WATCH: Carillon Bells Ring Through Downtown Des Moines On Easter Sunday

Apr 12, 2020

On a drizzly Easter Sunday in downtown Des Moines, the sound of church bells rang through the city accompanied the patter of a cold, spring rain. 

Mark Babcock, the choirmaster and organist for The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, played a 30-minute carillon concert for churchgoers to enjoy from the safety of their cars. 

With congregations unable to gather on Easter morning like usual, Babcock says he and the church wanted to do something unique. ⁠ ⁠

"Before we had modern means of communication," he explained, "churches would toll their bells to signal something. If we can't have a normal Holy Week, the bells are still a familiar sound to people. I want to bring some sameness to a time that's really, really different." ⁠ ⁠

Babcock is one of only a handful of people in Iowa who can play a carillon, which is a set of bronze bells often hung in church bell towers. There are 180 true carillons across the country, three of which can be found in Iowa. ⁠

The most familiar to Iowans is likely the carillon on campus at Iowa State University, which has 50 bells. Many also might recognize the sound of the instrument from the famed Harry Potter theme song. 

To be a true carillon, a set needs at least 23 real bronze bells. At St. Paul's there are 25 bells, the largest the size of a small car. The full set weighs six tons. ⁠