Historic church bell returns to Chile

A church bell rescued from a devastating fire in Chile nearly 150 years ago will be returned in a service to be attended by the Earl of Wessex.

The bell has been kept in St Thomas’ church, Neath, since 1870. It was one of several rescued from the fire that killed 2,500 people when it ripped through a Jesuit church in Santiago in 1863.

The rescued bells were brought to Swansea following the fire, where they were to be melted down. Instead they were donated to churches, with one going to St Thomas’.

Canon Stephen Ryan, the Rector of Neath, said: “The church already had six bells when it was given this one so it was kept at the back and over time was largely forgotten about.

“We had always known it was from South America and had been given to the church by the Vivian family of Swansea. But we had no idea how significant it was until we found out about the other bells in Oystermouth.

“We are delighted now that it is to return to where it belongs and be part of a memorial to the brave volunteers who risk their lives fighting fires in Chile.”

Three bells given to All Saints Church, Oystermouth, were handed back in 2010 and incorporated into a national memorial for the disaster.

The bell from St Thomas’ Church will be given to the fire service, which was set up in the wake of the tragedy and is made up of unpaid volunteers.

At a service in the church on Monday, the Earl of Wessex will receive the bell on behalf of the British and Commonwealth Fire Company Foundation of Chile, of which he is an honorary member.

The service will also be attended by the Chilian Ambassador, Tomas Muller Sproat, and the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan. Twenty firemen from Chile will form a guard of honour.

The Earl will be the first royal visitor to St Thomas’ church since medieval times.

Mr Ryan continued, “The church dates back to the 1290s and it would have been visited by medieval kings as it was a garrison chapel for Norman retainers of the nearby castle.

"It hasn’t had any royal visitors since then so this occasion will be particularly exciting for us.”