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Author: Subject: Bell Over Texas by Bessie Lee Fitzhugh
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[*] posted on 3-14-2017 at 09:17 PM
Bell Over Texas by Bessie Lee Fitzhugh

Bells over Texas

by Bessie Lee Fitzhugh; James H. Sutton Jr. and Sylvia Leal Carvajal Collection.
Publisher: El Paso, Texas Western Press, 1955. Pages 54-57.


Saint Paul's Wendish Bell - Serbin

A bell which bears witness to the skill of its maker was brought into Texas with the first group of Wendish colonists in 1854. These immigrants had come from the provinces of Saxony and Prussia in Germany under the leadership of Jan Kilian, who “lived to see the revolutionary spirit in the forties of the nineteenth century. The Wendish people still suffered." (1) The strict government intervened in religious life, claimed supervision on religious instruction and worship, Germanized the Wendish children, and alienated them from their nationality and their faith. Jan Kilian believed the only way to protect his countrymen from political and religious oppression was to go with them to another country and establish a Wendish colony. "First they thought of Australia, but finally decided for America."(2) February 1854, he came to Texas with about seven hundred immigrants. Here he founded the colony of Serbin.

Serbin is a small community in Lee County about six miles from the town of Giddings. The cornerstone for Saint Paul's, the only church in the Wendish community, was laid in 1855 but the building was not dedicated until 1859. It is reasonable to assume that the beautiful bell which was brought by Jan Kilian and his first group of settlers was selected by the
(God's Word and Luther's Doctrine
Shall Now to Eternity Endure)

On the opposite side is the name of the maker and the place and date of casting:

(Made by Fr. Gruhl in Kleinwelka 1854)

The raised letters and the scroll work at the crown, shoulder and rim of the bell are exquisite in design. The cannon, adorned by four angel heads, is attached to the original wooden yoke by iron bars and bolts.

This bell was cast in the Wendish village of Kleinwelka, near Bautzen, Germany. The chief occupations of the residents were bell casting, brazier's work, and manual crafts. One of the most important bell foundries was established by a master craftsman named Friedrich Gruhl, who was a brazier's apprentice at Herrnhut and afterwards learned the art of bell casting at the ancient foundries of Gradenberg.

Herr von Calker, the Warden of the Archives of Kleinwelka, quotes an extract from the official documents:
“Our bell-foundry was established in 1803 by Friedrich Gruhl, a skillful and experienced founder. After a laborious beginning his shop grew rapidly in importance owing to the continually increasing number of orders from all parts. Forty-eight years Fried rich Gruhl stood at the head of the foundry until his death in 1852.

His son Ernest Friedrich continued the work of his father with equal success but he was not firm in health and died already in 1864. His sons, not being of age, a certain Mr. Theodor Werner took the management of the foundry until 1882 and again from 1885 as the legal heir. Friedrich G., proved not to be up to the mark. The latter, and his two brothers, squandered their father's hard gained fortune to the effect that the foundry went bankrupt in 1896.

So far as can be ascertained 823 bells have been made by Friedrich Gruhl, 136 by Ernest Friedrich Gruhl, 67 by Theodor Werner.

There is scarcely a town or village in our country that has not one or more bells from Kleinwelka in their church towers. But, all these places being provided for, it was only natural that the number of orders for new bells diminished by and by.

The solidity, the wonderful sound and the artistic scrolls of the Gruhl bells are the reason for the widespread renown of Gruhl's name. Not one of the then existing other foundries can boast of an approaching number of bells produced. It was a great loss for Kleinwelka that Gruhl's work ceased to exist.

By the way, is it not a remarkable token of the attachment to their old country that the Wendish emigrants of 1854 took such a heavy bulk, as a church bell is, with them to their new home?” (3)

Waldemer Fried, a teacher in the secondary schools of Tossens, Oldenberg - the British occupied zone of Germany - recalls the superior quality of the bells cast in his native home of Kleinwelka:

“The bells of Kleinwelka were of a very good chiming. During the last two great wars almost all of those were taken down from the towers and melted. The bell of Serbin is probably one of the very few bells coming from the Moravian bell foundry which have been preserved.” (4)

The Wendish settlers have observed the custom of ringing the bell each Saturday night at sundown since the establishment of their church. It is used as a passing bell to toll the number of strokes of a person's age at the hour of eleven o'clock in the morning. If one dies any time after that hour, the bell is not heard until the hour of eleven the following day. When the funeral cortege approaches the church, the bell tolls sadly until all enter; after the services it is tolled again until the cemetery is reached and the final rites are paid. (5)

For sixty years the little Kleinwelka bell served the citizens of Serbin. Replaced in 1917 by a much larger bell whose voice could be heard at a farther distance, it was stored in an attic. Ten years later through the efforts of Hermann Fehr, whose wife is the granddaughter of Jan Kilian, the bell was placed on a stand in Kilian Hall of Concordia College, Austin.(6) It is a rare and prized relic of Old World bell-casting.


1. Letter from Otto Lehmann, Stollberg Sachsen, Russische Zone, Germany, April 4, 1950.
2. Ibid.
3. Letter from Herr von Calker, Warden of the Archives, Kleinwelka, uber Bautzen i/s April 10, 1950.
4. Letter from Waldemar Fried. Tossens, Oldenburg, April 15, 1950. Tr. Dr. Livingstone Porter.
5. Statement by Mrs. Herman Smith, Austin, April 18, 1950.
6. Statement by Hermann Fehr, Austin, June 10, 1951.

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