Bell founders

Bell founders

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The village of Mont-devant-Sassey itself was home to a bell foundry that was renowned throughout France for a century.

It was built of local stone, a little away from the village for fear of fire. It was square in plan and had a skylight with shutters for ventilation during casting: toxic gases could escape through the openings.

At the beginning, Claude-Alexis Farnier was a saintier, i.e. an itinerant founder. But he settled in Mont in 1826. He died of cholera in September 1854, at the same time as three of his children.

His son Gustave, then his grandson Charles, ensured the prosperity of the company until 1908 when the family was completely decimated by the influenza epidemic.

It is difficult to quantify the production of the Farnier family, but it is estimated that at least 1226 large bells were produced in the Mont foundry, not counting the small bells and carillons! The largest bell recorded weighed 5,724 kg, the small bell of Verdun cathedral weighed 2,900 kg. This production was sold throughout France and also in the colonies. But this very small-scale activity proved to be very fragile and did not withstand the law of separation of Church and State. Charles Farnier’s widow had a small article published in the Semaine Religieuse de Verdun to invite parishes and priests to place orders with her, but the result was not sufficient and the foundry closed for good in 1908.

The bronze bells were made by the lost wax process. The foundry had a large circular reverberatory furnace with two chimneys. The complete moulds were suspended from an overhead crane or a crane and lowered into the casting pit below the furnace.
For the decoration of the bells, the founder had a collection of wood or plaster dies engraved in hollow: he made personalised motifs and inscriptions by moulding with beeswax.

A “souvenir” of the saintiers of Mont-devant-Sassey remains in the village: the tomb of the Farnier family, in the old cemetery, recalls the cholera epidemic which decimated part of the villagers in 1854.

On 31 August at 9am Adolphe Farnier (son of the founder) died, and then at 3pm his 5 month old daughter Marie. On 2 September Alexis was also taken and three days later Zoé, aged three years, died. On the family grave there is a stone with a circular hollow, the former location of a small bell (arrow) which was sealed there to keep the memory of the founders of Mont alive. Legend has it that it was made of gold! And this may be true because it was not long in this grave…!

Under the organ loft, a permanent exhibition tells the story of the bell-casters of Mont-devant-Sassey, namely the Farnier family, who settled in the village in 1826. The information signs explain how bells were made, and in one of the display cases, you can see some prints of delicate ornamental motifs that were applied to them in the past.

As you leave the church, look south straight ahead of you: at the other end of the village, you will see an unusual square building topped by a small bell tower. This building was once the Farniers’ foundry. The family was decimated by cholera at the beginning of the 20th century. Between 1200 and 1700, bells were cast in this area.

Even abroad, bell casting, for decades, wassynonymous with Mont-devant-Sassey.