‘Bells of Santiago’ to return home as a gift from Welsh parish
Three church bells which were shipped to Swansea from Chile after a fire in 1863 killed over 2,500 people at the Santiago parish are to be returned to the Chilean capital as part of a new memorial.
The three bells were sold for scrap after the fire and British merchant, Graham Vivian, who bought them, shipped them to Swansea and then presented them to All Saints Church in Oystermouth, south Wales, where his family had a long association.
The parish council of All Saints this year decided to return the bells as a gift to mark Chile’s bicentennial year following the country’s earthquake in February.
The fire at the church of La Compañía de Jesús in Santiago in 1863 occurred during the feast of the Immaculate Conception and left more than 2,500 people dead and destroyed the church, except for five metal bells.
The Chilean embassy began negotiations with the Church in Wales to return the bells last year.
They are due to arrive at the port of Valparaiso early next month before being transported to Santiago where they will form the centrepiece of a new memorial on the site of the old church.
Installed in All Saints’ tower in 1865, they were taken down and put in the church porch in 1964 when the structure could no longer support their weight.
Parish priest, Fr Keith Evans said, “Our decision to gift the historic bells to the people of Chile was a unanimous one. It was supported wholeheartedly by the wider community of Mumbles, where the tragic story of the ‘Bells of Santiago’ has been remembered and celebrated through the years.”
He added, “Though we were custodians of the bells for almost 150 years we felt that their rightful place should be as part of a new memorial to the 2,500 victims of the 1863 fire.”
“The gift is made in Christian love and in the hope that it will renew historic links between Swansea and Santiago.
“Though the bells will be thousands of miles away they will continue to be part of our story at All Saints Oystermouth.”
Minister for Latin America Jeremy Browne said, “This is a truly remarkable story. I would like to thank the Church in Wales and the parishioners of the All Saints Church in Oystermouth for their exceptional generosity.”
He added, “The fire that destroyed the church of La Compañía de Jesús was a terrible tragedy. Its resonance is felt by the people of Santiago to this day. The trio of bells, which rung out in the city 150 years ago, are on their way home. I cannot think of a more fitting memorial to those who lost their lives.”