Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums Large Bells A bell named Gabriel

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    • #10736

      Rich in New York sends an inquiry about how to clean a most fascinating (and old) bell:

      Our church bell will be celabrating it’s 300th anniversary next year. I was wondering if there is cheap way of cleaning it so we can get some pictures etc for the local press? It may be the oldest bell in the US but I am having trouble finding a listing of historic bells which are accurate. Do you know where I can find a list for comparison?

      So, I wrote back to Rich and asked if he could give me a little more information about the bell. He sent a fascinating story:

      This was no ordinary bell. It was originally founded in Malaga, Spain in 1708 during the reign of Philip V, while Anne was Queen: Bells inscription reads in Spanish “Hail ( I am the voice of the angel who sounds on high), Mary, full of grace” It is made of Solid Brass, weighs one ton. I do not have the demensions but you may read about it and see picture at http://stjohnsofellicottville.org. After it was made it hung in a mission out side of Malaga Spain for 125 years. Don Carlos brother of Fernand V was upset that the old boy gave the throne to his daughter and not to him. There was a uprising lead by good old Don and many of his rebels held up in that mission. When the troops loyal to the queen took over the mission they killed everyone there, and blew it up with gun powder, this bell was used to alarm the rebels of the coming troops. The soldiers were not amused and decided that bell would never ring in Spain again. It was taken to the port and sold to ship’s captain to be used as ballast. In 1837 St. John’s was coming to completion and it needed a bell. A founding member Nicolas Devereax knew the ships captain and purchased the bell and it was shipped via the Erie Canal and then via ox cart to Ellicottville, NY. It was placed in position in 1838 and has been used ever since. Originally it was not only the church bell but the time piece for the town.

      Thanks for your assistance!


      Immediately, I went to St. John’s website and found not only a picture of the bell, I also found an interesting story of the history of the church including this portion about the bell:

      After the completion of the church the congregation began to search for a bell they could both afford and one which would be large enough to meet the congregational requirements along with a time piece for the village. Nicholas Devereux was visiting New York and met an old acquaintance who was a ship captain who happened to have a large bell for sale. This was no ordinary bell. It was originally founded in Malaga Spain in 1708 during the reign of Philip V, while Anne was Queen of England. The bell had the inscription “Hail (I am the voice of the angel who sounds on high) Mary, full of grace.” Since it was the angel Gabriel who saluted Mary the bell became known simply as Gabriel. This bell once struck was placed in a local monastery out side of Malaga, were it remained until the death of Ferdinand VII in 1833; contention arose over who was to hold the throne. Isabella II was supported by her mother the queen regent but Don Carlos relied on the Salic law which excluded women from succession.

      During an outbreak of hostilities Don Carlos took refuge in the monasteries where Gabriel was located. A monk was said to have been killed while ringing Gabriel in alarm. The revolutionaries were routed and in the violence that ensued the monasteries were blown up with gun powder. The bells were sold to ship captains to use as ballast until he could sell them. One of these ships happened to be one that routinely sailed to New York and the captain was a friend of Mr. Devereux a member of St. Johns. The captain was asking $125 for the bell so Mr. Devereux contacted the congregation to ask for their approval but by the time they agreed to send the money the ship was on its way back to Europe. In 1838 the ship returned and the bell was purchased and placed on a barge up the Hudson to the Erie Canal.

      John Hurlbut and Abraham Searle drove two team of oxen to Buffalo to meet Gabriel and bring her back to Ellicottville. The bell weighed in at 1300 pounds and had to have a clapper attached before it could be used. A member of the church William Beecher an itinerant blacksmith added the clapper at the blacksmith shop on Monroe Street. She was raised to her current place in the bell tower where she has remained since that time. During the early years of the village Gabriel was run at 6 a.m., 12 noon, and 9 p.m. as well as serving the village as a fire alarm, and for celebrations like New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.

      Rich has sent this additional information:

      I found the additional info you were looking for:
      Top Circumfrence of Bell: 4′ 2″
      Base Circumfrence of Bell: 7′ 2 1/2″
      Hight: 2′ 9″
      Thickness: 3″
      Weight: 1300 lbs
      Founding info: Bargas Mefeci Malaga 1708

      Thank you for your help!


      If you can make any suggestions for cleaning Gabriel, please post a response. If you need help posting, please contact me at coordinator@americanbell.org. Please be sure to reference this post as from “Rich in New York” if you are going to send information to me. Thanks.


      This inquiry was originally sent to the ABA’s Internet Coordinator. Responses are opinions of individuals based on their personal research and knowledge.

    • #13408

      As far as bells are concerned you have a treasure. I think it should be removed from the tower, professionally cleaned, and placed on display in the lobby (safer than outdoors) of your church with a plaque containing it’s history. This way it can be enjoyed by people and not hidden away.

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