On our visit to Molise last month, we stopped in the town of Agnone for one main reason – to visit the Marinelli bell foundry to learn more about the tradition of making bells dating back more than a thousand years. However, I will let Jenifer Landor of Live and Learn Italian share her local insights into this town and its traditions.
The fascinating heritage of a small Italian town in the Apennine hills
It so happens that the 2 oldest continuously family-owned firms in the world are Japanese – One constructing shrines and holy buildings since 578, and the other, inn-keeping since 718.
And the 3rd oldest continuously family-owned business in the world is in Molise, Italy – in the small town of Agnone where my grandfather’s cousins have been making bells since the year 1000.
La Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli is the oldest bell foundry in the world and continues today to use the original ‘lost wax’ technique of its founders. Artisans first imprint a wax form of the design onto a brick structure covered in clay, which is then overlaid with a second layer of clay to form a ‘false bell’.
When the wax inside is melted, it leaves the design imprint on the inside of the ‘false bell’. Still today, using an ancient wood-burning furnace, the molten bronze is heated to a temperature of 1200c (2200f) and poured into the space between to form the bell.
Depending on the size of the bell, the process can take up to 10 months and is done entirely by hand. The work takes enormous strength, courage and concentration as any false move can ruin the process. As the pouring takes place, a local priest blesses the bronze and the workers pray. As the bell begins to cool, good wishes are exchanged.
1924: Pope Pius XI grants Papal status to the foundry – hence, its official name is Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli
1954: Italian President honours Marinelli Family with gold medal for their prestigious work and status as the oldest family business in Italy
Some of the famous bells created at the Marinelli Foundry:
1923: Pompeii –restoration of the Mariano Sanctuary
1950: Monte Cassino – reconstruction of the Church of San Benedetto, destroyed during the battle of Monte Cassino in WWII
1961: Rome – commemoration of 100th anniversary of the founding of Italy
1992: Washington DC – to commemorate 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America
1995: NYC United Nations Building
2000: Rome – Jubilee Bell for St Peter’s Square, inaugurated by John Paul II
2004: Pisa – Leaning Tower, a 600k replica of the 17th century bell damaged in the bombing of 1944
Agnone is a simple and modest place, yet its inhabitants are fiercely proud of their heritage and the traditions of their ancestors.
LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. Of course, a visit to the Foundry is high on the list of special events.