St. Mary’s bells

Splen­did sounds from both towers of St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca (the tal­ler 82 meter tower and the shor­ter 69 meter tower) echo across the enti­re Kra­ków. The­se are the peals of four medie­val litur­gi­cal bells, stri­kes of two clock gongs, the sound of the bell for the dying and last but not least, St. Mary’s bugle call, play­ed by a bugler. The St. Mary’s Basi­li­ca ensem­ble of bells and gongs is uni­que on a world sca­le. All four litur­gi­cal bells (PÓŁZYGMUNT, TENEBRAT, MISJONAŁ AND CAMPANA ANTIQUATHE OLDEST) are suspen­ded insi­de the shor­ter tower which acts as the bell tower.

The clock gongs are sit­ting high up in the tower ste­eples. The tal­ler tower is home to a room from which a fire­man plays the bugle call eve­ry hour. It is loca­ted just under the ste­eple. A „bell for the dying” hangs on the out­si­de wall of the bell tower. Litur­gi­cal bells are in regu­lar use. 365 days a year – each one accor­ding to a spe­ci­fic sche­du­le. Addi­tio­nal sequ­en­ces toll during major reli­gio­us cere­mo­nies (Indul­gen­ce for the Assump­tion of the Bles­sed Vir­gin Mary, Pas­chal Tri­du­um, Cor­pus Chri­sti pro­ces­sion) as an ele­ment of litur­gi­cal cele­bra­tions. The bells are equ­ip­ped with elec­tri­cal (line­ar) motors, under non-stop ope­ra­tio­nal main­te­nan­ce super­vi­sion per­for­med by RDUCH and the employ­ed bell-rin­ger. The basilica’s southern wall featu­res a sun­dial, which in the past dic­ta­ted the times at which bells and gongs were struck – a con­ti­nu­al remin­der of the pas­sa­ge of time to all tho­se in the vici­ni­ty.

PÓŁZYGMUNT

Fun­ded by Polish kni­ghts in 1438. It was cast by Jan Freu­den­tal a master cra­ft­sman. Zbi­gniew Ole­śnic­ki, a Kra­ków bishop, later to be orda­ined as car­di­nal was the main fun­der of the bell and its ini­tia­tor. This is the lar­gest St. Mary’s bell, and in the past, it was the lar­gest bell in Kra­ków. It is 180 cm in dia­me­ter and weighs approx. 4.8 ton­nes. It is suspen­ded below the other three bells, on the tower’s fourth sto­rey and rings in C♯1. The bell is dedi­ca­ted to the Vir­gin Mary – the basilica’s patron. Her name appe­ars on the inscrip­tion a num­ber of times, and an ima­ge of Mary with Child figu­res on its waist next to a pla­que with an eagle.

That is whe­re coats of arms of the fun­ders and the Kra­ków crest can also be found. The king, Wła­dy­sław III of Poland, has been com­me­mo­ra­ted on the bell in a spe­cial way: his coat of arms (a double cross) appe­ars in two pla­ces. A lower part of the bell has been dama­ged. Howe­ver, the cir­cum­stan­ces sur­ro­un­ding bre­aking of a sec­tion of the sound bow rema­in unk­nown. At the moment this bell tolls eve­ry day at 9.05 pm and on Fri­days at 3.04 pm.

TENEBRAT

Fun­ded by king Wła­dy­sław II Jagieł­ło cir­ca 1388. Events of major natio­nal and reli­gio­us signi­fi­can­ce accom­pa­nied its cre­ation. The Polish-Lithu­anian union begins in Kre­va (in 1385); Jagieł­ło is bap­ti­sed, mar­ries Jadwi­ga and is crow­ned as the King of Poland (in 1386). Per­haps the roy­al couple are both respon­si­ble for fun­ding the bell. It was cast by a bell maker from Spisz. A pio­us inscrip­tion on the bell’s sho­ul­der bears Christ’s invo­ca­tion and the words: AVE MARIA. Medal­lions depic­ting the sym­bols of the Four Evan­ge­li­sts are on its waist as well as pla­qu­es with Kraków’s and Lithuania’s crest and coats of arms. The­se are of immen­se histo­ri­cal value.

 

This magni­fi­cent bell is 175 cm in dia­me­ter and weighs 4.1 ton­nes. It was the lar­gest bell in Kra­ków until the casting of the Knight’s Bell. It hangs on the tower’s 6th sto­rey and rings in C♯1.  It’s stri­ke tone sounds on Sun­days and public holi­days at 9.50 am.

MISJONAŁ

Fun­ded by an unk­nown fun­der cir­ca 1387. It was cast by Jan, a Master Cra­ft­sman from Nowa Wieś Spi­ska. It is possi­ble that its name refers to the Chri­stia­ni­za­tion of Lithu­ania but also to the con­stant need to proc­la­im the Word of God. One hypo­the­sis cla­ims that Queen Jadwi­ga, known for her pie­ty, could have con­tri­bu­ted to the cre­ation of the bell. The Latin inscrip­tion on the bell is a pio­us call for peace to Christ – The King of Glo­ry. It is 136 cm in dia­me­ter and weighs approx. 1.8 ton­nes. It hangs on the tower’s 7th sto­rey. It rings in F1. This bell tolls eve­ry day at 4 minu­tes past noon, just after St. Mary’s bugle call.

CAMPANA ANTIQUA, THE OLDEST BELL

This is one of the oldest survi­ving bells in Poland. It was cast cir­ca 1320 by an unk­nown master cra­ft­sman. St. Mary’s Church was con­se­cra­ted at the same time fol­lo­wing its recon­struc­tion and expan­sion. This bell could have been fun­ded join­tly by the temple’s pari­shio­ners and town inha­bi­tants for whom St. Mary’s Church was, and hope­ful­ly is, the most sacred tem­ple. Simi­lar­ly to Misjo­nał and Tene­brat, the inscrip­tion on its waist is a ple­ad for peace to the King of Glo­ry. The sign is in beau­ti­ful Latin all caps, only found on the most ancient bells. It is 108 cm in dia­me­ter and weighs approx. 0.9 ton­nes. It hangs next to Misjo­nał, on the tower’s 7th sto­rey. It rings in A1. This bell tolls eve­ry day at 12.04 pm in a duet with Misjo­nał.

LARGER CLOCK GONG

This clock bell dates back to 1530. A fire­man stri­kes it thro­ugho­ut the day on the hour befo­re play­ing the bugle call. This is done manu­al­ly, using a devi­ce com­pri­sing a han­dle, rod and a lever ter­mi­na­ting with a heavy ste­el ham­mer which stri­kes the lower part of the bell’s waist from the out­si­de. The gong is 165 cm in dia­me­ter and weighs appro­xi­ma­te­ly 3.5 ton­nes. It hangs within the tal­ler tower – insi­de the spi­re of the Gothic ste­eple, under­ne­ath the gold crown.

SMALLER CLOCK GONG

It was made in 1564 and hung insi­de the ste­eple of the shor­ter bell tower. In the past a sys­tem of rods and levers lin­ked this bell with the tal­ler tower. A fire­man manu­al­ly repe­ated full hour stri­kes on it after play­ing the bugle call. In 1939 the bell was silen­ced for 76 years. Today, fol­lo­wing a refur­bi­sh­ment, the bell tolls on quar­ter hours, struck by an elec­tric ham­mer con­trol­led by an elec­tro­nic clock. The gong is 140 cm in dia­me­ter and weighs approx. 1.7 ton­nes.

BELL FOR THE DYING

Cast in 1736 by Kac­per Koeber from Wro­cław. It bears the name of Archan­gel Micha­el – the patron of „good death”. It was fun­ded by Kry­stian Jun­gling, a lay jud­ge from Kra­ków. Accor­ding to Euro­pe­an tra­di­tion it rang to anno­un­ce the death of a pari­shio­ner and the­ir birth into heaven. Simi­lar to one of the clock gongs, it was „silent” for the last seve­ral dozen years. Howe­ver, in 2015 it was refur­bi­shed and now, once aga­in, it is peals during fune­ral cere­mo­nies. This is the only acti­ve bell of this type in Kra­ków. This bell’s waist measu­res 22 cm in dia­me­ter and it weighs 7.5 kg. It rings in A♯3.

writ­ten by: Andrzej Boch­niak
in coope­ra­tion with: Piotr Kor­niak

 

ST. MARY’S BELLS
TOLL SCHEDULE

PÓŁZYGMUNT
daily, at 9.05 pm
Fridays, at 3.05 pm
TENEBRAT
Sundays and holidays, at 9.50 am
MISJONAŁ
daily, at 12.04 pm
THE OLDEST BELL
daily, at 12.04 pm