St. Peter’s bell ringing again over Salisbury

Following what the pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church called “a fall of silence,” the 1,500-pound bell is working again, tolling on the hour and calling the faithful to worship.

A few months ago, one of mechanisms in the bell that causes it to be struck failed to work.

“We could hear it kind of going ‘thump, thump, and thump’ but it didn’t ring. We searched for somebody to repair it and in November we finally found a company off the Shore. It was fixed the first week in December,” said the Rev. David Michaud, pastor of the Salisbury church that was descended from the original Stepney Parish, established in 1692. It was part of the Church of England.

The bell, likely made of bronze, as most church bells are, called parishioners to worship for many years. After the Great Fire of 1886 that destroyed 200 buildings downtown, including St. Peter’s, the bell was salvaged and hung at the Wicomico County Courthouse.

After 108 years, and at the prompting of the pastor at that time, plans were made to return it to the church in a $15,000 project involving a crane, needed to lower it.

The bell had been discolored and misshapen because of the fire, according to church history, and it had to be recast.

It was refurbished by the McShane Bell Foundry in Glen Burnie, cleaned and lacquered, before being returned to St. Peter’s in April. 1997.

Once installed and blessed by the Rev. Michaud, it could again be heard throughout Downtown, by motorists traveling on Route 50 as well as passersby.

Michaud said when the bell was moved back to the church, it was with the stipulation that it “would continue to ring the hours for the city as had been done for more than 100 years at the Courthouse.”

“The only structure around where we could put the bell was in the County Courthouse building. This bell was salvaged from the Great Fire when the church burned down. It was recast but we didn’t have a tower to hang it in until 1914,” Michaud said.

The bell is inscribed with these words from the Biblical book of Isaiah: “Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord.”

Church bells were introduced in 400 AD by Paulinus of Nola, according to historical accounts. They were common in Europe by the early Middle Ages.

The Great Fire of 1886 wasn’t the only loss for St. Peter’s.

The original church, Salisbury Chapel, was built in 1768. By 1843 the church was called St. Peter’s Chapel, according to church history. But it was destroyed by fire in 1860. Interestingly, only two silver candlesticks, an instruction card an ancient bookmark were salvaged.

The second church was completed by 1868.

“The Great Fire of Salisbury, Sunday, October 18, 1886 destroyed the second church. Only the candelabra, cross, an eagle lectern and a few holy vessels (on display in the parish museum) were saved. All that remained were four roofless charred walls,” according to church history.

The third, and present church was opened in time for the Christmas Eve service in 1887, and the new building finished the next year, on the same foundation as the second structure and with an Italian Romanesque design.

“Our bell will be ringing for our Christmas Eve services Saturday, at 5 and 11 p.m.,” Michaud told the Salisbury Independent this week.

“It doesn’t play music. It isn’t a carillon. It rings in a succession of tones, for church services. It tolls for funerals,” Michaud said.

“Our bell might be one of the oldest bells in Salisbury. We are really glad to see it ringing again.”


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