although it includes mixing horse manure and clay and molasses! The specifications of a new bell’s shape, desired tone, and size are cut into an outline, then modeled in this clay mixture over a brick foundation.
Metal is poured into this device which holds the shape of the new bell as it is formed, keeping its curve
perfectly aligned. Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013
Bells are each christened and blessed. I had heard of that for a ship’s bells, but not in general. They are “exorcised, washed with holy water, anointed with the holy oil of the sick (outside) and chrism (inside) and given a name.” -

Small bell yard at Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013
The Grassmayr foundry also has an adjoining Bell Museum, managed by Christof Grassmayr. He is a war veteran who endured a ten-year prohibition of bell-ringing of any kind. There is a fascinating article by John Werfring about this silent time and bell cemeteries.

The shop of the Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013

More About Bells and Bell-ringing?
- Campanology
- Bell Casting / Bellfounding
- Change Ringing
- List of Heaviest Bells

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