Bells of Saint Mary

Bells of Saint Mary

Ringing out across the city

Thoughout history, the church has used bells to communicate with the community as church bells announce baptisms, weddings and funerals. They indicate the time of day and call people to worship. They announce community celebrations and at times even warn of disasters.

The Basilica’s bells have become an integral part of the Minneapolis acoustical landscape. The bells ring in various configurations to reflect liturgical seasons and special events. The more festive the occasion the more bells are rung. The more penitential the season, the fewer bells are rung. 

The bells support The Basilica’s mission by "giving voice" to the parish’s presence in the community as a place of worship and a beacon of hope.

An ancient tradition

The Basilica bells were forged at the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in the Netherlands. Although a computer is used to design the bells, they were produced following an age-old process. 

  1. After the designs are completed a “false bell” or exact replica of the bell is created in order to make the bell mold. 
  2. The false bell is coated with several layers of heat resistant material, which will eventually become the mold, then placed in a steel closed case filled with sand. After the mold is allowed to dry for several days, it is lifted away and the false bell is discarded.
  3. The bell is then cast by filling the mold with molten bronze. After cooling for several days, the mold is shattered and the bell is revealed.
  4. Tuning the bell is a very precise process. In order to lower the sound, small amounts of metal are shaved from the bell interior. If a mistake is made in the shaving, the bell cannot be used and a new bell must be made.
  5. The clapper in each bell determines the sound the bell will make. Size and weight must be considered to insure the bell will not be cracked by the clapper.

Following ancient tradition, each one of The Basilica bells was given a name. All are named after saints of the Americas.

Bell #1: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) United States

Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first person from the U.S. to be declared a saint. She worked tirelessly with the poor and founded the Sister of Charity, the first group for religious women in the United States. Elizabeth went on to establish the first Catholic school in the United States.

Inscription: a verse from the Rite of Blessing of Bells: “may their voice direct our hearts toward You and prompt us to come gladly to this church.”

Bell #2: Saint Juan Diego (1474-1548) Mexico

An Aztec Indian who lived near what is now Mexico City, Juan is said to have received a message from a woman dressed as an Aztec princess. She requested a church to be built where she stood so that she may comfort those in need.

Juan went to the bishop with this message and was asked to return with proof of the request. The woman showed Juan a patch of beautiful red roses growing on winter ground where they stood, which he gathered into his coat. Juan brought the roses to the bishop and as he opened his coat, the image of the woman was imprinted inside. A chapel was built on the site. It is called the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and its feast is December 12.

Inscription: “These six bells are dedicated at The Basilica of Saint Mary on the feast of Christ the King, in the year of salvation nineteen hundred and ninety eight.”

Bell #3: Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) United States

Growing up in a wealthy Philadelphia family who helped the poor, Katharine was exposed to charitable giving all her life. A train trip to Washington State brought the poverty suffered by Native Americans living on the reservation to her attention. She worked diligently as a missionary and helped to found the Sister of the Blessed Sacrament. They founded a boarding school for Pueblo Indians as well as missions for the Indians throughout the United States. They began a secondary school for African American students in New Orleans-which was the forerunner of Xavier University.

Inscription: “The Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Very Reverend Michael J. O’Connell, Rector, The Reverend Dale J. Korogi, Vicar.”


Bell #4: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) United States

Kateri Tekawitha is the first American Indian and the first American layperson to be named a Saint. Kateri’s father was the chief of the turtle clan of Mohawks and her mother, an Algonquin, was Christian. Kateri’s family was devastated by small pox. The only survivor, her face was scarred and her eyesight weakened.At the age of 17, she knew she wanted to become Christian. Her relatives did not agree with the decision, so she fled to a Christian settlement in Canada.

At the settlement, Kateri did beautiful beadwork, cared for the needy and spent many hours praying. She died at the age of 24 and her funeral was held on Holy Thursday .

Bell #5: Saint André Bessette (1845-1937) Canada

André Bessette had an amazing talent-when he prayed, the sick got well. Left with his nine brothers and sisters as orphans, André became a doorkeeper at a high school in Montreal. He also became a religious brother of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. For 40 years, he worked as a janitor by day, but at night the crippled, blind and dying people of the country came to see him.

Brother André died at the age of 91 and was well know throughout Canada. It is said that half a million people passed by the coffin and paid tribute to this man.

Bell #6: Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853) Haiti

Born into slavery in Haiti, Pierre was said to acquire his deep attachment to Catholicism by reading classical sermons in the plantation owner’s home. At the age of 21, Pierre was brought to New York by the same plantation owner.
 In 1807, he was given freedom and became a well-known hairdresser in New York.

He was also a devote Catholic who attended Mass every day at 6:00 a.m. He was a generous benefactor of the Catholic Catholic Orphan Asylum and Church of Saint Vincent de Paul.Pierre and his wife provided shelter and education to poor, needy black children until the children could care for themselves.

Inscription: “Speak, O Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel 3:10

Following tradition, The Basilica's bells were blessed using the following prayer.

Lord,from the beginning of time your voice has called to us, inviting us to communion with you, teaching us the mysteries of your life, guiding us on the way to salvation. With silver trumpets Moses summoned Israel to gather as your people. Now you are pleased that in the Church the sound of bells should summon your people in prayer. By this blessing accept these bells into your service. May their voice direct our hearts toward you and prompt us to come gladly to this church, there to experience the presence of Christ, listen to your word, offer you our prayers, and both in joy and in sorrow be friends to one another. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~ From Book of Blessings