Lost church bell replaced thanks to beer sales

The great bell of a Belgian abbey that was destroyed during the First World War has been replaced – thanks to funds raised through beer sales.

Park Abbey in Heverlee near Leuven lost all 160 of its bells when the German army went on the rampage through the city in August 1914.

The bells were destroyed when the carillon in which they were housed collapsed, while the city library, containing 300,000 medieval books and manuscripts was torched.

Although several other Belgian cities suffered similar fates, the destruction of Leuven was seen as the epitome of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘rape of Belgium’.

A campaign by the town’s mayor in recent years has seen a reparations fund replace all the bells bar one – the bell in the abbey’s main steeple – as part of a multi-million euro restoration project at the site.

The original bell was cast in the 18th century by the foundry of Noorden and De Grave in Amsterdam and was considered a masterpiece of its type – and very expensive to replace.

As with many Belgian monasteries, the monks used to produce beer and although brewing is no longer practiced by the community, a local brewer, Joris Brams, resurrected the old beer, a lager style named ‘Heverlee’, after scouring the monastic archives and has channelled some of the profits from sales into a fund to pay for the last bell.

Although only launched in the UK last year, in total £30,000 has been raised with beer drinkers in Scotland and Northern Ireland apparently contributing a great deal to the final total.

Brams commented: “Living in Leuven I have seen how celebrated the refurbishment of the abbey has been, and it’s through the popularity of Heverlee in Scotland and Northern Ireland that the masthead of the abbey can again take its rightful place.”

The bell has been recast and put in place and the abbey’s full complement of bells will ring out again on 11 November for the first time in over a century to mark the end of the war that, for a time, silenced them.

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