When most people think of gothic church bells they think of banks of massive metal chimes dangling among the dusty rafters of ancient churches and towers, but more and more such clarions are becoming extinct in favor of electric tintinnabulation. However the world’s largest free-swinging bell, known as St. Petersglocke (Saint Peter’s Bell) still exemplifies this popular imagery.
It was cast in 1923 after a small amount of trouble finding a craftsman who would actually create the instrument due to issues with a previous massive bell that left multiple people bankrupt. However it was eventually manufactured by one Heinrich Ulrich, who was uniquely suited to create a titanic bell that could ring out in a near perfect C. Unfortunately the stress of bidding and creating the bell proved too much for the metal worker who died before the bell was ever installed. However the foundry he left behind was able to finish the bell but was forced to ransom it to the church for additional fees lest they went belly up like those before them.
The finished bell measured 10 feet in diameter and over 10 feet tall, and weighed in at of 52,000 pounds of ecclesiastical iron. It was hung in the south belfry of the Cologne Cathedral where its massive clapper rings out sharp Cs to this very day.
A crack formed in the 1950s but was repaired, and the titanic clapper had to be replaced, but by all accounts St. Petersglocke has lost little of its majesty over its impressive lifespan. Visitors can still climb the stairs and stand under the imposing bell, but probably not while its ringing lest they want to go deaf.