Skip to content

NEW BELLS FOR OUR CARILLON

Update October 21st: The new bells have been installed and will be ready for use shortly. Before installation the bells were beautifully adorned with roses to mark the momentous occasion. The bells are emblazoned to honor the late Clair B. Holland, the church’s volunteer carillonneur for nearly 40 years.

October 14th: This Friday, October 16, more than a ton of new bells will be added to our historic carillon. On the morning of October 16, a crane will lift two new bells into the tower of Christ Episcopal Church. Weighing some
1,200 and 900 pounds, respectively, the bells will complete the scale of
Christ Church’s historic carillon. The block of 2nd Street NW between
High Street and Jefferson Street will be closed to traffic while the crane
is in place. Everyone is welcome to come observe the installation,
starting at about 9:30 am on Friday October 16.

History of the Christ Church Carillon


The 23-bell Christ Church Carillon was installed in the late 1940’s and is
one of only five carillons in Virginia and the only one in the state in an
independent church.* For decades, the absence of two bells—a low C-
sharp and a low D-sharp—has limited the range of music that can be
played on the carillon. It is as if two black keys were missing among the
low notes on a piano. Christ Church engaged the only traditional
bellmaker in the United States—B. A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry of Ruther
Glen, Virginia—to cast and install the two large bells needed to fill out
the two-octave ensemble. They will be added to a set of bells cast soon
after World War II by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, England. Before its
foundry closed in 1957, Gillett & Johnston produced some of the finest
bells in the world, including carillons for the Riverside Church in New
York City and the Peace Tower at the Canadian Parliament, as well as
the 10-ton Freedom Bell, given by the United States to Berlin in 1950.
Using 3-D scanning technology, the Sunderlin company ensured that
the new bells match the profile of the bells cast by Gillett & Johnston.


The two new bells are believed to be the largest ever made in Virginia,
and their installation marks the first time an American company has
cast and added bells to an English carillon that were made with the same traditional molding technique as the originals. Sunderland
learned this thousand-year-old process from leading bellmakers in
England and France while earning a master’s degree in fine arts at the
University of Notre Dame. Once completed, the set of bells at Christ
Church will weigh more than five tons. They range from the bright, 54-
pound high G to the resonant, 1,407-pound bourdon, the lowest note
on the scale. The carillonneur plays the bells from a console of wooden
knobs and a pedal board that makes it possible to sound several notes
at once. The knobs and pedals are connected to the bells through a
system of wires, bars, and cranks that is entirely mechanical, requiring
no electrification. Christ Church is installing the new bells as a memorial
to Clair B. Holland, who served as the church’s volunteer carillonneur
for nearly 40 years. A much-beloved educator who taught at Greenbrier
Elementary School for almost two decades, she passed away in 2017 at
the age of 93. Today her daughter, Clair Robison, serves as the church’s
carillonneur. At a future date (TBD), Christ Church will dedicate the
completed carillon with a recital by Jesse Ratcliffe, carillonneur at the
Luray Singing Tower and choirmaster at St. James Episcopal Church in
Warrenton. The performance will include an original composition in
honor of Clair Holland. The other instruments are the Netherlands Carillon at Arlington National Cemetery, the Luray Singing Tower, the World War I Memorial Carillon at William Byrd Park in Richmond, and the carillon in the Jessie Ball duPont Chapel at Hollins University in Roanoke.