A 15th-century bell which predates the arrival of the Knights of St John tolled for the last time in the Silent City on Wednesday, as it was then lowered down to make way for a new one.
Cast by Magister Antoninus in Tortoreto, Italy, in 1499, it is the only known existent bell from this foundry. An inscription in medieval gothic script surrounds the shoulder of the bell, stating: MCCCCLXXXXIX Magister Antoninus du Tortorito me fecit insatam spotania onorem dei patria liberationem mentem.
The decision to replace the bell was taken at the request of the Metropolitan Cathedral Chapter after a site inspection of the fittings of all seven bells in the cathedral belfries. The analysis revealed the oldest (a quarter-strike clock bell) was at risk of collapse.
It emerged that repairing the bell was not possible due to its age. Consequently replacing it was recommended, but also preserving it in the Cathedral Museum next to a bell called ‘Petronella’.
The new bell was cast by the Fonderie Paccard of Annecy, France, to harmonise as much as possible with the two splendid bells present in the belfries, cast by illustrious bell founder Prospero Barigozzi of Milan in 1958.
Weighing 170 kilos, the bell sounds the note D sharp, replicating the strike note of its predecessor as nearly as possible.
The bell is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Paul, the titular Saint of the cathedral.
It carries a Latin inscription by Monsignor John Azzopardi: Hæc a. MMXVI, a Soc. Paccard in Gallia, conflata illam a. MCDXCIX, a Magistro Antonio de Tortorito substituit (“That which was cast in the year 1499 by Master Antoninus of Tortorito is being substituted by this, which was cast by the Paccard foundry of France in the year 2016”).
The bell was blessed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna. It was then hoisted by a crane to the belfry on the right side of the cathedral. The meticulous operation to hang it in its final place will be carried out in the coming days.
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