Century-old cathedral bells removed for restoration

Bells that have hung in cathedral for nearly a century to get face-lift

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For nearly a century, the same bells have been ringing at Jacksonville's oldest Episcopal parish.

The McNeely bells were removed from the rooftop belfry of St. Johns Episcopal Cathedral downtown Thursday, so they can receive a long-awaited face-lift.

The cathedral has been the home for the bells since 1921, and the removal process was slow and meticulous.

The century-old McNeely bells at the St. Johns Episcopal Cathedral downtown are removed, so they can receive a long-awaited face-lift.

The bells will be taken to Cincinnati to be restored and then returned to the cathedral to be used for generations to come.

"Bells are a very pure sound, and for centuries they've symbolized heaven," said Kate Moorehead, dean of St. John's Episcopal. "They're a sound symbol."

The bells have stood the test of time, along with the parish, which survived two earlier fires -- one during the Civil War and another during Jacksonville's Great Fire of 1901.

A crane lowered the ringers Thursday so they can get a face-lift and new framing.

The crews removing the bells had to be very careful. Altogether, the 10 bells weighed five tons, which equals the weight of two SUVs.

"We've had a total of about 18 hours of planning, staging, and everything has to be done just right because we only get one try at this," facilities manager Tim Engemann said.

One try because the bells were all removed at once. The crews hooked straps to all four sides, cut through the beams and picked up the entire frame, bells and all.

"It's scary and exciting at the same time," Moorehead said.

A crowd formed as the bells were lowered.

Church members said they will miss the bells, but they understand it's all about preserving history and keeping the bells ringing for future generations.

"We're actually going to go on a bell-fast," Moorehead said. "We're not going to hear any bells until Christmas Eve."

The goal is to have the frame and bells restored in time for Christmas Eve services.