Great Bells

The weight of a bell is one of its most important characteristics.  Really  B...I...G  bells, or "great bells", seem to be especially fascinating to many people.  For the purpose of the lists herein, a great bell is arbitrarily defined as a tower bell which weighs at least 4 tonnes (see Bell weights).  This includes all Western bells with a pitch of bass G# or deeper, as well as a few such bells with pitch of bass A and an exceptionally heavy profile.  (For Oriental bells, the relationship between weight and pitch is much less clear.)

Since there is a fairly close relationship between the weight of its bell and its diameter, and a very close relationship between the diameter of a bell and its pitch (or note), it would be possible to define "great bells" in terms of either a certain minimum diameter or a certain maximum frequency of vibration of the principal note of the bell.  But that information is often more difficult to obtain.  Nevertheless, we include it when available, for purposes of comparison.

In all of the lists set forth below, whenever a great bell is part of a carillon, chime, zvon or large peal, there is link from its description (abbreviated and/or detailed) to the site data page about that instrument.  Following that link will reveal more detailed information, Weblinks to pages elsewhere, etc.

Note on "completeness":   Thanks to the work of the late Alan Blair, these lists are believed to be complete with respect to bells over 10 tonnes (10,000 kg), though it is possible that a few remain undiscovered or unreported.  (Please report additions or corrections using the mail-link at the bottom of the affected page.)  Some of these lists are marked "not yet complete" to indicate that the compiler of these pages has not yet found (or made) the time needed to incorporate available information about additional great bells weighing between 4 and 10 tonnes.

Great bells in North America

Because of the distinctive campanological history of North America, the majority of great bells in this region (66) are to be found in carillons.  All are in traditional carillons except for two which are sub-bourdons of non-traditional carillons.  That list of these bells is presented as a compact table of abbreviated descriptions, in descending order by weight, with links to the site data pages about the instruments that contain them.

There are, nevertheless, 32 great bells to be found outside carillons in this area.  One of them was the largest modern bell in the world (and the largest swinging bell in the world) from 1998 to 2006.  These bells are also listed in descending order by weight, but with extended descriptions and related information, including Weblinks to information available elsewhere.

The table of great bells in carillons also serves as a combined list by weight of all great bells in this region, by providing links to the appropriate points in the list of independent great bells.

Great bells in other regions

Central and South America

One great bell is known in this region:

Cuzco, Peru - ~14000 lbs

Two possible great bells currently known in this region are the bourdons of the carillons at

  Site ID                                  Nr   P     Wt     M/Year   Notes
________________________________________   __   __   _____   ______   _____
SAO PAULO - MC             : BRAZIL        #1   A            F/1961
HIGUEY                     : DOMINICAN R   #1   A     9260   P/1977   = 4200 kg
(See great bells in North American carillons for the key to the column headings.)

It seems possible that there may still be some "undiscovered" great bells in other large old Catholic churches and cathedrals of this region.  This is because most early bells in such places were cast on site by itinerant bellfounders, and so there are few records of them elsewhere.

Africa and the Mideast

Only one great bell is known in this region - the 6-ton Russian-made bass bell of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.  (Malta is classified with Europe; see below.)

British Isles

A complete list of present and former great bells in this region is in descending order by weight.  Only six of these 36 bells are in carillons or chimes, so they are not listed separately as is done for North America (see above).

A different viewpoint appears in a table of great bells by date, which has abbreviated descriptions.  This table also identifies those bells which set a new record for heaviest cast in this region.

The complete, detailed list and the abbreviated table are fully cross-linked, enabling easy comparison of any aspect of interest.  A color-coded background makes it easy to distinguish those bells which are (or were) in carillons or chimes.

Russia

A fully detailed (but not yet complete) list of present and former great bells in Russia includes no bells which are in carillons, so they are not listed separately as is done for North America (see above).

Similar lists elsewhere:

Europe

For mainland Europe, there is a table of present and former great bells (not yet complete), with abbreviated descriptions, in descending order by weight.  As with the table for the British Isles, a color-coded background makes it easy to distinguish those great bells which are in carillons or chimes.

There is a parallel list of great bells by country, which is fully detailed (but not yet complete).  The countries with the largest numbers are in separate files - presently only Germany, but a few others may be migrated to separate pages as they are completed.  For each country, the bells are shown in the same order as in the table.

Entries in the European table are linked to entries in the lists, and entries in the lists are referenced to the table by sequence number; this enables easy comparison of any aspect of interest. Since only a minority of great bells in this region are in carillons or chimes, they are not listed separately as is done for North America (see above). 

Similar lists elsewhere:

Asia and the Pacific Rim

Great bells in this region are divided into two lists, according to profile. 

(One bell appears in both lists.)

THE SOUND OF BELLS

SACRED OBJECTS
by Charles Wilson McManis (1913-2004), organ builder

I HAVE no sacred objects.  I do have SACRED SOUNDS to which I respond.  Three types of sounds get to me:  The HUMAN VOICE, individually or in chorus; PIPE ORGAN full ensemble tone; Close proximity to BIG BELLS when struck.

from "The Outrider" St.John's Episcopal Church, Waterbury, CT, January 1997

I don't know what my uncle's definition of BIG BELLS was, but I imagine that he might have been comfortable with that which I have used on this Website.  Certainly I have been moved by all three types of sounds that affected him.  One event in particular is worth noting here:  One day in July 2013, I was in the lower belfry of the Münster of Bern, Switzerland, when the second bell was swung for five minutes at noon, as is customary there.  With my hands over my ears to protect them from the sound pressure of the higher frequencies, my body soaked up the lower-frequency vibrations right down to the bones.  It was a memorable and indeed awesome experience. /CSZ/

The world-class Saint Louis Symphony has used in its publicity materials the slogan, "You have to hear it live."  So it is with bells -- no matter how good a recording might be, it can't have quite the impact of the real thing, whether it be the music of an expertly-played grand carillon, the ever-changing pattern of accurately-struck change-ringing, the rhythm of a zvon, or the pealing of one or more great bells.  Therefore we have made no effort to include recordings of bells (great or otherwise) on this Website.  Readers are wlecome to seek out recordings elsewhere on the Web, and are encouraged to find opportunities to hear great bells live.

SUMMARY

By now, dear reader, you will have realized that we have NOT presented any form of combined list of the heaviest/biggest/deepest-toned bells of the world.  This is deliberate, and there are several reasons for it.  Presented in no particular order (!), they include the following:

If you wish to prepare a combined list for your own purposes, please feel free to do so.  The information is here, as best we have been able to discover it, and you may interpret it as you wish.


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This page was created 1996/12/12 and last revised 2015/10/12.

Please send comments or questions to csz_stl@swbell.net