The bells of St. Stephen’s
An overview by Cathedral Archivist Reinhard H. Gruber
Austria’s most famous bell, the Pummerin (real name: Marienglocke, after St. Mary), hangs in the north tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and is the second-largest bell in Western Europe.
The nickname "Pummerin" (Boomer) was inspired by the deep sound produced by the bell when it is struck. It was cast to replace an older bell of the same name which was destroyed in a fire at the Cathedral in 1945. The original was cast in 1711 from captured Turkish cannonballs, and tipped the scales at 22,500 kg. The present-day bell, cast at the bell foundry of St. Florian in Upper Austria, weighs 21,383 kg, has a diameter of 314cm and is 294cm tall including its crown. The bell wall is up to 23cm thick.
The arms of the bell’s yoke are decorated with six Turk's heads. Further ornamentation includes three pictorial reliefs: the Blessed Mother, a scene from the 1683 siege of Vienna by the Turks, and the fire of 1945. The inscription on the relief with the Turks reads: “I was cast from the booty of the Turks as the city, drained of its blood, rejoiced following its courageous victory over the enemy forces. 1711.” The second inscription refers to the fire at the Cathedral: “I broke apart in the glowing inferno. I fell from the ravaged tower as the city groaned beneath the burdens of war and fear. 1945." Finally there is the dedicatory inscription: “Recreated by master bell founder Karl Geisz under Cardinal Dr. Theodor Innitzer, thanks to the efforts of Heinrich Gleissner, and dedicated to the Queen of Austria, that her powerful intercession may bring peace in freedom. 1951."
Above the dedicatory inscription is the coat of arms of the Austrian Republic, and beneath the inscription is a combination of various different coats of arms. The Pummerin (pitched at c + 4/16) was cast on 5 November 1951. On 26 April 1952 it was blessed by Cardinal Innitzer, and in October of 1957 it was finally hung in the north tower. The Pummerin is sounded at least ten times a year, on the following occasions: New Year’s, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday, Whitsun, Corpus Christi, All Souls’ Day, Christmas Eve and St. Stephen’s Day, as well as for the devotional service at the end of the year and the anniversary of the Cathedral's dedication (23 April). It is also rung on special occasions (including the death or appointment of the pope, the death or appointment of the Archbishop, and the funeral of the Cathedral Priest).
The Pummerin is one of 23 bells:
Three historic bells hang at the foot of the Pummerin in the north tower. They are no longer sounded, as they do not match the sound of the Cathedral’s other bells.
The northern Heidenturm (Roman Tower) is the only tower that was not destroyed by fire in 1945, and its colourfully named bells have thus survived.
- the Feuerin, cast in 1859, was rung whenever there
was a fire in the city
- the Kantnerin, cast in 1772, called the cantors to mass
- the Fehringerin, cast in 1772, was rung on Sunday at
high mass (the exact meaning of its name is unclear)
- the Bieringerin, cast in 1772, gave the signal for beer
taverns near the Cathedral to close
- the Arme Seelen (Pour Souls) bell, cast in 1772;
was used as a funeral bell
- the Churpötsch, cast in 1772, was rung for rosary
devotionals (the name probably comes from a
foundation established by the archbishopric curia,
in honour of the Madonna of Pócs)
A plan to acquire a new set of bells to complement the sound of the Pummerin was initiated shortly after the Cathedral reopened. The project faltered early due to a lack of funds. The President of the Austrian Parliament at the time, Leopold Figl, took up the cause with Prelate Karl Raphael Dorr, the Cathedral Priest. Together they were successful in attracting donors. Josef Pfundner created the new set of bells at his bell foundry in Vienna, based on a sculptural design by Carry Hauser. The new bells were installed in the large south tower belfry, where the old Pummerin had once hung. At 32,000 kg, the combined weight of the Pummerin and the eleven new editions make them the heaviest set in Austria. The total cost of the new bells including ringing mechanisms, bell cage and renovation of the belfry in the south tower amounted to about one million Austrian schillings.
Sunday, 2 October 1960, witnessed the blessing of the new bells, the giant new organ and two memorial placards at St. Stephen's. The eleven bells were adorned with decorations and set up in the centre nave. The ceremony began at 4.00 p.m. A short time earlier the bishops and prelates completed the required seven penitential psalms in the large sacristy. The consecration was broadcast on the square outside the Cathedral as the ceremony attracted such a large number of people. After the bells had been blessed, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings, dedicated the new main organ in the western loft.
The new set of bells was heard for the first time at the Pontifical High Mass on All Saints’ Day in 1960. The eleven new bells began to peal at 9.45 a.m., the Pummerin sounded at 9.50 a.m., followed by the rest of the Cathedral bells five minutes later.
The following list specifies each bell’s patron, weight, pitch, donor and the person who consecrated it.
- St. Stephen, 5,700 kg; pitch: g; The Austrian Federal
Government; Archbishop Cardinal Franz König, Vienna
- St. Leopold, 2,300 kg; pitch: c/1; Kuratorium für die
Erhaltung des Stephansdomes (Curatorium for the
Preservation of St. Stephen’s Cathedral); Archbishop
Mesrop Habozian, Abbot general of the Mechitarist
- St. Christopher, 1,350 kg; pitch: e-flat/1; Chamber of
Commerce; Coadjutor Archbishop Franz Jachym, Vienna
- St. Leonard, 950 kg; pitch: f/1; Austrian Farmers’
Association; Diocesan bishop Stephan Laszlo, Eisenstadt
- St. Joseph, 700 kg; pitch: g/1; Austrian Employees’
Association; Auxiliary Bishop Josef Streidt, Vienna
- St. Petrus Canisius, 400 kg; pitch: b/1; Archbishopric of
Vienna ("mensa episcopalis") and the Archdiocese of Vienna;
Cantor Prelate Franz Gundl, Cathedral Cantor
at St. Stephen’s
- St. Pius X, 280 kg; pitch: c/2; Cathedral Parish of
St. Stephen's and the Viennese Oratory; Cantor Prelate Karl
Rudolf, Domscholaster of St. Stephen's Cathedral School
- All Saints, 200 kg; pitch: d/2; Metropolitan and Cathedral
Chapter of St. Stephen’s, Cantor Prelate Jakob Weinbacher,
future Auxiliary Bishop of Vienna
- St. Clemens Maria Hofbauer, 120 kg; pitch: f/2;
Archbishopric Curia of St. Stephen’s; Abbot general Prelate
Gebhard Koberger, Canon Regular, Klosterneuburg
- St. Michael, 60 kg; pitch: a/2; youth of the Cathedral
Parish of St. Stephen’s; Abbot President Prelate Karl
Braunstorfer (O. Cist.) Heiligenkreuz Abbey
- St. Tarcisius, 35 kg; pitch: c/3; children of the Cathedral
Parish of St. Stephen’s; Abbot Prelate Hermann Peichl OSB,
Benedictine Abbey of Our Dear Lady of the Scots, Vienna
In the spire of the south tower, the Primglocke and Uhrschälle bells (both from the 14th century) still hang and ring out the hours.
The ringing schedule at St. Stephen’s:
St. Christopher’s Bell is rung during the week for Angelus (7.00 a.m., noon and 7.00 p.m.) and before evening services (4.45 p.m. and 5.45 p.m.). On Sundays and church holidays, Angelus is announced by St. Leopold’s Bell. Once the bells have sounded for evening prayers, St. Clemens’ Bell is rung to commemorate the dead. On Fridays at 3.00 p.m., the hour of Christ’s passing is marked by St. Leopold’s Bell.
The full peal of bells is heard on all major church holidays before high mass, and whenever the Archbishop presides over a service. On such occasions, the Bell of St. Stephen is rung 15 minutes before the service begins. Very special occasions are marked by the Aspergesgeläute (Asperges Peal), which involves the Kantnerin, Fehringerin, Bieringerin and Churpötsch. It can also be heard at the first and second vespers on Sundays and church holidays, as well as at May Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Feuerin is used to call to evening prayer if a liturgical celebration is already underway in the Cathedral, since the ringing of bells in the High Tower would disrupt the service.
Ringing schedule on Sundays and church holidays:
Saturdays at 4.45 p.m. for first Vespers:
Asperges Peal at 5.45 p.m. for early evening mass peal does not include St. Stephen's Bell
7.00 p.m.: St. Leopold's Bell and St. Clemens' Bell
7.00 a.m.: St. Leopold’s Bell
8.45 a.m.: St. Leopold’s Bell
10.00 a.m.: St. Leopold's Bell or St. Stephen’s Bell
10.07 a.m.: peals on high church holidays and
when the Archbishop is present includes St. Stephen’s Bell
noon: St. Leopold’s Bell
4.45 p.m.: Asperges peal for the
second Sunday Vespers
5.45 p.m.: St. Leopold’s, St. Christopher’s, St. Joseph’s,
St. Canisius’ and St. Pius’ Bell
7.00 p.m.: St. Leopold's Bell and St. Clemens' Bell
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Archive
Flieder-Loidel, Stephansdom. Zerstörung und Wiederaufbau (St. Stephen's Cathedral. Destruction and Reconstruction)], Vienna 1967
Gruber Reinhard H., Die Domkirche St. Stephan zu Wien (The Cathedral of St. Stephen's in Vienna), Vienna 1998
Rejda Georg, “Die Glocken von St. Stephan” (The Bells of St. Stephen’s), Vienna, undated manuscript