Ding, Dong, go the bells

Cathedral bells set the tone for Advent

For centuries, church bells have served as timekeepers and guardians for communities, marked the joy of marriages, dignified the passing of loved ones, and called the faithful to God’s house for prayer.

After two years of silence, the bells of Denver’s mother Church, the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, resumed these services to the community this week following months of renovations and upgrades.

See a video of the bells here

web pic for video

“We are excited to have them functioning again,” said Msgr. Thomas Fryar, cathedral rector since 2006. “Not only for the fact that it’s maintaining the heritage of the cathedral but it’s going to allow us to continue what they were put there for: to be a bit of comfort and solace in the middle of the city.”

The Cathedral Basilica is located at the bustling corner of E. Colfax Ave. and Logan St. in the heart of downtown Denver.

The bells last rang prior to a Dec. 2011 inspection called when several components of the original system were broken, thus limiting the full range of the bells. However, the inspection revealed more serious concerns with the old wooden frame. After 100 years of supporting the collection of massive bells—weighing in at 17,725 pounds—the frame was deteriorating due to age and exposure.

The Archdiocese of Denver then began a period of research and planning with general contractor, Haselden Construction, in coordination with The Verdin Company, a family-owned business out of Cincinnati, Ohio and bell specialist since 1842. Work to replace the wooden frame with steel supports began last May.

The new steel frame will hold the original 15 bells, made of pure copper and tin, cast by the McShane Bell Foundry Company in Baltimore, Md. When installed 101 years ago, they were one of the largest and most complete set of chimes in the country. Ranging in size from a 3,500-pound D flat to a 525-pound G flat, the collection was a gift of the family of John F. Campion, a Catholic philanthropist and Denver mining magnate in the early 1900s. Housed in the 210-foot east spire, they were rung for the first time Oct. 26, 1912, the eve of the cathedral’s dedication.

Their silver tones “proclaimed the glad news of the cathedral’s completion,” according to cathedral history book “The Pinnacled Glory of the West” by Father Hugh McMenamin, cathedral rector from 1908 to 1947. “Thousands lingered near to listen to the music.”

There are four large swinging bells and 11 carillons, or bells that play tunes. Recent renovations also included adding a Carillon Master Control system that allows the bells to be controlled remotely by a small console and keyboard located in the choir loft.

“Instead of sending up a pole that throws the clapper off at an angle,” Msgr. Fryar said explaining the original system of levers, rods and chains. “(The new system) is connected through wiring that sends an electrical circuit that will pull a magnet, and the magnet will pull the clapper and ring the bell.”

While an unlimited number of tunes can be added, more than 100 musical choices were preprogrammed into the cathedral’s new digital system, including Angelus bells which will ring at noon and 6 p.m. daily; Westminster Chimes, one of the world’s most popular tunes that will sound on the hour; seasonal hymns for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and patriotic occasions; and the familiar “ding dong” of swinging bells—or the Call to Worship.

“The very nature of the Call to Worship bell is to call people to the Lord,” said Msgr. Fryar. “To come, celebrate, give praise.”

As of this weekend, the third Sunday of Advent, the Call to Worship bells will ring five minutes before each of the six weekend Masses. In addition, the bells will be rung to mark solemnities, the feast of Corpus Christi and other processions, and special occasions such as ordinations, weddings and funerals.

“The bells will ring out a sound that hopefully will stir people’s heart and souls,” Msgr. Fryar continued, “and to speak about the presence of the Church in the midst of the civic center.”

What’s in a name?

It is a tradition to name bells in Catholic churches. The bells at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica are named and inscribed with an explanation of each name: Presentation; Inauguration; Verbum Dei; Immaculata Conceptio; Nicolaus Chrysostomus; Joannis Franciscus; Helena Maria; Maria (Phyllis); Sanctus Georgius (Roland); Sanctus Hugo; David Rex; Sanctus Michael; Joanne de Arc; Sancta Philomena; and Sancta Caecilia.

When will they ring?

The Cathedral Basilica bells will chime every quarter hour, toll the hour, on the hour, with Westminster Chimes, Angelus bells daily at noon and 6 p.m., Call to Worship five minutes before each weekend Mass.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.