Listen to the carillon:
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
For more than a century those in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia surrounding the Miraculous Medal Shrine have been privy to the sounds of the carillon resonating through their community. Every Monday evening those attending the novena services hear the historic instrument as they enter the sanctuary. Later this month, a unique tour group will grace the lawn of the pilgrimage site to listen to the music from the 125-foot bell tower.
A carillon is a musical instrument generally housed in a tower. It is composed of bells that are played by striking a keyboard with the fists and pressing the pedal keyboard with the feet.
The 67th Annual Congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America will make a stop at the Miraculous Medal Shrine on their tour. On June 23 at 10 a.m. the entourage will be sprawled across the lawn as they recline and listen to the shrine’s bell tower that was completed in 1899 and installed in 1901.
“We are very excited to have this group of historians come to hear our carillon,” said Lizanne Magarity Pando, director of communications for the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal. “We have so many articles chronicling the history of this carillon. We even have in our archives an article in The Catholic Standard published in March of 1901. We have old recordings of the carillon. The legacy of this carillon is so copious. That’s why it’s the stop this group will make when they come to Philadelphia.”
Pando said that the shrine is used to having large tour groups. Every week there are busloads of faithful on pilgrimage tours. What is known as “Miracle Monday” has been held uninterrupted at the shrine ever since the first novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was prayed there Monday, Dec. 8, 1930.
Yet most of these groups never have the opportunity to hear the carillon for two reasons. First, one must be outside the shrine to hear the bells resonate. It was not created to sound in the shrine itself. Secondly, the carilloner, Janet Tebble, only plays the instrument from 5:30 to 6:30 and then from 7 to 7:30 p.m.
“It is housed inside a chapel,” said Pando. “You can’t hear it during Mass or the novenas. It’s meant to be heard to welcome those who come up to the shrine. Janet usually plays for those coming into the 6:30 Mass, and they hear it when they leave. She plays all the standards like ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Immaculate Mary.’ She also plays some other classical music as well as traditional Marian songs.”
The June 23 group, however, will get to hear the bells in the morning. Even though most are not Catholic they will be playing traditional Catholic liturgical music as well as other music. There will be a guest carilloner since Tebble is playing at another stop on the tour, and the group has requested to hear different musicians at each stop on their journey.
The shrine contains the fourth oldest carillon in North America. The bells were made by Paccard Foundry in France. The largest bell weighs 3,300 pounds, and the smallest weighs 30 pounds. Eleven of the bells are inscribed with the names of saints, and another 15 bells are named in honor of the 15 mysteries of the rosary.
Margaret Ellen Maguire pledged $5,000 from her father’s estate to have 26 bells made in France and shipped to the shrine in 1900. The bells were blessed on March 25, 1901, on the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It was officially played for the first time on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1901. The carillon was expanded to 47 bells in 1952 by Arthur Lynds Bigelow, an engineer and carillon expert. After repairing and expanding the carillon he performed on the instrument on June 15, 1952.
The Miraculous Medal Shrine is located at 500 E. Chelten Ave. in Philadelphia. Every Monday there are nine novena liturgies held there, and it is open for daily prayer. For more information visit www.CAMMonline.org, or call 215-848-1010.
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.