By Leah Greggo
The sound of church bells is part of the landscape of sound in Pittsburgh just like car horns honking and helicopters flying overhead to the hospital. But they are also much more than that. Bells can carry meaningful and sometimes secretive histories of the churches where they hang. And for Christians who attend these churches, the sound of church bells ringing creates time and space for prayer outside of the secular world. By doing this, church bells make themselves a vital part of religious expression in Pittsburgh.
On Sundays, the sound of church bells ringing is very common all over the city. The practical purpose of church bells is to tell worshippers that it is time to gather for a service. Sometimes they are rung for special occasions like weddings. On a spiritual level, the ringing bells help the worshipper to separate themselves from their everyday lives and pray for an hour or two.
Bells are not just used by churches to signify a time for prayer. The sound of the bells is often how the church communicates with the community around them. On May 3rd 2020, churches around Pennsylvania, including in Pittsburgh rang their bells to honor frontline workers dealing the coronavirus pandemic. Every year in August, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Downtown Pittsburgh observes International Overdose Awareness Day and rings their bells for every person in Allegheny county who has died that year because of a drug overdose.
For some churches in Pittsburgh, their bells have a long and celebrated history. At the East Liberty Presbyterian Church (ELPC), the original bell that still resides in the current bell tower was purchased for the church in 1867 by Barbara Anna Negley. Barbara Anna and her husband Jacob were some of ELPC’s founding members. In 1867, the bell was installed during the last week of Barbara Anna’s life. When the bell was tested, the windows were left open so that she could hear it ring and after her death, the bell was rung during her burial.
For other churches some of the history of their bells is a mystery. In 2018, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was set to rededicate its ten recently renovated bells when an eleventh bell was discovered hidden in a crate in the basement of the church. Although this bell was made by the once prominent Meneely bell foundry just like the other ten bells, it is smaller than the other bells and its origins are a mystery. The best guess is that it is a railroad bell that may have been given to the church by a vice president of US Steel who was an active member in the church at the time but its origins are still being investigated.
“Trinity Cathedral Dedication Ceremony” 90.5 WESA. Dedication ceremony for the Trinity Cathedral bells featuring the newly discovered eleventh bell.
“St. Paul Cathedral’s Bells Ringing,” Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. The sound of the St. Paul Cathedral’s bells ringing for a day of prayer.
“Trinity Cathedral Bell Tower.” Andrew Rush. Church bells at Trinity Cathedral .
A Higher Chime to God? The Mysterious 11th Bell at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3 May 2018, www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2018/05/02/eleventh-bell-Trinity-Episcopal-Cathedral-pittsburgh-rededication/stories/201805020194.
Negley, Georgina G. East Liberty Presbyterian Church with Historical Setting & a Narrative of the Centennial Celebration, April 12-20, 1919 . Murdoch, Kerr, 1919.
The Architecture of East Liberty Presbyterian Church. cathedralofhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/HistoryAndArchitectureRevised.pdf. Huffaker, Christopher.
Weiner, Isaac. Religion Out Loud : Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism . New York University Press, 2014.
How to Cite
MLA: Greggo, Leah. “Church Bells of Pittsburgh.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 5 November 2020, https://religyinz.pitt.edu/church-bells-of-pittsburgh/.
APA: Greggo, Leah. (2020, November 5). Church Bells of Pittsburgh. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/church-bells-of-pittsburgh/.
Chicago: Greggo, Leah. “Church Bells of Pittsburgh.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 5 November 2020. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/church-bells-of-pittsburgh/.