19 June 2015

Origins of a Church Bell, Revealed


A bronze bell imported from France in 1865 hangs in the bell tower behind Oura Catholic Church.  The church is a National Treasure (in fact the only National Treasure of Western origin in Japan) and is currently waiting designation as a World Heritage Site.  I was asked recently to translate a booklet on the church and in the process noticed mistakes in the description of the bell and its origins, due largely to the fact that the French inscription on the bell had been incorrectly translated into Japanese.  
The bell at Oura Catholic Church
The following words are engraved in two bands circumscribing the bell:

Je m’appelle Clotilde Adolphe Louise.  J’ai été bénite l’an 1865 par Monseigneur Charles-Jean Fillion, Évêque du Mans, France.  Mon parrain a été Mr. Le Compte Adolphe Charles Joseph Camille de Rougé et ma marraine Anne Clotilde Renée Lorière. 
Bollée père et fils foundeurs accordeurs au Mans. 

<Translation>: My name is Clotilde Adolphe Louise.  I was blessed by Monseigneur Charles-Jean Fillion, bishop of Le Mans, France, in 1865.  My godfather is Mr. Adolphe Charles Joseph Camille, Count of Rougé, and my godmother is Anne Clotilde Renée Lorière.   
Bollée Father and Son, Bell Founders and Tuners of Le Mans.

The inscription follows the custom of applying human names to bells and calling the donors “godparents.”  It also identifies the bell founder, but the Japanese translator failed to notice the acute accent in “Bollée” and incorrectly transcribed the name in katakana script, an error that has come down to the present day in numerous texts.

The letters of Louis-Théodore Furet, the French priest who visited Nagasaki in 1863 to prepare for the construction of Oura Catholic Church, shed light on the identity of the people named in the inscription.  Preserved today in the headquarters of the Société des Mission Etrangères de Paris (Paris Foreign Missions Society), the letters show that Furet purchased the bell for 2,000 francs in his hometown of Le Mans after traveling back to France in 1864.  
Louis-Théodore Furet (1816-1900)

The donor, identified as the “godmother” on the bell, was Madame Clotilde de Lorière.  While a student, Furet had served as a private teacher for the children of the Lorière family near Paris.  Madame Lorière remained a lifelong friend and made significant, albeit unsung, contributions to Oura Catholic Church by providing funds for the bell, oil paintings and other items.  The “godfather,” Adolphe de Rougé, also hailed from the French nobility and supported Furet in his missionary activities.

The information suggests that the two "godparents" in fact played an essential role in funding for the church in Nagasaki.  It may also refute the widely accepted theory that Furet left Japan dejected and pessimistic about the prospects of missionary work in this country.

The Bollée family, meanwhile, is famous in the city of Le Mans, Furet’s hometown, not only for the historic bell foundry but also for pioneering contributions to the automobile industry.  Amédée Bollée, the father, developed one of the first steam-powered motor vehicles in the world, and his son (also named Amédée) applied the technology to build a 12-seat steam-powered bus called L'Obéissante ("The Obedient").  In 1875, Amédée Bollée drove the L'Obéissante from Le Mans to Paris in 18 hours and caused a sensation in the capital.



Today, “L'avenue Bollée” is one of the main thoroughfares in Le Mans, and the city is famous worldwide for its 24 Heures du Mans, the world's oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923.

The Bollée bell foundry in Le Mans has long since ceased production, but the bells made by the family are still ringing at Oura Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Yokohama, the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and other bell towers around the world.

(I thank Sophie Morishita for her help in this study) 

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