Some people find it disturbing, others enjoy it: the sound of church bells is usually perceived very selectively. Sure, they are hardly rung as often in any other country as in Tyrol. In the morning, at noon, in the evening. They ring in church festivals, the end of the working day or high guests. They warn of storms and fires, announce weddings and deaths. For me, the familiar sound is an important part of my sense of home. For people of faith, there is also the French saying that God also needs publicity. That's what he has the bells for.
Bells found their way from Asia first to Rome and then to us. They were rather monstrous to the first Christians. They announced the opening of Roman markets, wicked spas and baths. In Rome, therefore, they were first signalers. In the 8th century, monks began to devote themselves to the casting of bells. With their sound they wanted to call the faithful unmistakably to church.
In Innsbruck, as early as 1395, a bell founder by the name of 'Kristan' was mentioned in the Neustadt, located on the site of today's Maria-Theresien-Strasse. At that time, this red-hot business was already banished to the still sparsely populated area in front of the city gate.
CANNONS AND BELLS - BRONZE 'BROTHERS'
The comprehensive equipping of Tyrolean churches with bells took place at the beginning of the modern era and is due to the ore wealth of the country at that time. It was Sigmund the Rich who had the idea of establishing 'gun foundries' in Innsbruck. The sovereign had three of them built: At the Gänsbühel, in today's Weyerburggasse and in the Mühlau. Copper was available in abundance from own mining, the ten to 20 percent tin was imported without further ado and bronze could be cast. In addition to the 'guns' - i.e. cannons - bells were also cast as a rule.
MAXIMILIAN'S MONUMENTAL TOMB AS AN INNOVATION TURBO
It was then Emperor Maximilian who made Innsbruck the leading European center of bronze casting. On the one hand, the last knight needed cannons in abundance. On the other hand, he began planning his gigantic tomb early on, which was to be equipped with a whole host of bronze figures, the 'Black Men' . Quasi in the wake of these plans, coupled with the enormous technological knowledge of the late medieval Innsbruck masters, any number of bells were also cast. Maximilian, always anxious to secure, in addition to his Souvenir also his salvation therefore summoned Hans Seelos from Füssen to Innsbruck in 1498 and appointed him 'Roman Imperial Gun Founder'.
THE LEGENDARY CASTING WORKSHOP AT GENSBÜHEL
Whoever speaks of bells in Tyrol immediately thinks of the renowned, now 422-year-old Bell Foundry Grassmayr in Innsbruck. At Innsbruck's Südring, it continues that wonderful tradition as the 'last of the Mohicans', so to speak, that once shaped Innsbruck.
It is hardly known that most of the bells of the late Middle Ages were cast in the vicinity of the church they were to ring. The streets of that time were not at all suitable for transporting heavy bells. The danger of a bell breaking was also too great. So it was the Innsbruck foundrymen who were in great demand to supervise the casting. Like perhaps the most famous foundry family of the late Middle Ages, the 'Löffler dynasty'.
A STONE SPHERE AS A WITNESS OF A GREAT PAST
Mentioned in 1502, the founder of the dynasty, Peter Löffler, cast cannons for Maximilian on the "Gennsspühel, darauff das Püxenhaus stet" west of the Hötting parish church. The house still stands today and is 'decorated' with a walled-in stone ball. It has apparently survived the centuries and is a clear indication of the former production of bells and cannons on this site.
TIROL'S OLDEST BELL HANGS IN AXAMS
But also the "Maria Maximiliana" of Schwaz, which is still considered the most beautiful bell in Tyrol because of its surface decorated with many reliefs. Peter Löffler's most outstanding work is certainly the casting of the statue of King John of Portugal, one of the statues in the 'Schwarzmanderkirche'.
An extremely productive bell founder was then Löffler's son Gregor. He excelled as a gunfounder and attached great importance to his social standing. Therefore, in 1538, he bought the property in Hötting on which he had the "Ansitz Büchsenhausen" built.
Another casting hut stood where the Mariahilfkirche stands today, in the 'Kerschental' at the Höttinger Bach. In the so-called 'Seelos casting hut', the said Hans Seelos cast guns with resounding names, 'Wunderlich Dirn' or 'Weckauf von Österreich'. Originally engaged by Maximilian as a bell founder, he was also commissioned to cast two bells for the parish church of Bolzano, weighing 14 and six hundredweight. So no 'Lercherl'. At that time, logically, he did this on site, i.e. in the immediate vicinity of the church. Thus, after casting and polishing, the bells could be raised directly into the bell tower.
THE BLACK MEN - A MASTERLY PERFORMANCE
The princely foundry in Mühlau was perhaps the most important in the period from 1500 to 1650. In 1511, the casting of a total of 24 of the large bronze statues that today adorn Maximilian's tomb in the Court Church began here. The "Four Virtues" in the upper corners of the cenotaph and the famous 'Kneeling Emperor', which adorns the lid of the cenotaph, were also created here.
WAR MEANS DEATH OF THE BELLS
Many of the historic Tyrolean bells fell victim to the First World War. Due to their bronze content, they were used for war purposes and therefore melted down in large numbers. Originally delivered 'voluntarily', they were then mostly conscripted. The wonderful website "Innsbruck remembers" shows the bells that were melted down for an absolutely senseless war. The talk is of a 'bell cemetery'.
Thus, in 1917/18, all bells larger than 25 centimeters had to be delivered. The exception were bells of museum value. Thus, especially after the Second World War, many bells were cast again, and with the bell foundry Grassmayr, an excellent casting house is still available today.
What always fascinates me in Innsbruck is not so much the modern 'Glockenspiel', but the ringing of the city parish church of St. Jacob. A Youtube video presents the entire range of these bells, all of which were made by the Grassmayr bell foundry.
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A volunteer at the "Schule der Alm" alpine farming school, cultural pilgrim, Tyrol aficionado and Innsbruck fan.