As the 13 bronze bells of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church were being lifted and returned Wednesday, bell instrument designer Stan Christoph spoke as if the largest one — a behemoth weighing 3,500 pounds — was getting a new life.
Now it will swing freely in the bell tower. Previously, it was locked in place and was mechanically pounded without any sway or movement.
"It's going to be louder," said Christoph, president of Christoph Paccard Bellfoundries on Johns Island. Across the city, "the bell is going to be throwing its voice."
Four months after the bells were gingerly removed to be refitted with new strikers and stainless steel mountings, each was returned to its lofty height during a day-long show of skill and engineering. Pedestrians along King Street watched as a crane easily plucked each bell off the back of a flat-bed truck and lifted them 135 feet into the church tower mounting.
Once safely inside, they were maneuvered into place by nearly hidden workmen.
The 10 original St. Matthew's bells were cast by the Meneely Co. of West Troy, N.Y., in 1901. They became part of the church through the efforts of the Bell and Clock Society, comprising about 40 women from the then-German speaking church. For most of the next few decades they rang out across the city, until the church tower was damaged during a fire in 1965.
Afterward, the original bells were removed and refurbished, and three new bells were added.
The work being done now is the first phase of a three-year renovation project at St. Matthew's. Next year, work will be done below the sanctuary, and the third year will see the refurbishment of the church's exterior.
But that's in the future. Church-goers were happy Wednesday to know that reliable clang of their bells is coming back, though it will be a week before the sound returns since it will take that long for the strikers and electronics to be installed.
"It's been a void to go this long without them," said Joan Holling, who was taking pictures of the operation Wednesday.
She also said some of the new transplants to the city are going to get a treat when the regular schedule of ringing resumes.
"The new students at the College (of Charleston) are going to be surprised," she said.
The bells ring on the hour and every quarter hour. About 30 members of the church were able to hit the largest bell once with a mallet before it was moved up and into the steeple, Christoph said.