Our History

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Historic-MarkerThe founders of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church first met in 1852 and held services on 2nd floor of Thomas McCallie’s general merchandise at 4th and Market Streets. In 1853 ten families met at home of Col. James A Whiteside on Poplar Street to organize the parish. We currently hold services in our second nave on Pine & 7th Streets in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. Built in 1886, our Nave is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

St. Paul’s Tower Bells: 1911

Tower-BellsThe tower bells of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chattanooga have been ringing for over a century. They regularly call the faithful to worship with a joyful peals and in celebration of weddings and major feast of the church and somberly toll to mark the passage into the larger life. The chime of 11 bells was given to St. Paul’s in 1911 by Mary Alverretta Giles Howard in memory of her father, David Giles (1856-1910). (A chime is a collection of 11 bells rung by means of a series of hand pulled levers). Although the bells were automated in 1999, and are playable from the organ console, they continue to be rung in the tower each Sunday by a group of dedicated volunteers.

David Giles, a native of Pennsylvania was among several prominent Chattanoogans who established Chattanooga Foundry & Pipe Works, which was merged into U.S. Cast Iron Pipe & Foundry Co. Mrs. Howard offered the gift of the bells to the church in March 1911, and the Vestry accepted the offer “with thanks in a resolution praising the noble character of Mr. Giles,” according to the “Centennial History of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 1853-1953” by Dr. Edwin Lindsey.

The bells were manufactured in cast bronze by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore, and in keeping with “centuries old custom”, each bell is inscribed with a Biblical verse. They were blessed in a semi-private service on July 22, 1911, and were rung for the first time by chimer F. L. Speiden. “The music made a profound impression on the listeners assembled in the church and in the nearby streets and buildings,” Dr. Lindsy wrote. “There was no distracting roar of automobile traffic then”. The next day, The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, the bells were dedicated “in an elaborated service especially appointed” by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Frank Gailor, Bishop of Tennessee, Lindsey said.

The service was conducted by the rector, The Rev. Dr. William J. Loaring-Clark, with the assistance of The Rev. Arthur L. Seiters and lay readers Alfred Craven and John P. Powell. The hymn “Raised Between Heaven and Earth” was sung to music composed by the choirmaster, Dr. Charles A. Garrett, for the occasion. “With the chime adding an obligato to the voices of the choir and the congregation, the effect was very impressive,” according to the history. The old church bell was removed in 1911 and “loaned in Perpetuity” to Thankful Memorial Episcopal Church.

The bells are believed to have cost approximately $1,500 in 1911. Their replacement value, as of 2008, was estimated to be $675,000. They are cast in the key of “D” plus “G” sharp and upper “E”. The bells and their framing weigh approximately 20,000 pounds and are hung in a belfry in the church tower. The largest bell (D) weighing 3,050 pounds, is known as the Bourdon. It is swung before all services and tolled singly on solemn occasions such as the Good Friday service when it is rung, at the end of the liturgy, once for each year (33) of Christ’s life. Prior to automation it was swung for this service and all other services, by means of a rope in the tower. It can now be rung from the organ console.

The bells are hung in traditional chime fashion (arranged with natural, sharps and flats). Before automation each bell was rung by a clapper on the inside of the bell operated by a lever on the bell clavier in the tower. Since automation they are struck by a second set of clappers on the outside of each bell. These clappers are playable from the organ console.

The bells were rung manually until they were automated by the van Bergen Co. of Charleston, S.C. in 1999. They are now programmed to play the hour strike, several peals and selected hymns. For the hour strike Paul L. Reynolds, Organist/Choirmaster (1987-2008), chose the Whittington Chime dating back to 1392 in England. The Whittington Chime is derived from the charming tale of Richard “Dick” Whittington (1350 – 1432) a poor house boy.

Whittington tried to run away to escape the drudgery of his life, but he claimed to have heard the bells of the Church of St. Mary Le Bow in Cheapside, London, say “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor Londontown.” He heeded the message of the bells, became a wealthy merchant and served three terms as Lord Mayor of London.

For a period of about 20 years (1964? – 1984) the bells were inoperable. Under the leadership of Dr. William Knaus, Organist/Choirmaster, they were restored to playing condition. In 1984 Dr. Knaus established the tower bell ministry. This ministry continues today and involves dedicated volunteers, known as chimers, who ring the bells prior to Sunday services. The chimer works from a room beneath the belfry where the clavier of hand operated levers is located. Each lever operates a cable that activates a clapper inside the bell. The chimer stands in front of the clavier and pulls a series of wooden levers attached by cable to the clapper of each bell, according to Mark Barnes, Tower Bell Coordinator (1998 – 2009).

Throughout the years, the bells of St. Paul’s have been rung for both joyful and solemn local and national occasions.

A special Service of Remembrance and prayer was held at St. Paul’s following the national tragedy of September 11, 2001. The Bourdon (D) was programmed at the time to ring daily at 8:48 a.m., the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. This continued until the fall of 2008. The bells are not only programmed to ring the Whittington Chime and the hour strike (9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) but also to play a selection of hymns at various times through the day.

The bells have special meaning for the congregation of St. Paul’s Church as well as for the broader Chattanooga community. They can be heard throughout the downtown area and capture the attention, maybe just for a few seconds, of all who hear them.

(By Emily McDonald, 2011)