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Bell tower embellishes a great cathedral

By Sarah De Ita

Carillon of 23 bells plays automatically by a computerized system with more than 500 songs in its library.

Over the centuries, the world’s most prestigious cities have built majestic cathedrals that stand as enduring symbols of faith and beauty, illuminating the architectural, civic and spiritual landscape of our cities.

The Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, TX, within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, was dedicated in 2008 as a spiritual home for all people of all faiths.

The challenge was to build a cathedral for the ages, of profound spiritual expression and enduring artistic quality, contemplating a 500-year planning horizon. A design team traveled to Europe, visiting scores of cathedrals, immersing themselves in the rich history and architecture of the magnificent structures.

Monumental in scale
The composition of the architectural elements, entrusted to Ziegler Cooper Architects, were intended to be monumental in scale and larger than those in other buildings. Built on a three block location in central Houston, selected for its high visibility and easy accessibility to more than 1.3 million Catholics, the cathedral faces south towards the future plaza, inviting expansion of diocesan buildings around the plaza.

The copper dome crowning the cathedral supports a 17-foot-high, gold leaf cross, one of three adorning the cathedral and bell tower that serve as beacons of faith amid the downtown skyline.

A carillon of 23 bells rings out from the campanile that stands on the southeast corner of the city block encompassing Co-Cathedral. The bells were cast with a bronze alloy of mostly copper and tin by The Royal Eijsbouts Bellfounders in The Netherlands and installed by Chime Master Systems located in Lancaster, OH.

The non-traditional carillon is played automatically by a computerized system that has more than 500 songs in its library. Cathedral musicians can play the bells and store additional music using a monitoring system inside the church. The music is categorized by liturgical season so that the bells always ring appropriate selections on the automatic ringing schedule.

The carillon was designed with room for two more octaves of bells. The layout of the bells and installation of the electric action was done in such a way to allow the carillon to be fitted with a more traditional baton style keyboard that can be hand played by a Carillonneur.

Range of strike tones
The two octaves of bells range in weight from 4,800 pounds with a diameter of 60 inches to 100 pounds with a diameter of 16 inches. The four swinging bells strike tones are middle C, D, F, and G with weights of 4,800 lbs., 3,400 lbs., 2,000 lbs. and 1,400 lbs., respectively.

The four largest bells in the carillon were blessed and named for important women who led four congregations of religious women that played prominent roles in serving the people in the Diocese of Galveston at its founding.

The Cathedral has seating for 1,800 worshippers. A wide center aisle of marble stretches from the front door to the altar. A 12-foot, 1,800-pound, crucifix presides over the sanctuary. Two major shrines devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception grace the transepts.

Sarah De Ita is senior associate with Ziegler Cooper Architects, Houston, TX. www.ZieglerCooper.com

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