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article imageHistoric bells returned to Chile from Wales after 147 years

By Igor I. Solar     Sep 30, 2010 in World
Santiago - Three bells from the Church of the Company of Jesus, a Jesuit church that burned in Santiago in 1863 causing the death of nearly 2500 people, have been returned to Chile as a donation of the All Saints Parish of Oystermouth, Wales.
On December 8, 1863, the faithful were at the Church of the Company of Jesus in Santiago celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the most popular festivities of the religious calendar . The place had been profusely adorned with veils and gas candles. Suddenly, one of the veils caught fire and very quickly the fire had extended to the wood roof. Panic ensued among the mostly women congregation and the desperate attempts to escape blocked the inward opening entrance doors. The tumult generated and the blockage of the doors made impossible the access of rescuers from outside the church.
The exact number of deaths was never established, but it had been estimated between 2000 and 3000, making the burning of the Church of the Company of Jesus the worst fire ever in Chile and one of deadliest in history.
Only the heavy masonry structure of the church remained standing. One of the bells can be seen in th...
Only the heavy masonry structure of the church remained standing. One of the bells can be seen in the bottom, right-hand side of the picture.
SantiagoNostalgico
Most of the church was build of solid masonry; however the roof and the tower were constructed with wood. Only the masonry structure remained after the fire. The falling of the tower brought down the bells which fell inside the destroyed church. Those bells, which had been made in Spain in 1753, were later retrieved from the ruins and sold as scrap to Graham Vivian, a British merchant whose family was conducting business in the Chilean copper industry. Mr. Vivian sent the bells by ship to Swansea, Wales. Graham’s older brother was an antique collector, appreciated the beauty of the bells and proposed placing them in the steeple of the family parish, the Church of All Saints in Oystermouth.
Front of the church after the fire. Corpses are being loaded on carts to be taken to mass graves.
Front of the church after the fire. Corpses are being loaded on carts to be taken to mass graves.
Unknown
In 2009, the Embassy of Chile to the UK began negotiations with the church for the return of the bells, which in 1964 had been removed from the tower and placed in the portico of the church for fear that the weakening structure of the tower could not bear the weight.
Following the earthquake that struck Chile on February 27, and as a demonstration of good will in the celebration of the bicentennial of Chilean Independence, the Welsh parish decided to return the bells as a gift of the British people to Chile. The bells were transported across the Atlantic aboard the HMS Portland of the Royal Navy, arriving to Valparaiso on September 8.
Yesterday, September 29, as one of the closing celebratory acts of the month of the bicentennial, the bells were placed at the Square of The Constitution in Santiago and tolled by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and specially invited guests including Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador to Chile, Jon Benjamin.
"These bells represent the beating heart of a nation who have proved time and again their courage and determination, their ability to stand against tragedy, being able to overcome adversity and rebuild from the ashes without ever failing,"said the Chilean president.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in the ceremony of reception of the three returned bells in fro...
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in the ceremony of reception of the three returned bells in front of the Chilean Presidential Palace.
Government of Chile
The three bells will be located at the place where the old burned church once stood, now occupied by gardens surrounding the former headquarters of the Chilean National Congress.
Note: This is how the New York Times reported on the tragedy at the time: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9A0DE5D9173EEE34BC4052DFB766838F679FDE
Listen here to audio from BBC on the the return of the bells to Chile.
More about Jesuit church, Company jesus, Santiago, Chile, Fire
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