The Lascaris bell was originally installed in the northwest belfry. Cast in 1636 during the term of Grand Master Antoine de Paule, the bell was probably commissioned by Bailiff Jean Paul Lascaris de Castellar, successor of Grand Master De Paule. It was most probably cast in the Foundry of the Order known as the Ferreria, where cannon and all military ferrous needs were fabricated hence the name. Four armorial shields are found on the front, obverse and quarter points that have stylistically been traced on other bells cast in Malta earlier in 1619. The founder of the Lascaris bell remains yet to be identified as the bell’s profile differs from others cast contermporarily the Ferreria. Only this bell and another also found in the northwest belfry of St John’s are definitely cast by this yet unidentified founder. No other examples seem to have managed to survive to date.
It is commonly thought that the bell was damaged due to war action, however cracks in its suspending crown indicated otherwise. It was last rung on the 24th August 1974 on the occasion of the funeral of Bishop Emmanuel Galea. It was then doomed irreparable since it was broken in three parts weighing approximately 1,900, 160 and 140 kgs respectively. All was subsequently lowered from the belfry in 1989 until the broken parts were welded together in 1992 with the intention that the bell could be presented as a complete artifact at St. john’s Museum.
In 2006 the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation took the initiative to restore the bell so that it could be rung again. Following analysis, the results confirmed that the bell could successfully be intervened upon in a manner that its future use in the belfry could be guaranteed.
The co-ordination of the project was entrusted to Mr Kenneth Cauchi, Campanologist.
The first phase of conservation treatment on the bell was undertaken in October 2006 by Ing. Mark Strupcewski of Soundweld Bell Restorers of the UK. Works took longer than anticipated due to various technical difficulties which had been unforeseen in the preliminary analysis. The second phase of conservation treatment was undertaken by fitter Steve Fletcher under the guidance of Gerald Flatters of the John Taylor Bellfoundry of Loughborough also in the UK. This part of the work mainly consisted in tonal analysis, fitment of the original clapper, calibrating the bell on its original headstock and manufacturing a replica of the timber D-shackle arrester. The bell was eventually re-patinated in a manner as to be aestetically presentable. The graphite coating applied is particular to allow the bell to form its natural oxidation process once again.
The actual blessing was carried out from the balcony since the bell was too heavy to be carried into the Church as the custom. Such a ceremony is documented to have last been held at the Co-Cathedral on the 23 of March 1749. On that day, the main bell of the Church weighing 7 tons cast by Ferreria Master Founder Aloisio Bouchut was consecrated by the then Bishop of Malta Fra. Paulo Alpheran de Bussan. The ceremony was attended by the bell’s donor Grand Master Fra Emmanuele Pinto de Fonceca, the Grand Prior, the Chapter of Canons and other Ecclesiastical dignitaries.
Saturday, 21st June 2008
Kenneth Cauchi. Restoration Co-ordinator
Mr Paul A Attard. President of the Foundation
Blessing Ceremony: His Grace Mgr Guzeppi Mercieca, Archbishop Emeritus
Il-Fondazzjoni tal-Konkatidral ta’ San Gwann / The St-John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation
© Il-Fondazzjoni tal-Konkatidral ta’ San Gwann / The St-John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation (2008)
© Campaners de la Catedral de València (2018)