Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


main index            © Jeff Matthews         entry Sept. 2014                     



The Marinelli Pontifical Bell Foundry & Museum
      

I think I used to have a bell, but a quick search of the premises has turned up, in the way of useful items, only a small apothecary's pestle and mortar made of marble. No bell. I must not be a bell person. It never occurred to me that there really were such persons until I saw a list of the associations for people who own many hundreds of bells and ding-dong away the internet hours discussing such things as full circle ringing, gamelan divisions of the octave and general campanology. They are serious folks who do not like it if you crack wise about their collections and say things such as "What? No whistles?" My two favorite expressions with “bell” are “For whom the bell tolls” and “Hell's bells”. And I do remember a dreadful poem by Poe called “The Bells” in which they tinkle, toll, throb, sob moan and groan. In only 110 agonizing lines, Poe takes us through the entire range of emotions that we have typically tolled to, from “What a world of merriment their melody foretells!” through "What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!" to “What a world of solemn thought their monody compels.”

But if you like that sort of thing, I have found a great museum for you! It's in the town of Agnone, 80 km (50 miles) north-east of Naples in the Isernia province of the region of Molise. It is the John Paul II Historical Museum of Bells and has been open only since 1999 but is an adjunct of the Marinelli Pontifical Foundry that describes itself as the “oldest Italian bell foundry and among the oldest in the world.”

It is documented that the foundry has been in existence at least since 1339, when Nicodemus Marinelli, called “Campanarus", cast a 200 kg bell for a church in the city of nearby Frosinone. Literature from the museum says "...it is likely that large bronze bells were cast in Agnone even before 1200." Pontifical in the name of the foundry stems from the fact that Pope Pius XI granted permission to the foundry in 1924 to use the Papal Coat of Arms on bells being produced. The foundry has been on good terms ever since with the Papacy and has turned out many bells and items for ceremonies at the Vatican. The foundry has had some tough moments in its long history; during the Second World War, for example, the foundry was occupied by German troops; they used furniture, tools and important documents to fuel stoves, but also melted bells to obtain bronze useful in the production of new weapons. The town was right in the center of the formidable German defensive networks strung across Italy below Monte Cassino to impede the Allied advance toward Rome in late 1943.

When that war had destroyed the historic Monte Cassino Benedictine Abbey, it was the Marinelli foundry that cast the bells put in place during the reconstruction. There are very few foundries left in Italy; there used to be eight in Agnone, alone, of which only Marinelli remains. The museum has general cultural and historical information on bells and their production, and the tour shows you a large collection of bells and documents both ancient and modern relating to them. There is a library, an archive, a projection room, and you might even get a peek into the foundry, itself, and see some real action. Bells cast in the Marinelli Pontifical Foundry have reached some faraway places. I found out about the foundry and museum in the first place when I noticed an item about an Italian bell in the town square of Monongah, W. Virginia in the United States; the bell was sent recently to help commemorate a mine disaster from 1907.
(See this link.)


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