The Story of The Acadian Bells:
Those of The Fortress Of Louisbourg

Article No: 59

The Story of The Acadian Bells:
Those of The Fortress Of Louisbourg

If Port Royal can boast of having had the first bell in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton can boast of having had the largest number before the Expulsion. In Louisbourg, sometimes called "The Dream City of America," there were three bells at the Fortress, two at St. Clair's Monastery, one at the hospital and two at the parish of Notre-Dame of the Angels. Then at Ingonish, the parish had its bell; likewise with regard to the parish of St. Ann. I am giving here the story of the three bells of the Fortress.

Those three bells were offered in 1735 by Louis XV for the chapel of the Citadel. On March 31 of that year, they were blessed and received the names of Saint Louis, of Saint Antoine-Marie and of Saint Jean (anglice St. John).

The Bell of Saint Louis was the largest of the three. In 1745, when Louisbourg was taken by the troops from New England, the officers of the New Hampshire Company took it and brought it with them. Sir William Pepperel, of Kittery, Maine, Commander of the troops, offered it to Queen Chapel, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, whose name was changed in 1791 to that of St. John's Church. In 1806, the church was destroyed by fire, when the bell suffered great damage. It was cast anew with great care by Paul Revere, of Boston, the well known patriot of the American War of Independence, and placed in the belfry of the new church.

In 1905, this bell, on account of its long usage, cracked and had to be cast again, this time by Paul Revere's successors, the Globe Bell Company. While doing so 300 pounds of metal was added to it, with the result that it finally weighed 2600 pounds. In doing so, the following latin words were inscribed on it: "Vox ego sum vitae - Voco vos orate venite," which means, "I am the voice of life - I call you to come and pray." It is the inscription of a bell of a French parish which had been seized at the time of the French Revolution. There was another inscription added to that one, which came from Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire and which read thus: "From St. John's steeple, I call the people, On holy days, to pray and praise." Finally, on the edge of the bell we read: "My mouth shall show forth its praise."

Thus, after many vicissitudes, the bell of Saint Louis still rings merrily since nearly two centuries and a half, although in a new version, far from its original home of Louisbourg. Strange as it might sound, Louisbourg was to hear her voice once more, through the radio. Saturday evening, July 29, 1933, between seven and eight o'clock, in a friendly gesture on the part of the United States towards Canada, the bell of Saint Louis, from the steeple of St. John's church, in Portsmouth, N.H., rang in full peal, while the Post American Legion Bugles played the national anthem of the United States, which was carried on the wings of the herzian waves to the extreme limit of old Acadia, with the echoes of the bell of Saint Louis of the ancient capital. And thus Louisbourg heard once more the sound of one of its bells that it had not heard for 188 years.

The Bell of Saint Antoine-Marie, known now as "The Grand Old Bell of Lunenburg," from the title of a booklet which gives its story, written by Rev. Ferdinand William Elias Peschaud, D.D., Pastor of St. Jacob's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Miamisburt, Ohio, published in Bridgewater, N.S., 1908. It is the second in size of the three bells of the Fortress. It has a diameter of 23 inches at its base and has a height of 18 inches. On one side of its sound-bow there is the drawing of three steps, on which rests a crucifix, measuring in all eight inches and a quarter, and on the opposite side is engraved the figure of a person holding the Infant Jesus in his arms. Authors have said that this person is the Blessed Virgin; they are wrong, because I have seen this design, which has all the features of St. Joseph as represented in the traditional iconography of the Church. The date 1723 is inscribed on the wooden yoke. It is said that it was cast in Brittany, France.

Although this bell did not quite experience the vicissitudes of its big sister, it has its story. It escaped the seige of 1745, but not that of 1758, when Louisbourg was definitively seized. In that year, it was brought to Halifax, where it was idle till 1772, when the members of the new Lutheran parish of Lunenburg bought it from the Government for 27 pounds, 16 shillings and five cents. It was placed in the belfry of their new church, now the Zion Lutheran Church, the most ancient Lutheran church in Canada, which was started in 1770. The bell rang for the first time in its new abode on the 11th of August, 1772.

We are told that when in 1782 the American privateers invaded Lunenburg, the bell was taken down and put under water in Back Harbour, north of the town, where it stayed while the danger lasted.

Many years after, it was borrowed for a time by the Lutheran church of St. Peter, in Chester. When it was returned it stayed some fifty years in the rectory of the Minister. It was while preparing the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the parish that the bell was hoisted anew in the steeple, where it is still perched, witnessing silently in its old age of over 150 years the ups and downs of a fast changing world.

The Bell of Saint Jean (anglice St. John) is the smallest of the three; it base measuring 13 inches, its height being 11 inches and a half and it weighs 52 pounds and a half. It bears the following French inscription: "Bazin ma fait," that is "Bazin made me," under which there is a cross in the form of a fleur-de-lis. After the conquest of Louisbourg it stayed in place for quite a number of years, when, around the beginning of the last century, it was brought to Halifax with other relics from Louisbourg. The Governor of Nova Scotia presented it to Rev. Fitzgerald Uniacke, pastor of St. George's parish in Halifax. After using it for his school, it was given to the St. John Anglican church of Fairviews, west of the town, better known in history as Dutch Village or Dutch Settlement.

During the week of Feb. 16, 1896, a lady from Montreal, by the name of Robertine Barry, attached to the daily newspaper "La Patrie," bought the bell for a hundred dollars. It was placed in the Museum of the Chateau de Ramezay, in Montreal, in a glass case, surmounted by a cross which was brought from Louisbourg. Of the three bells of the fortress of Louisbourg, it is the only one which is in the hands of the descendants of France.

Next week, I will tell you the story of the other bells of Louisbourg and of other places in Cape Breton.

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