Dear PoP – What’s Up With St. Gabriel’s Bells?

St. Gabriel's

“I wonder if you caught the story on Channel 7 (WJLA) about St. Gabriel’s bells. The church (at Grant Circle) hasn’t rung bells for decades but recently paid $15,000 for some electronic bell machine and now a recording of bells is broadcast throughout the neighborhood every fifteen minutes from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m, the hour and half hour ringing more times than the quarter hours. Some of the neighbors are upset and disturbed by the addition to our urban soundscape. Others say they like the bells. The priest at the Church says something to the effect that to him the bells are a reminder of God and should be taken as a happy sound during these difficult times. Muriel Bowser is apparently looking into whether or not they are being rung within city ordinances. I’m somewhat surprised that they ring so often and also because they don’t ring on time: the quarter hour ring is a few minutes early, the other rings off as well. I also find it somewhat annoying (as a neighbor living nearby) that any entity can just begin making loud noise throughout the day without any consideration to or consultation with neighbors.

But I wonder how you and your readers who live near Grant Circle feel about the bells?”

I didn’t see the story but I have been following some discussion over at Petworth News. Editor Bill Crandall just posted a response from a member on behalf of the Church:

“Bill, thank you for taking the time to contact me on the bells, which are a replacement for the previous set of electronic bells, stolen from the church, which were installed many years ago by the late Bishop McNamara, our founding pastor. According to parish archives, when installed he announced plans to have the Angelus rung Morning, Noon, and Night. Five minutes before Mass, bells were rung to remind parishioners Mass would follow.

Our Masses are 5:30pm on Saturday in English, 7:30am in English, 9am in Spanish, 11am in English, 6pm in Spanish. Daily Masses are said at 8am in the Convent chapel Monday through Saturday at The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary at Convent 519 Varnum St, NW…  

I have forwarded these concerns to Father Mateo and several members of the Parish Council.

I can hear the bells from my house and for the most part I find them kinda nice. Of course that depends how much I drank the night before… But honestly if I lived closer to the Church I think I’d find the bells a bit too loud. I’m not saying they shouldn’t ring but since they are not real bells but just a recording – I think it would be reasonable if they lowered the volume slightly. What do you guys think?

27 Comment

  • The bells aren’t too loud from my house 3 blocks from the church, but if I lived closer I’d be seriously annoyed. This city is loud enough that we don’t need to add more noise. If the purpose of the bells is to let people know that mass is about to begin, then they could be loud enough to hear if you’re at the church, but don’t need to be heard from blocks and blocks away.

    That said, who is going to daily 7:30am masses??

  • Wow, the previous set were stolen? Absolutely amazing. For years I worked in between two churches downtown who also rang bells all day, every half hour I think. I hated it with a passion and think its horrid. I know about services and mass, and don’t want to go, thanks.

  • i LOVE hearing the sound of the bells drift in through an open window… it gives me a feeling of safety and community, and reminds me to take a moment and talk to god or whatevers out there. i imagine its a bit different closer to the church though…

  • Just be thankful that they A) sound nice and B) don’t go off at really horrible hours. The funky looking little church on 13th between U and V has some crrrrap sounding bell recordings, and they regularly manage to eff up the timer. We’ve been listening to tinny Christmas bells at midnight and 6am for the past week. Ugh.

  • Vonstallin

    I heard some bells a few days ago and I was….wait wait wait…
    I’m sorry that was a burst or two from a machine gun and what sounded like 2 shot gun return fires… then the PoPo’s sirens….

    Ah the sound of the Cityyyyyyyyy !!!!!

  • just pretend that we’re all in a city in Italy – the bells would be a cool cultural and neighborhood thing. give it a month and you won’t even notice.

  • While church bells are generally nice, and definitely a part of city living, I think every 15 minutes is a little overkill. Seriously. Once an hour? Sure. Just to announce mass? Sure. Both? Sure. But, 15 minutes? Why?

    Now, what I’d love to see is a mosque opened across the street. Let them hear the call to prayer over a loudspeaker and see how they feel. I, personally, even as one who leans more to Jesus than Mohammad as it were, actually prefer the call to prayer to loud bells.

  • I like the bells and hope they don’t get stolen again.

  • Vonstallin


    I never knew they used fake bells…that sort of kills it for me…
    I want to know that im hearing a old PA system at work unless it was some sort of new age Lord Vonstallin type of church, give me the classic bell….

    id like to see them steal that.

  • i love the sound of the bells and they definitely add to “the beautiful life!’ i do wish they were real, though.

  • My grade/middle school bball team used to play St. Gabriel’s all the time… let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty and I knew from a young age how it felt to get dunked on

  • I am just on the other side of the circle right at Upshur and I don’t remember even hearing the bells. I am home all day long….. maybe I should get my hearing checked.

    I agree that every 15 minutes is beyond a bit much. At the hour or even 1/2 and to announce mass is fine. Although, my guess is after awhile you will be able to tune them out and won’t even notice.

  • At first when I began hearing these bells, I would say to my partner “do you hear bells?”and she kept telling me I was crazy. Finally she has heard them, too, so I have been vindicated. How could you miss them? It’s like we’re in Vatican City. Sunday, they went on for like an hour.

    I like them, but knowing that they are just a recording being broadcast takes a bit of the romance out of it.

  • We literally live right across the street near the convent and for some reason, I don’t mind the bells. They’re loud but it’s kind of nice. I see people going to the convent daily around 8:00 for the daily mass. A lot (not hoards) of people attend, especially senior citizens.

  • Wait…electronic bells? A Recording?

    Seems to me that if you’re going to be sending the sound of bells out into the community (and I am definitley a fan of the sound of the aSt. Gabe’s bells), they should be authentic.

    Why fake bells? Did they ever have real bells there? Is it cost-prohibitive to have the real thing?

  • I live on the 700 block of Upshur (2-3 blocks away as the crow flies) and I have never heard them…perhaps that shows how well insulated my storm windows are…I can hear the announcer at the Roosevelt High football games, however…

  • I live just off GA Ave across from the northern part of Howard U’s campus. About a year ago (?) they also started broadcasting bells on the hour with a melody followed by a strike for each hour. I love hearing them, it makes the neighborhood seem much more civilized. It’s much better than all the sirens and helicopters going to the nearby hospitals.

  • I live nearby. I’m going to hang a speaker on my porch and start playing “A Whole Lotta Love” loudly from 7 to 7. I can’t imagine anyone will mind because I like it.

    I agree with the person who would rather hear the mosque prayer call. I’ve lived in communities where there were many mosques and find the mosque call five time a day absolutely beautiful. Some are taped but the best are real. The sound is stunning.

    Tape recorded bells from dawn to dusk? I’ll prefer my “Whole Lotta Love” and expect my neighbors will, too.

  • If I lived within earshot of this church and they were ringing the bells every quarter-hour, it would be less than a week before I was ready to burn the damn place down.

    I say if they want to be carrying on with all this noise pollution, they should be forced to operate in the area within a one-block radius of Gallaudet.

  • Wondering when you would get to this story, Pop.

    I live two blocks from the church, can see it from my porch, and love the church bells.

    Oh and to those who want the bells to stop. Good luck. Remember that whole separation of church and state? Means the church can ring its bells off as its a bonafide religious activity. Churches have been ringing bells since bells were invented. Nothing you can do but enjoy it.

  • I would not, I think, want to hear them. However a good friend of mine lived next door to a synagogue as a kid and I leaved to NEVER, EVER buy or rent near any place of worship because the people who run those things think they’re doing god’s work and you should NEVER open your mouth to them about their decisions!

  • The founding fathers spoke of state interference during the revolution, as Separation of Church and Stata, and Freedom of Worship is in the Bill of Rights, as is freedom of Speech, compromise is acceptable and the greater good, to that legitimate concerns are addressed and then people move on.

  • Ill trade your bells for my barking dogs.

  • It seems like the simple solution would be for the church to turn down the volume.

  • If something is spilling from one neighbor’s property on to another’s or several others I would expect compromise or dialogue to reach mutually acceptable agreement.

    Noise is matter; is really a physical object to the ear which is spilling from the church property to the rest of the neighborhood. Sirens have a purpose relating to public safety(traffic move to stop a crime or save someone’s life). Barking dogs are a legitimate compliant to the neighbor who owns the dog and people should go an talk to the neighbor with the barking dog.

    A church should be considered the same as any other neighborhood entity. If I were ringing bells that could be heard three or four blocks from my porch I am sure I’d be made to silence them.

    Freedom extends to the extent that what you want to do isn’t forced onto other people. Churches should have the same rules in regard to freedom as you or I do. I don’t spit on your yard; you don’t spit on mine…

    The healthy resolution was suggested in the response posted by a representative of the Church:

    “According to parish archives, when installed he announced plans to have the Angelus rung Morning, Noon, and Night. Five minutes before Mass, bells were rung to remind parishioners Mass would follow.”

    If the Church returned to the original intent and proposed that as a compromise starting point I bet the neighbors who are upset by the bells would recognize it as a reasonable compromise. They’d ring less and there would be a logic for the reason they are ringing. Those who like the bells would still have the bells. Those who are bothered by them would be bothered less but I bet would agree it was at an acceptable level.

  • I live directly across the street from the church and I can confirm that Father Mateo informed me of the installation of the bells prior to their ringing. Also, he informed me of their ring schedule that would be prior to Mass, since the ringing began this hasnt been the case. I would not be opposed to this schedule. Imagine having a very trying day and wanting to come home to relax , this isnt the case as of late. Sunday, December 21, 2008…..thinking that I’ll sleep in due to a late night out, well kinda hard to do that when the freaking bells start going off, not to mention they arent in sync with the accurate time. I find it difficult to find peace in something that doesnt give me anything but grief.

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