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Peal of bells that were 170 years in the waiting for St Patrick’s Cathedral

Bishop Long anointed the bells in oil before lighting incense that filled their cavities and wafted through the modern cathedral, which was rebuilt after fire in 1996.

The service ended when the eight bells – six of which are more than 100 years old and previously tolled in churches in Britain – were played by bell-ringers.

Because of COVID, the event was livestreamed on Facebook.

“Ringing the bells exorcises the demons of the air, exactly what we need!” one parishioner wrote.

Founded in 1803, the church is one of the oldest in Australia. From its early days, it was a church – and later a cathedral – searching for a peal. In 1853, newspapers reported hopes that it would have a noble spire crowning a tower in “which a sonorous chime of sweet-toned bells would enliven with many a peal, the inhabitants of Parramatta”.

Peter Williams, dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, said the people of Parramatta – who donated the $150,000 for the bells – had been waiting to hear the peal for 170 years.

Bells traditionally had an important part to play in the life of the church, Father Peter said.

“They not only summoned people to prayer, [medieval people] rang the bells to alert the population to danger if you were about to be trapped or if there were marauders on the horizon,” he said. “They were like an emergency service.”

Father Peter said they were also seen as a way to “access something of the inexpressible joys of heaven, and of life that awaits”.

Bells are rung in the Catholic Church every day, except on Good Friday. On days of great sadness or tragedy, the bells may be muffled with leather, he said.

They will also be rung on days of great rejoicing in the community. “If the Parramatta Eels were ever to win another premiership, you might say let’s ring the bells,” said Father Peter, who has a reputation in the diocese as a footy fan.

The largest of the new bells weighs 405 kilograms and is named for Australia’s St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. The seven smaller bells, also named for saints, are named Anne, Bede the Venerable, Benedict, Bernadette, Brigid of Ireland, Michael the Archangel and St Charbel.

They will join St Patrick, a single bronze toll bell consecrated in 1903, which survived the fire that destroyed the cathedral. Each bell is inscribed with its name.

There are 40,320 different sequences, called changes, that could be played on the bells, said the vice-president of the Australian and New Zealand Bellringers Association, Thomas Perrins. These include the popular arrangement used at weddings.

He will be training a band of 10 to 20 bell-ringers to play as many sequences as possible after the bells are installed in the bell tower that was designed 25 years ago in anticipation of the bells.

What would he play if the Eels were to win? Mr Perrins, a Parramatta supporter, said it didn’t matter as long as they were played.

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