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The bells of Saint Michael's have an interesting history. The eight
bells, cast in London, were installed in the St. Michael Church steeple
Carolina, in 1764. During the Revolutionary War, the British took the
bells back to England.
After the war, a Charleston merchant bought them
and sent them back to America. In 1823, when cracks were discovered in
them, they were sent back to London to be recast. In 1862, during the
Charleston siege, they were moved to Columbia, S.C. for safe keeping,
but Sherman’s army set fire to the area, and nothing but fragments of
the bells remained. These were sent back to London once more, where the
original molds still stood, and again, recast. In February 1867, the
eight bells were reinstated in the St. Michael steeple.
The eight bells
were played by a chiming clavier, as shown in this century-old
photograph. A chiming device such as this strikes the clappers against
the stationary bells. The ropes shown were tied to the clappers unlike
the ringers’ ropes which are attached to the wheels. The eight bells may
e chimed by a single person, but to be rung, the bells require one
ringer per bell.
This clavier, though extant, is no longer in use. Chiming is now
performed from a keyboard in the choir loft, and by programmed
mechanism, I believe. The photo records Washington McLean Gadsden, who
chimed the bells for 61 years, retiring on October 1, 1898, dying on
July 20, 1899.
The organ case had an inscription as follows, after one
of the original pipes -- Jno Snetzler fecit, Londoni, 1767.
The instrument today is by Kenneth Jones and Associates, Bray, Ireland,
1994, having restored the original case style and proportions. It has
three manuals and pedals, 40 stops, 51 ranks, 2,519 pipes, 6 couplers,
tracker key action, mechanical stop action with a parallel electric
[ 2 ]
The chimes have patterns using the full octave in variants which
distinguish one from another. Much like the variants of a tone row,
these nine gestures ending on the lower tonic employ the tones in
unusual melodic ways, given the era in which they were created. A short
MP3 of the last or "fourth quarter" chime is
1st Quarter: 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1; 2nd Quarter: 8,2,3,4,7,5,6,1
5,4,3,6,2,7,8,1; 3rd Quarter: 7,8,3,4,2,5,6,1 5,7,3,8,4,2,6,1
8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1; and 4th Quarter: 8,2,3,4,7,5,6,1 5,4,3,6,2,7,8,1
7,8,3,4,2,5,6,1 5,7,3,8,4,2,6,1, with the notes as follows: 1=low F ,
2=G, 3=A, 4=Bb, 5=C, 6=D, 7=E, 8=high F.