Their Bells Have Tolled for Centuries

AGNONE, Italy — “There is always some magic in the crafting of a bell,” said Armando Marinelli, who is among the 26th generation of his family involved in the business. “Every bell has a different soul.”

Mr. Marinelli, 61, and his brother Pasquale, 51, run the Marinelli Pontificial Foundry, a landmark in this small town in central Italy — but then the business is believed to have been operating here since at least 1339. And it was Pope Pius XI who, in 1924, granted the family a pontifical patent, a recognition of their skill that was incorporated into the business’s name.

Today, it accepts commissions from churches, governments, businesses and organizations, and its bells can be found around the world, from St. Peter’s Square in Rome to the United Nations building in New York.

Time does not stop when you enter the bottega, as the family calls the foundry, but it certainly slows down. It takes three to four months to cast a bell in bronze, and the 15 foundry workers use the same traditional lost-wax process for each of the approximately 100 bells they make a year. A brick core is created, covered with clay, then wax and finished with another layer of clay. Once the wax is melted out, the remaining space becomes the mold.

The light in the foundry seems alive during the pouring of a new bell, a process called the fusion. On this particular day, the craftsmen were illuminated by the radiance of the incandescent metal and a local priest, who had been asked to bless the process, sprinkled holy water over them.

A bell was born.

A craftsman spreading clay to shape a mold for a bell.

Paola Patriarca, Armando Marinelli’s wife, creates the designs that decorate the bells; some samples from the past are displayed behind her.
A priest using holy water to bless an oven where copper and tin are melted to create a bronze alloy.
The bronze alloy is heated to about 1,150 degrees Celsius (2,102 degrees Fahrenheit) to pour smoothly into the bell’s mold.
Once the bronze has cooled, a hammer will be used to remove the clay and the bell will emerge.
Antonio Delli Quadri, 84, Marinelli’s bell master, listening to the sound quality of a new bell. He is said to have an orecchio assoluto, or perfect ear.

Related Articles

Back to top button