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Wettingen Abbey Oldest Swiss polyphonic church bells restored



The ornate altar at Wettingen Abbey

The ornate altar at Wettingen Abbey

(Wikipedia)

The restoration of the bells of Wettingen Abbey has been completed. The oldest set of multi-note bells in Switzerland, which date back to the 17th century and play a C major scale, will be heard again on Advent Sunday (November 29). 

Wettingen Abbey, formerly a Cistercian monastery in canton Aargau, doesn’t look as though it houses an imposing set of bells: only the four smallest bells hang under the narrow octagonal ridge turrets. The other four are found under the church roof in wooden bell cages. 

For the restoration, all eight bells were taken down and examined. All iron parts were treated with an anti-corrosion agent and the clappers were re-cast. In addition, all the bells were retuned. 

The largest bell weighs around 2,150 kilograms and has a diameter of 1.53 metres. The smallest weighs 240 kilograms and is 75 centimetres across. 

The monastery complex dates back to 1227 with the founding of the Abbey of Maris Stella (Star of the Sea). The first bells were ordered after a serious fire in 1507 but they were never cast for financial reasons. 

This changed in 1639 on the orders of the then abbot. One of these bells suffered a crack and was replaced in 1938 by the Rüetschi foundry, the last remaining bell foundry in the canton, with a tradition going back to the 14th century. All the other bells are original. 

Bell ringing in Wettingen Abbey

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In 1841, at the height of the monastic conflicts, all Aargau monasteries were dissolved by a cantonal parliament decision. The monks from Wettingen established themselves in Mehrerau, overlooking Lake Constance in Austria, where the Cistercian community still exists. 

Rings a bell 

The upkeep and mechanics of the bells had already caused headaches back in the monastery days, according to the cantonal department responsible for culture. In 1977, the first “automatic ringer” was installed, so that the bells no longer needed to be rung by hand. 

Individually, the Wettingen bells are neither the largest nor oldest in Switzerland. The largest bell, weighing ten tons, is in Bern’s Minster cathedral. 

The oldest, from the seventh century, is preserved in St Gallen cathedral, while the cathedrals of Lausanne and Geneva boast specimens from the late Middle Ages.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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