Priceless historical artifact stolen in San Francisco

The bell of St Mary's no longer chimes as thieves snatch an artifact of San Francisco's Catholic diocese. Thieves snatch metal nationwide as employment shrinks and desperation rises.

Catholics in San Francisco were consternated by the theft of an historic bell, a “priceless artefact”, from St. Mary’s Cathedral. Sometime during the month of October, thieves made off with the 122-year-old, 2.7 ton bell that had stood on a wooden platform in the churchyard since the 1970s. The historic bell tolled during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire and also survived an arson attack in 1962 when the old cathedral was torched.

George Wesolek, communications director for the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco said of the thieves, “ "It is kind of an ignoble end for the bell if they succeed." The archdiocese is offering an unspecified amount of money as a reward to anyone who helps return the bell or catch the thieves. A security camera pointed at a nearby parking lot may have captured the truck as it left the cathedral. The bell, made of a copper alloy, could fetch $75,000 if melted down. While it originally cost $17,000, it is not clear whether the church can afford a replacement. Other needs are much more pressing now, said a diocesan spokesman. Police vow to find  the lost bell.

The bell was found missing on Sunday, October 23, when a parishioner noted its absence at a secluded outside corner of the cathedral on Geary Boulevard and Gough Street. A police spokesman said that no one can say when was the last time the bell was seen.  Because of its size and weight, the bell would have required a crane and heavy tackle to remove. At 8,500 pounds, and more than 5 feet across, it is larger than the Liberty Bell and Freedom Hall in Philadelphia PA. Security cameras did not record the removal of the bell.

The famous bell was commissioned in 1889 for the original St. Mary's Cathedral at Van Ness Avenue and O'Farrell Street in San Francisco. It was hauled by train all the way from a foundry in Baltimore, Maryland. Following the 1962 arson attack that destroyed Old St. Mary’s, the bell was pulled from the debris and placed in the cathedral’s grounds at Gough Street and Geary Boulevard as a notable artefact of San Francisco history.

Thieves all over the U.S. are making off with metal of all kinds as unemployment continues and the economy sputters. In Flint, Michigan, for example, several metal recycling centers have been cited for accepting cast-iron sewer grates and manhole covers. Thieves also target the thousands of abandoned and foreclosed homes in Flint and Detroit to strip aluminium siding, as well as copper wiring and pipes.



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

Filed under california, catholic, art, history, crime, law, religion, North America

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