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CAROL OF THE BELLS

Text and Images by TARA YAP

WHEN THE BELLS TOLL The historic St. Clement’s Church in Iloilo City chimes Christmas melodies from the 13 carillon bells installed at its tower. The Redemptorist-run church is also where the first Novena mass in the country was held and inspired the popular Novena Masses of Baclaran Church.

WHEN THE BELLS TOLL The historic St. Clement’s Church in Iloilo City chimes Christmas melodies from the 13 carillon bells installed at its tower. The Redemptorist-run church is also where the first Novena mass in the country was held and inspired the popular Novena Masses of Baclaran Church.

Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but the 13 bells of the historic St. Clement’s Church in Iloilo City have long been chiming melodies of nostalgic Christmas songs.

The joyous and nostalgic melodies come to life at the church’s second floor balcony where 55-year-old Wilfredo Poblacion and his 22-year-old son Winston take turns striking the keys attached to the 13 bells of the church’s tower.

Churchgoers then hum or even sing along to the bell-produced melodies of Christmas classics such as “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night.”

Fr. Ramon Fruto, the first Filipino Redemptorist priest, explained to Manila Bulletin Lifestyle that St. Clement’s church bells are special for producing carillon music naturally and not electronically, which is common nowadays.

It’s a tradition that St. Clement’s Church wants to maintain. After all, the church has a place in history. It is where the first Novena mass in the Philippines took place in May 1946 and inspired the popular Novena masses at Baclaran Church in Metro Manila.

Fr. Fruto pointed how the carillon bells of St. Clement’s Church came from the longing of Fr. Francis Burns, a fellow Redemptorist priest who hailed from Belfast, Ireland.

“At that time, he had been working for years on the barrio missions in Panay Island, but his heart could find no rest until he had seen the carillon bells in his native Belfast duplicated in Iloilo,” recalled Fr. Fruto, who met Fr. Burns as a young seminarian in 1949.

LUCKY 13 A few of the 13 carillon bells of St. Clement's Church

LUCKY 13 A few of the 13 carillon bells of St. Clement’s Church

By 1952, Fr. Burns placed an order of 13 bells from Gillett & Johnston, which was then a renowned producer of high-quality clocks and bells in London, England.

The bells with the Gaelic inscriptions arrived in Iloilo City in January 1953 and the bells were used for the first time on Feb. 6, 1953.

Fr. Fruto, who in his advanced age still serves as the director for the church’s retreat program, proudly noted how the carillon bells made an impact to legendary Filipino singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan.

Fr. Fruto, who served as director of the high school department of the now defunct Iloilo St. Clement’s College where the young Chan was a student during the early 1960s, said the song “Christmas Past” was inspired by the bells.

“From his boarding school, Joe Mari and his fellow boarders would be awakened by the musical ringing of the bells as their melodious tones roused people for the Misa de Gallo of the Christmas holidays,” Fr. Fruto said.

Carlos Garcia, chairperson the Parish Apostolic Council, said there’s a need for Ilonggos and Filipinos to know that the bells exist.

“To be honest, I previously did not know about the bells. I even thought the music was recorded electronically,” Garcia admitted. “We have this here in Iloilo.  Let’s appreciate that and be proud of this.”



Source: Manila Bulletin

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