South West Wales

Historic bells sent home to Chile from Swansea church

Rev Keith Evans with the three bells at All Saints Church in Mumbles
Image caption The bells were taken down from the tower at All Saints Church in 1964

Three historic bells which were rung and later displayed in a Welsh church for almost 150 years are on their way home to Chile.

The bells were shipped from Santiago to Swansea, originally intended as scrap, when the Jesuit cathedral of La Campania burnt down in 1863.

Earlier this year, the Chilean ambassador asked All Saints in Oystermouth for them back.

They will be in a memorial to the 2,500 who died in the "devastating" fire.

Canon Keith Evans, All Saints' parish priest, described the story of the bells which were originally cast in north east Spain as "remarkable".

The bells, the oldest of which dates back 1753, rang in the church's 12th Century tower for almost 100 years after arriving on a copper barque at Swansea, from South America destined to end up as scrap.

"It was the intention to melt them down but they were exchanged for our medieval bells and hung in the tower wheee they rang for about 100 years, but were taken down in 1964," he said.

Since then the three bells have been on display in the church's porch, until the decision was taken by the parochial church council that it was "right and proper" for them to be sent home.

The decision was taken to donate the bells as a gift for Chile's bicentenary celebrations in 2010.

"We had a letter from the Chilean embassy back in October and they asked us, especially as the bells weren't in use, to consider gifting them to the people of Chile so that they could form a new memorial to the disaster in time for the 150th anniversary," said Canon Evans.

The bells began their journey back to Chile in April, first being lifted out of the seaside church's porch with the aid of some "small fork lift trucks and some strong men".

'Devastating fire'

Canon Evans added: "As we speak they are en route. We believe they've arrived at the Falkland Islands and will shortly be picked up by a Chilean vessel to take them to Valparaiso.

"They left us in April. They went on a Royal Navy vessel from Portland and they were transported, I believe, free of charge by the Royal Navy."

The bells are expected to be formally handed over at a ceremony in September.

Canon Evans admitted the bells were "not especially good, mainly because they went through a devastating fire, but they are very historic".

He said that when a new memorial to the cathedral disaster in Chile is in place would be good if a few representatives from the church "could be present, but it's rather a long way".

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