The voice of the big bell Tuba Dei can be heared on

  •  Easter Sunday at 6 a.m.,

  •  Corpus Christi procession,
  •  11 November at noon,
  •  24 December at midnight

and on other special occasions...

Since 24 June 2002 the tower is open for tourists. You are welcome to see Tuba Dei - the biggest medieval bell in this part of Europe (cast in 1500, 7500 kg heavy and 2.14 m wide of diameter), and the other bells as well as beautiful view of the old town from the top - 46 meters high!

We also recommend you to read the book entitled:

100 kB

The secrets of the old bells 
of Toruń and Chełmno
written down in the 500th anniversary 
of the casting of the great Tuba Dei

a collective work edited by  
Tomasz Jaworski, Marek Nasieniewski 
and Krzysztof Przegiętka  

Translated by Paweł Kwiatkowski  
© Wydawnictwo TNOiK, Toruń 2001
ISBN 83-7285-054-2

You can find it in many Toruń's bookshops or purchase it by the Internet: from TNOiK virtual bookshop or in University Bookshop. The book containing extensive abstracts in English is accompanied by the CD including the Tuba Dei voice recording. The price is ca. 32 pln (ca. 8 USD).

You can also contact directly to the Publisher:
Scientific Society For Organization And Management
Wydawnictwo TNOiK, "Dom Organizatora"
Al. 500-lecia 31, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Phone: (+48 +56) 6223807, 6222898, 6223342
Mobile phone: 601 176721, fax: (+48 +56) 6223123;



You can see few pictures of Tuba Dei in our gallery,
the rest (70 photos) you will find inside the album.

by bishop Andrzej Suski

by T. Jaworski, M. Nasieniewski, K. Przegiętka

I. The bells of medieval Toruń,
by Waldemar Rozynkowski

II. Bells in the Town Hall of Toruń,
by Katarzyna Kluczwajd

III. The bells of Chełmno and their importance in the life of the town, by Anna Soborska-Zielińska

IV. Musical aspects of bells,
by Rev. Mariusz Klimek

V. “Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango” – an essay on bells, by Marek Grzegorz Zieliński

VI. On old and modern bell founding,
by Bogumiła Felczyńska

VII. The sad fate of Tuba Dei’s companions during the Nazi occupation recalled by the witness of those times,
by Zdzisław Klemp

VIII. The bells of the Old and the New Town of Toruń - their present state of preservation,
by Tomasz Jaworski, Marek Nasieniewski, Krzysztof Przegiętka  


For Whom the Bell Tolls,
by Adam Paczuski
(The article published by The Warsaw Voice after the symposium organized by bell-ringers of Tuba Dei on November 25th, 2000)




The bell Tuba Dei undoubtedly belongs to the most precious monuments in Toruń. It was cast for the oldest church in town in 1500 “to the glory of God as well as St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist“, the patrons of the parish church where Nicolaus Copernicus was baptized.

This is the biggest medieval bell in Poland, twenty years older than the Zygmunt bell in Cracow and it is easy to imagine what historical events it accompanied. Its majestic toll often welcomed the kings of Poland to Toruń, greeted General Haller’s army, proclaimed the choice of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as Pope, announced the arrival of Pope John Paul II to the town of Nicolaus Copernicus as well as the establishment of the Toruń diocese and raising St John’s Basilica to the status of a cathedral church.

The Toruń community received with great joy the initiative of the ringers from St John’s cathedral, who are ardent lovers of Tuba Dei and organized a symposium at the 500th anniversary of this bell’s existence. We should also express our gratitude to the organizers for editing the materials of the  symposium.

+ Andrzej Suski
 Bishop of Toruń

Toruń, 4 July, 2001


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           Bells are special products of human hands. They are usually closed in towers high above our heads and out of the reach of human eyesight. Only the peal of bells reaching our ears betrays their existence. If this sound manages to attract our attention even for a short while, it creates a special atmosphere at that moment and distinguishes it from the silence. Therefore, the sound of pealing bells does not only emphasize more or less important events. In their sound, we can always hear the gentle but incessant passing of time.

Bells are not very suitable for the contemporary lifestyle, because they remind us of the inevitability of the passage of time. Perhaps, that is the reason why we rarely reflect on their significance for our culture, their fate, the way they are cast and the way in which they utter sound. Usually, we do not know the appearance of the bells which we hear every day. We do not even imagine the perspective from which they accompany us – tiny beings bustling around at the bottom of their slender seats. They often linger there for hundreds of years and they wake up only for a few moments in the unchanging rhythm of passing days, church services and saint's days. What changes is only the birds visiting them every day as well as people who come to visit them climbing the winding and steep stairs.

            Only some bells evoke our stronger emotions. These are usually the most famous and the biggest bells, which occupy a special place in history. Their enormous size and the force of their sound evoke admiration and respect for their founders. It is big bells that emphasize the rank of important religious and national celebrations. They proclaim momentous events and greet eminent guests. Such bells usually become important symbols of great ideas and sometimes they develop into legends. Fiction often becomes tangled with facts to such an extent that we sometimes cannot distinguish between what is true and what is a myth.

            The great Tuba Dei hanging in the tower of St John’s Cathedral in Toruń occupies a special place among Polish bells. This is the biggest medieval bell in Poland. This bell can be compared to the famous Romanesque Gniezno Doors dating back to the 12th century and to the Renaissance bell Zygmunt from the Wawel Hill in Cracow cast in 1520. However, relatively few people in Poland know about Tuba Dei and even in Toruń its presence is still not appreciated enough. September, 2000 marked the 500th anniversary of the creation of this masterpiece of European bell founding. In order to celebrate this anniversary and to emphasize the importance of its presence, the bell-ringers of Tuba Dei organized a symposium which resulted in this publication.

            Here we would like to thank those who introduced us into the fascinating atmosphere of Tuba Dei eleven years ago. We would like to extend our thanks to the then parish-priest Rev. Zdzisław Wyrowiński, who allowed us to fulfill the honourable function of bell-ringers as well as our first guide to the tower and an expert in the secrets St John’s Cathedral – Mr Tadeusz Nogalski. We appreciate the contribution of all our predecessors who took good care of the bell during the last few centuries including the former group of bell-ringers lead by Mr Ryszard Grzywiński. We are also grateful to Mr Adam Bujak, a famous Cracow photographer, who was the first to pay attention to the greatness, rank and austere beauty of Tuba Dei and presented it in his albums.

            The following facts testify to the rank of Tuba Dei. First of all, Tuba Dei is a great bell as far as its size is concerned. It is 2.27 meters in diameter and weighs about 7.5 tons. It is still the biggest gothic bell not only in Poland, but also in Central Europe. In addition, this bell is also a great work as far as its quality is concerned. It is a very precise musical instrument, which continues to peal in a full polytonal voice after 500 years. In addition to its basic tone, we can clearly hear five aliquot tones. It should be mentioned that contemporary foundries guarantee such a harmonic arrangement for only 25 years. It is important that this bell was cast in Toruń by a local founder Marcin Szmidt. It testifies to the highest level of skills of the craftsmen active in this region. It also proves that the townspeople of Toruń had high cultural awareness and European ambitions as well as considerable wealth.

            It is difficult to give a full and honest description of old bells because it is not easy to grasp all the aspects connected with them. First, bells are peculiar musical instruments belonging to the group of so-called idiophones. Second, bells are cast. Their durability and quality are strictly connected with the kind of material used and the technological level of a given foundry. Third, bells are works of art, whose shape and ornaments are connected with the style and artistic trends of the period in which they were created. Finally, bells are historical objects, which function in a particular way in the religious and cultural life of a given community.

            In order to be considered as an expert of old bells, one should have extensive knowledge in such areas as music, bell founding, history and history of art. Therefore, the bell-ringers of Tuba Dei invited experts in different areas of science, art and craft to take part in the symposium organized on November 25th, 2000. The meeting resulted in this interdisciplinary publication, which is also intended for the general public. We hope that it will acquaint the reader with the secrets of old bells, especially those from Toruń and Chełmno.

Tomasz Jaworski, Marek Nasieniewski i Krzysztof Przegiętka
The bell-ringers of Tuba Dei  

Toruń, May 2001  

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I. The bells of medieval Toruń

by Waldemar Rozynkowski

         Bells are of Asian origin and they were already known in ancient times (China and Babylonia). Their voice has always had mystical importance. They have also performed signalling functions. The first bells in European Catholic temples appeared at the turn of the 6th and the 7th century. The incorporation of bells into the sacred space was achieved through a special ceremony. It was a baptism analogous to the baptism of a child or the consecration of a church. Since the end of the 10th century, bells have been given names. Pope John XIII was the first to do that. He gave the name John to the bell he consecrated in the basilica of St John Lateran in 968. As time went on, bells were given symbolic names such as Tuba Dei, Gratia Dei and Hosanna.

            Bells were often plundered during military invasions and they were treated like other spoils of war. In modern times, bells were also plundered because of the value of the metal they were made of. They were often recast into cannons during war-time. The oldest bells preserved in Poland date back to 14th century.

            The first information about the bells of Toruń can be found in the sources from the beginning of the 14th century. The church of St John had three large bells until the end of the 15th century and there were about a dozen fair-sized bells within the boundaries of both towns (the Old Town and the New Town).

            Tuba Dei, cast at the turn of the Middle Ages and modern times (1500), remains the biggest bell in Toruń. The decision to cast it was probably taken because of religious reasons and reasons of prestige. Toruń was one of the richest towns in Poland and it could afford to accomplish such a big undertaking. In addition, the Church celebrated the whole anniversary of the birth of Christ and the next jubilee year in 1500. There were also fair-sized bells in the tower of the parish church of St James in the New Town of Toruń. One of them dated back to the middle of the 15th century and the other to the beginning of the 17th century. Unfortunately, both were plundered by the Swedish troops in 1703.

            Bells performed different sacral and secular functions in a medieval town. The sound of a bell announced the most important parts of the Mass and called for the Angelus. In the first half of the 15th century, the bells of Toruń often tolled “pro pace”. Their chime was to call on people to say the Lord’s Prayer and the “Hail Mary” three times.

            The bells in medieval Toruń also performed important secular functions. Special bells signalled the sunrise, the time of fire extinguishing, the working and the resting hours. The toll of a bell in the evening (at 21:00 in the summer) signalled the dead hours. In 1402, the Town Council decided that its members should gather when they heard the chime of a bell. Those who did not abide by this rule were liable to fines. The Town Hall bells announced the election of new town authorities. Besides, their tolling announced the time of a fair and called the townspeople to arms. Bells also sounded the alarm or joyfully greeted noble guests entering the town.


About the author: Waldemar Rozynkowski, PhD is a lecturer in the Department of Medieval History at the Institute of History and Science of Archive Administration of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. He studies the issues connected  with the history of the Church in medieval Poland, the changes in the religious life and the Church in the state of the Teutonic Knights. 

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II. Bells in the Town Hall of Toruń

by Katarzyna Kluczwajd

        The presented information refers to modern bells cast by the famous bell founders Daniel Tym (one bell) and Michael Wittwerck (three bells). They are still preserved in the tower of the Toruń Town Hall.

Daniel Tym (Thieme) was initially active as an itinerant bell founder. Then, he was active in Gdańsk and finally he was appointed as head of the royal bell foundry in Warsaw founded in 1634. The foundry made cannons, bells and utensils for customers including those from the regions distant from the capital. Tym was charged with making plaques with inscriptions and the statue of King Sigismund III, which was later placed on the column in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

Michael Wittwerck, a representative of the famous family of bell founders, which began its activity in Gdańsk at the beginning of the 17th century, obtained the title of master craftsman in 1700 after a period of apprenticeship at his father’s foundry, which he took over six years later. He was the author of the largest number of works among the Gdańsk bell founders from the modern period. Interestingly enough, he also busied himself with activities of other kind, namely with water engineering works (designs of water-supply systems for Gdańsk).

It should be underlined that the history of two of the four bells described below is peculiar because it is closely connected with the history of religious relations in the 18th century Toruń. These bells, one produced by Daniel Tym in 1648 and the other produced by Michael Wittwerck in 1729, were transferred to the Town Hall from the old-town evangelical church after the events connected with the so-called Toruń turmoil in 1724. As a result of the turmoil, the Lutherans had to leave all the post-catholic churches and they had to let the Catholics enter the municipal authorities. It is interesting to note that the bells continued to fulfill their original liturgical functions in the new place. They were the property of the old-town evangelical parish until 1899 when the tower of the evangelical church near the Old Market was built and the bells were purchased by the municipality.

In spite of the considerable difference in the time of their casting, both bells have tulip shaped bowls, which have proportions characteristic of the 17th century products, i.e. the bottom diameter approximating the height of the bell. The proportions, the composition of the decoration and the size allow us to draw a cautious conclusion that the Wittwerck bell may have been cast following the design of the earlier bell from 1648.

The rich adornment of the Tym bell testifies to the high skills of the master. Special attention should be paid to the precise modeling of the plaque depicting Christ Resurrected, John the Baptist – the patron of the Old Town of Toruń, the Virgin Mary with the Child on her hand as well as the medallion with an emblem and the inscription MIT/ GOTES HÜLFE/ .GOS MICH./ D.AN/ 16../ TIEM.

The bell cast by Michael Wittwerck in 1729 is adorned among others with a quotation from Psalm 112 for which the master had a special predilection: SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTUM ANNO 1729, with a medallion from the emblem of Toruń supported by an angel and with the signature of the master: DIVINO/ AVXILIO FVDIT/ .ME.MICHAEL/ WITTWERCK/ GEDANI, analogous to those in his clock bells - described below.

 The following bells were commissioned by the Town Council especially for the Town Hall tower: the big hour bell and the small quarter of an hour’s bell. They made part of the tower clock, which was placed there in 1728. They were cast by Michael Wittwerck in 1728 and at the turn of 1728 and 1729 respectively. The loose translation of the texts written on the bells is the following: the hour bell – THE FREELY TOLLING BELL WAS ANNIHILATED BY AN AWFUL SWEDISH FIRE (1703). NOW IS THE TIME FOR THE VOICE LIVING IN IT TO SOUND AGAIN (1728). REMEMBER THAT YOU WILL DIE; the quarter of an hour’s bell THE TOWN COUNCIL RESTORED IT IN A VERY SHORT TIME.

Both bells represent the so-called dulcimer type because the bowl, motionless during the ringing, was struck be a hammer. The bowls of both bells are tulip shaped and they have the proportions characteristic of the 18th century products, i.e. the bottom diameter bigger then the height.

The Wittwerck bells of Toruń are unique because the documents connected with their commissioning have been preserved. They are also unique because of their secular character. It is known that Wittwerck cast bells for sacral buildings in the first place.

About the author: Katarzyna Kluczwajd, M.A. is a historian of art and custodian in the Regional Museum in Toruń. She works at the Town Hall in Toruń, where she occupies herself with the artistic craft section.

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III. The bells of Chełmno and their importance in the life of the town

by Anna Soborska-Zielińska


         Now as in the past, the peal of a bell notifies people of important events, adds the festive character to all kind of celebrations, warns against danger, measures time and bids farewell to the dead. In bigger towns, which had many churches and public buildings, bells fulfilled many more functions than in other smaller urban centres. Chełmno can serve as a good example here. Nowadays, it’s a little town with about 21,000 inhabitants, but in the past it was an important centre of religious and social life. The war-time sequestration, both during the First and the Second World War, stripped the town of its most valuable bells. Now, the town hall bell is one of the oldest ones. It probably dates back to 1590, when the Toruń watch-maker Grzegorz Wilhelm was commissioned to make a clock with an hour striking mechanism after the Renaissance reconstruction of the Town Hall. There were also other bells like the so-called council bell, which summoned the councillors and the bell called Bierglocke, which announced the closing of the gates for the night.

The churches of Chełmno used to have beautiful bells. The Vincent bell dating back to 1730 gained the biggest fame. It was commissioned by the missionary priests for the parish church on the occasion of St Vincent de Paul’s beatification.

The history of the medieval bell Thornan from the cathedral in Uppsala has not been explained so far. It was taken away from Toruń in 1703 by the Swedish troops. It is interesting to note that there is a picture of the Chełmno Town Council seal on its casing. The bell cast in 1724 is the most interesting one due to its ellipsoidal shape. It was commissioned to the Toruń foundry of Fryderyk Beck for the chapel in the Grudziądz Gate.

Smaller bells could be found in schools. They have gone out of use by now and most of them have been liquidated. Now, there is only one small iron bell in an interesting Secession setting in the corridor of the Complex of Vocational Schools.

The peal of bells has filled people with joy or sorrow for ages. Nowadays, it also reminds us of what is important but elusive, although it is more and more difficult to pick it up from the turmoil we live in.

About the author: Anna Soborska-Zielińska, M.A. is an archaeologist in the Museum of the Chełmno Region. She is interested in the history of Chełmno, especially in the 19th century and between the two world wars. 

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IV. Musical aspects of bells 

by Mariusz Klimek

Bells are musical instruments. They have their own key and tone. For centuries they have been made to chime by human hand, often by the hand of an artist. It is a difficult task and not everyone can get the most beautiful sounds out of them. Someone has said that “the melody of their chime has often mirrored the soul of the man setting them in motion”. Indeed, bells like all instruments producing natural sound need an artist.

Within the family of musical instruments bells should be categorized as idiophones. There are idiophones consisting of one or two elements at most. Among them, we distinguish plate idiophones, which include gongs and vessel idiophones, which include bells. The main difference between a gong and a bell is that when struck a gong vibrates in the centre while a bell only vibrates near the rim.

Bells occur as hollow instruments or instruments supplied with a heart. Bells of the first kind fall into pendant and supported ones and bells of the second kind fall into hanging and manual ones. It is easy to become convinced that the variety of shapes is considerable here. A strongly-bent tulip shaped plate is the best-known one. A bell like that includes the following major elements starting from the bottom upwards (Fig.IV.1): the bottom edge, the rim, the casing, the upper edge, the helmet and the crown. The heart is inside.

The sound of a bell has its own characteristic structure. There is the striking (main) tone and the upper aliquot tones (harmonically higher): a quint, an octave, a decima, etc, and non-harmonic constituent tones. The bell as an instrument produces a peculiar sound, because its constituent tones do not mingle into a strictly specified tone, but they are audible separately as the major chord, for example. The high quality of the instrument sound depends on their harmony.

The attempts to mechanize the technique of playing the instrument and to construct fully automatic musical instruments led to the birth of mechanical instruments or autophones. They are equipped with a rotating cylinder with spikes, with perforated discs or paper bands, which are a peculiar kind of musical notation. A suitable combination of this method of recording with a mechanism consisting of simple levers or draw-gears makes it possible to get sounds out of the instrument automatically and to obtain quite a faithful reproduction of a given composition.

The first autophones appeared in the 13th century as sets of bells – so-called carillons which could be combined with the mechanism of tower clocks. For example, it was virtually impossible to find a town in Holland with a church or town hall tower without such a mechanism. However, from the musical point of view they did not matter much until the 16th century when carillons started to be set in motion not automatically, but by means of a keyboard.

There are also bells which are musical instruments in the strict sense of the word. They are used in symphony orchestras. It is impossible to use church bells in an orchestra considering their size, weight and cost. In spite of that, we find variously tuned bells in orchestra scores, especially in musical and scenic works. Sometimes we find several bells in the same work (for example, R. Wagner used four bells in “Parsifal”: c, G, A, E). For that reason, bells are replaced with instruments producing sounds similar to proper bells.


About the author: The Reverend Mariusz Klimek, PhD, is musicologist, in charge of the Toruń Church Choir “Tibi Domine”.


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V. “Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango” – an essay on bells

by Marek Grzegorz Zieliński


Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango – I summon the living, I mourn the dead and I crush thunderbolts  – this inscription can be seen on the cathedral bell in Schaffhausen in Switzerland. The prayer which used to be said by bishops during consecration was maintained in the same tone. This inscription fully renders the function of bells, which set the rhythm of human life and it also expresses the conviction that the peal of a bell protects against all possible calamities. Thus, the peal of a bell assumes the proportions of the symbol of Divine Providence here.

By an irony of fate, what the bells were to protect people against was the biggest threat for them at the same time. Wars, fires, lightning and gales as well as natural wear and melting down are the major factors limiting the lifetime of bells and their number.

The charm and appeal of bells is so strong that the range of their influence is very wide. They inspire men of letters evoking both aesthetic and patriotic feelings making people reflect over the essence of life. Such poets as Friedrich Schiller and Adam Mickiewicz succumbed to their charm. Bells are the source of many stories and legends. It is enough to mention the legend of the bell Zygmunt of Cracow. The history the Toruń bell Tuba Dei is also very impressive. The information about the weight of bells sometimes turns into legends.

Historians and historians of art are also interested in bells. Unfortunately, our knowledge about this is unsatisfactory. Why is that so? The answer is simple. First of all, these are relics of material culture which are hardly available. Second, their number is considerable and they are scattered all over the country and abroad. Third, it is necessary to combine a difficult archival research with their complete stock-taking, which is beyond the power of a single researcher. The stock-taking of bells is indispensable. It should provide the most essential data about the material a bell is made of, its size (the height, the diameter and the girth), the time of its casting, the bell founders, the place where the casting occurred, the stylistic identification of the ornamentation, inscriptions and the sound value (tone and the duration of reverberation). The archival research should not only bring rich knowledge about the social role of bells, but also about the founders who cast them and who have often left no trace in human memory. This is a very important task because only in this way can we properly evaluate the importance of given bell founders and bell founding centres. Stock-taking which is not supported with archival research can bring a biased picture, because it is very probable that what has survived till our times results from a conscious selection of the Nazi invaders during the Second World War.

It is beyond all doubt that the number of old bells in Poland is small if we compare it to the number of bells in other European countries. The war-time plunder has played an important role here. The oldest reference to that comes from the Czech chronicle of Kosmas and refers to the plunder of huge bells from Gniezno by Prince Brzetysław in 1039. The Swedes also plundered bells during the so-called North War (1700 – 1721). The bell Tornan taken from the church of the Benedictine nuns is still hanging in the cathedral in Uppsala. The plunder of bells lasted till the 20th century. The First and the Second World War were particularly devastating here. Bells were plundered by the Germans, the Austrians and the Russians. The most devastating were the years 1915-1917 and 1941-1942. The losses should be estimated in the thousands. Nevertheless, the bells that have survived still allow us to evaluate the contribution of bell-founders to the cultural heritage of the country.

Thanks to the inscriptions on bells and archival materials, we can quote the names of the most outstanding bell founders active in Poland and connected with Poland. In the group of about 170 bell founders, we can find both home masters and numerous foreigners. Most of the foreign bell founders arrived from such countries as Germany, France, the Czech Republic and even from Hungary and Sweden. The leading role in the Polish bell-founding was played by masters from Nuremberg who mostly arrived at the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Since the beginning of the Renaissance the native bell founders started to dominate, although such centres as Wrocław, Królewiec and Ryga continued to influence the Polish territories. Bells were also imported from the Netherlands during the 16th century. Moreover, in the 19th century bells were imported from the big German foundries in Apold, Bochum and Recklighausen.

The following towns were most important among the home centres: Gdańsk, Kraków, Warszawa, Lwów, Wilno, Toruń, Poznań and Płock. Later, the following towns also became important as bell founding centres: Kałusz, Węgrów, Chełmno, Przemyśl, Pustelnik and Olsztyn. It is beyond all doubt that Gdańsk was the leading centre of bell founding in the country. Both the number of bells cast by the masters of Gdańsk and the range of their influence testify to that. Gdańsk like no other city in the Polish Republic can pride itself on several outstanding bell founding families in which this profession was passed from generation to generation. The following families should be mentioned: Bennigk, Wittwerck, Anthony, Weinhold and Schultz. Gdańsk continued to shined on the map of Polish bell founding between the 15th and the 19th century. Toruń occupies a significant, although undervalued place among the bell founding centres. It became famous as a bell founding centre already at the beginning of the 16th century, then in the second half of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century. Toruń can pride itself on the activity of about a dozen bell founders reckoned among the best in the country. We should mention here the following bell founders: Marcin Szmidt, Łukasz Krieger, Tomasz Litkensee, Dionizy Blandner, Augustyn Koesche, Henryk Wreden, Fryderyk Beck, Fryderyk Rekman, Franciszek Krieger, Jerzy Fryderyk Henig and Mikołaj Petersilge.


About the author: Marek G. Zieliński, PhD is a historian at the Institute of Contemporary Polish History in the 16th and the 17th century at the Institute of History of the Academy of Bydgoszcz. He studies the culture and history of Chełmno.

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VI. On old and modern bell founding

by Bogumiła Felczyńska

Bell founding belongs to those fields of artistic craft whose very names evoke the atmosphere of the years gone by. It is associated with something distant, mysterious and forgotten. “This is a vanishing trade,” say ethnographers, museum managers, bell founders and teachers. However, the growth of bell foundries in recent years and the constant demand for their products point to something completely opposite.

Bell foundries mostly cast bells but they also made cannons. Thus, they got orders both in war-time and peace-time. The bell foundries existing today cast mainly bells. The less attention a foundry pays to “secondary” output like plaques, monuments, etc, the better. Being very jealous, bells want their creators to focus their attention solely on them. They reciprocate with a beautiful sound and durability.

Bells are cast in bronze. It is an alloy of copper and tin (78 per cent of copper and 22 per cent of tin). The content of other chemical elements should be vestigial. Therefore, to make bronze, we use the purest metals that can be found. Then, the instrument is sonorous and it has a clear tone as well as long “reverberation”. Bronze is melted down in a furnace – a shaft furnace in our case. In order to obtain desirable temperature (over 1000ºC), below atmospheric pressure is used. It is created in the furnace chamber thanks to a chimney several meters high. The furnace is first heated up with hard timber (oak, beech and birch), then coke is put into it and finally metal is gradually added. The preparation and heating up of the furnace take about three days and nights. When the metal has attained appropriate parameters it is tapped. Molten bronze is poured into successively opened moulds, which are buried in a founding pit.

The moulds used for bell founding are made from clay. The core is built first, then the so-called “false bell” and finally a “canopy”. These are three overlapping and isolated elements, which are separated after the mould has been fired. The “false bell” is destroyed then, but the core and canopy are preserved. Free space shaped like the future bell is left between the core and the canopy. At this stage, the mould is adorned with inscriptions and ornaments. The clay surface is covered with a layer of animal tallow and ornamental elements made from a wax mass are stuck to this layer. When the mould is being fired, the wax and tallow are smelted leaving their negatives on the canopy.

The mould created in this way is buried in the founding pit next to the furnace. At the same time, depending on their weight, five or six bells are being cast. After the metal has been tapped, the bells mature in the pit for about two days and nights. Afterwards, they are dug up, the moulds are broken up and the casts are extracted. A yoke is fixed to the polished and sandblasted bells and they are ready to chime for a long, long time.

Bell founding is an artistic craft, which cannot be learned at any school. It is passed from generation to generation solely within a family. The Felczyński family has been casting bells since 1808. The first bell foundry was founded by Michał Felczyński in Kałusz near Lwów. The foundry was taken over by his son Franciszek and then by Franciszek’s sons – Ludwik, Michał, Jan and Kajetan. Nowadays several bell foundries are in operation in Poland. Three of them are managed by the descendants of Michał Felczyński. The bells from the Felczyński Foundry are highly valued by experts, because the professional skills are passed from one generation to another by the most traditional methods – an apprenticeship in the foundry and personal contact with the material. The experience of the generations of bell founders still accumulates and yields perfect work or work very close to perfection...

            It is difficult to count all the bells cast by the Felczyński Bell Foundry, but their number certainly approaches tens of thousand. They hang not only in the belfries of churches in Poland but in almost all the other countries in the world. On average the foundry casts about 120 bells a year. At present, middle-sized bells - from 100 to 1000 kilograms, usually in three-vocal sets - are in greatest demand.


About the author: Mrs Bogumiła Felczyńska has graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. She works at the Felczyński Bell Foundry in Taciszów near Gliwice. She designs and produces adornments for bells.

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VII. The sad fate of Tuba Dei’s companions during the Nazi occupation recalled

By the witness of those times - Mr Zdzisław Klemp


Mr Zdzisław Klemp was born on July 29, 1925 in Toruń. Before the Second World War he was an altar-boy in the church of St John. He remembers that there were the following five bells in the tower at that time: Tuba Dei, Siostra (Sister), Kulawy (Cripple), Pogrzebowy (The Funeral) and Kiejzegloka. The big bell Tuba Dei tolled twice a year: at Easter and Corpus Christi. Soldiers from the Toruń garrison swung it, while the older altar-boys had the privilege to swing the smaller bells on week-days.

During the Nazi occupation Mr Klemp worked in the German military construction office “Heeresbauamt Thorn”, whose seat was close to the church of St John. Several times in 1942 or 1943, he heard the sound of a hand-saw coming from the tower when he returned home after work in the evening. As he learned later from the organist Mr Rutkowski, he heard the sound of Siostra’s destruction. The Germans melted it down for raw material for the army.

Mr Klemp thinks that the history of this bell should be studied and its plunder should not be forgotten.


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VIII. The bells of the Old and the New Town of Toruń - their present state of preservation

by Tomasz Jaworski, Marek Nasieniewski and Krzysztof Przegiętka


The Old Town of Toruń has been on the UNESCO list of the world cultural heritage since 1997. The great bell Tuba Dei (The Horn of God) is its spiritual and material complement as well as its integral part. This is the biggest medieval bell in Central Europe. Its bottom diameter amounts to 2.27 metres, it is 2.0 metres high including the crown and it weighs 7.5 tons (including the 200-kilo iron heart). It was cast in 1500 in Toruń by a local bell founder called Marcin Szmidt. The presence of this great bell in Toruń, which used to be one of the biggest towns in Poland, is not accidental. At that time Tuba Dei testified to the greatness and significance of the town. It still evokes admiration for its founder and respect for the townspeople who funded its casting.

Tuba Dei has an austere gothic ornamentation with only four small reliefs. These are the following figures of the church patrons: St John the Baptist (who was also the patron of the town), St John the Evangelist, St Barbara (the patron of bell founders) and St Catherine. The following Latin inscription written in capital letters can be read under the crown:


The full translation of this inscription into English is the following:

 Tuba Dei is still hanging in the massive bell tower of St John’s Cathedral on the original wooden entablature dating back to 1433. In order to place it 34 metres above the ground, a long wooden ramp was built. Then seven pairs of oxen hauled the bell over the roofs of the houses. One of the legends of Toruń is connected with this event. Tuba Dei is a very precisely made musical instrument. It is enough to strike this 7-ton giant very gently to make it vibrate. The fact that legs, not hands, are used to set the bell in motion is another unusual feature distinguishing it from other bells. An ingenious mechanism is used for that purpose, but in spite of that five or six strong people are needed to make it swing. The A flat tone from the small octave with four well audible aliquot and other tones make a cord similar to the major key. The characteristic uneven toll of Tuba Dei is caused by the slight deflection of the bell from its optimum position so that the strokes of the heart are weaker on one side of the bell. Thus, the mysterious and respected toll of the great bell is well distinguishable from the choir of the other bells in Toruń. Therefore, the toll of Tuba Dei has invariably emphasized the significance of important events for 500 years and it has harmonized with the atmosphere of the biggest festivals. Now it can only be heard several times a year. The toll of Tuba Dei greets the New Year and the beginning of Easter. It also signals the beginning of the Corpus Christi procession, adds splendour to the celebration of the Independence Day (11th November) and announces the coming of Christmas. It used to welcome Polish kings to Toruń and on June 7th, 1999 it greeted Pope John Paul II.

This great bell, which is the pride of Toruń, has happily survived the turmoil of history. Unfortunately, the other valuable bells of Toruń did not avoid being plundered. The Swedes plundered the 15th century bell from St James’s church in 1703. Now it can be found in the northern tower of the cathedral in Uppsala, where it is called Thornan. It is about 1.70 metres in diameter and weighs 3 tons. Thanks to that, it enjoys the fame of the biggest medieval bell in Sweden. At that time the Swedes also plundered the biggest bell from St James’s church. However, this giant bell cast in 1634 and weighing 6.2 tons cracked during transportation and four years later it was melted down. It can also be found in the primate cathedral of Uppsala and still remains the biggest Swedish bell. The worst fate befell the bell called Siostra (Sister) cast in 1437, which was hanging next to Tuba Dei. Siostra was 1.70 metres in diameter and weighed about 4 tons. In 1942 or 1943 it was cut up by the Germans. It was then transported from the tower and melted down. Its valuable metal was used by the army.

The bell St Lawrence from the church of the Virgin Mary is the most outstanding one among the four gothic bells in Toruń that have been preserved till our times. It was cast in bronze in 1386 and its bottom diameter amounts to 1.06 metres. Now it is still the third oldest bell in Poland after the bell Nowak from the cathedral on the Wawel Hill, which dates back to the first half of the 14th century and the bell from the parish church in Biecz cast in 1382.

Table: The bells which are found within the medieval boundaries of the Old and the New Town of Toruń according to the authors.


The date of casting, the bell founder

The name or the colloquial name of the bell

The bottom diameter, the metal



the church of the Virgin Mary:



St Lawrence

1.06 m, bronze



St John’s Cathedral:



Pogrzebowy (The Funeral)

0.95 m, bronze



1500, Macin Szmidt

Tuba Dei

2.27 m, bronze



1766, Mikołaj Petersilge

Kulawy (Cripple)

1.22 m, bronze



the church of St James:


the 14th/15th century


1.05 m, bronze



1770, Mikołaj Petersilge


0.77 m, bronze



1847, Fryderyk Schultz


0.96 m, bronze



the 19th/20th century (ave-bell)


0.30 m, steel



the church of St Catherine:




0.90 m, steel



The church of the Holy Spirit:




0,97 m, bronze



1961 (ave-bell)


0.31 m, steel



The church of St Stephen:




0.84 m, steel





0.80 m, steel



The Town Hall:


1648, Daniel Tym


0.79 m, bronze



1728, Michał Wittwerck

The Hour Bell

1.19 m, bronze



1728, Michał Wittwerck

The Quarter of an Hour Bell

0.96 m, bronze



1729, Michał Wittwerck


0.75 m, bronze



About the authors: Tomasz Jaworski,M.Sc., Marek Nasieniewsk,M.Sc. and Krzysztof Przegiętka,PhD are employed at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Their private passion is performing the honourable function of Tuba Dei bell-ringers.  

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Paweł Kwiatkowski, MSc:
tłumacz przysięgły języka angielskiego; specjalizacja: tłumaczenia techniczne, prawnicze, faktury, korespondencja handlowa, prace naukowe.

87-100 Toruń 
ul. Warneńczyka 6/21
tel./fax (56) 623 0876


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After the symposium organized by bell-ringers of Tuba Dei (on November 25th, 2000)
The Warsaw Voice published

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Central Europe's largest Gothic bell, Tuba Dei (God's Trumpet) in Toruń, has turned 500. Its ringing will greet the coming of the new millennium.

    The bell is the second largest historic bell in Poland. Only Wawel Cathedral's Sigismund, the famous Renaissance bell commissioned by King Zygmunt I, is bigger. The casting of Tuba Dei was partly connected with the Catholic Church's jubilee celebrations of Christ's birth in 1500 (interestingly enough, the most famous of all Torunians, Nicholas Copernicus, attended the ceremonies in Rome), and partly with the rivalry between Toruń and Gdańsk. Earlier, the citizens of Gdańsk had founded the six-ton Gratia Dei bell for the city's Mariacki Church. Toruń was not to be outdone.

   Cast Sept. 22, 1500 by Toruń's master bell-founder Merten Schmidt, the bell was christened "God's Trumpet" and hung in the city's largest church, St. John's Cathedral. It is a masterpiece of the European art of bell-founding. Although it is second to the half-tonne heavier and 20-years-younger Sigismund, Tuba Dei remains the biggest Gothic bell in Poland and this part of Europe, with a weight of 7.5 tonnes, height of nearly 2 m, and a diameter of 227 cm. "It is the faithful witness and life companion of the community living in Toruń," said Toruń bishop, Andrzej Suski. "Its sound accompanies us from the day we are born to the day we die."

   Bells had much more significance in the past than they do today. In ancient times, their resounding peal was believed to reach the heavens. Christianity began making use of them in the 7th century, cast from bronze, the biblical symbol of strength and resistance. The custom of adjoining a bell tower to a church became widespread in the times of Charlemagne. In 968, the pope christened the bell at St. John Basilica in Rome "John." From then on that bells have been christened, becoming not only sacral objects, but also as if gaining their own personalities. One of Toruń's bells has a characteristic inscription describing its function: "I call the living together, I mourn the dead, I crush the thunderbolt." Since the role of a bell was to remind people of prayer, the towers from which bells sounded above the city were often compared to preachers.

    Towns not only had church bells, but also "lay" bells located in the city hall tower. Their ringing marked the hours of the day. In addition to chiming the hours, they announced local election results and called councilors to meetings (latecomers paid a fine). At 9 p.m. you could hear the so-called "beer bell." Woe betide the innkeeper who served beer to a townsman past that hour (the rule did not apply to visitors.) Anyone in the streets found with weapons after 9 p.m. was also fined, while those whose complete sobriety was doubted were taken straight to the stocks.

    However, church bells were both larger and more important than their civic brothers. They rang at some church services and at fixed hours as a reminder of various virtues, such as peace. People rang the bell for joy when an important guest visited the town-Tuba Dei welcomed Pope John Paul II to Toruń in 1999-or in alarm, at moments of danger like fire or war. Bells were also believed to protect people from thunderbolts. Bells today no longer serve such purposes, but do, especially those of historical value, hold a special place in our memory, whether we are town residents or tourists. Even damaged bells outlive their ring, to become monuments, like Moscow's giant Kolokol. People today still believe that bells have magical powers: tourists climbing the high tower of Wawel Cathedral hope that touching Sigismund bell's clapper will bring them luck.

    But the public does not usually have access to bells, which are hidden in high towers. The only people who come into direct contact with them are bell-ringers-an honorable occupation both today and in the past. To make a big bell like Tuba Dei in Toruń ring, an entire team of bell-ringers is needed. "Ringing a bell is not just about pulling a rope. It is an art you learn your whole life," said one of Toruń bell-ringers, Tomasz Jaworski. "Bells are musical instruments, historical items and works of art all in one. It is not easy, therefore, to be an expert on bells, which requires one to be a musician, historian and art historian at the same time."

   Making bells is the bell-founder's job. It sometimes takes more than a year to cast one bell, depending on its size. The most time-consuming stage is the preparation of the clay mold, which is then buried underground. When the smelted metal attains the required temperature, it is poured into the mold. After around 24 hours, the bell is taken out of the hollow hole and the clay mold is removed. Today, bells in Poland are made by several bell-foundries, but only one of them casts bells according to traditional methods: the Felczyński family's bell-foundry, with a nearly 200-yearlong tradition, in Tarciszów near Gliwice in Silesia.

   One hundred years ago in Poland, you could still find bells dating back even to the 11th and 12th centuries. The two world wars brought them devastation, and today the oldest bells in Poland date back no earlier than to the 13th century. Polish bells must have been of good quality, as they often fell prey to invading armies. The first mention of looting Polish bells is in the Kosmasa chronicle, which contains stories of the Gniezno bells stolen by Czech Prince Bretislav in the 11th century. Later, the material from which bells were cast, zinc bronze, became their undoing. Their destruction advanced with the progress of artillery, as bells were recast on a massive scale into weapons. Paradoxically, both guns and bells in the 15th and 16th centuries were often produced by the same craftsmen.

   Toruń bells were also prey to robbers. The 1601 St. James's Church bell is today the biggest bell of Sweden, where it is called "Thornan." Confiscated by the army of Charles XII during the Northern War, it was taken to Uppsala's Cathedral, where it adorns the main Swedish house of prayer and the seat of the primate to this day. Legend has it that another Toruń bell-Zuzanna, from St. Nicholas's Church, which no longes exists today-sank to the bottom of the Vistula during an attempt by the Swedes to load it on a barge. It may still be there.

   Today's Toruń is home to 11 historic bells that have survived wars, confiscation, and even the churches from which they originate. All of them, including the largest, Tuba Dei, rang together to greet the new millennium.

By Adam Paczuski

The story

about the author:

was published in:

January 7, 2001 No.1 (637)

Adam Paczuski - Toruń pressman, contributor to the local magazine "Promocje kujawsko-pomorskie" and correspondent of the weekly "The Warsaw Voice - Polish and Central European Review", preparing the issue of the "Special Supplement" devoted to Toruń region, including the bell story.



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Reviewed and www edited by K. Przegiętka