AUBURN — The four bells removed from New Auburn’s St. Louis Church are concrete, physical objects — skillfully cast and beautiful to look at, says Alan Manoian, Auburn’s economic development specialist.

But beyond their physicality, Manoian said he’s as interested in preserving what the bells have meant to the city.

They have a history and, if Manoian has anything to say about it, a future.

“People need to physically see these bells,” Manoian said. “One cannot appreciate the grandeur of these bells, the artistry and the inscribed heritage of these bells, until you examine them and actually read what has been cast into them. It sends chills up your spine.”

The effort to preserve the bells began in earnest Saturday at Cote Corp.’s Auburn warehouse. The bells have been stored there for the past year, since they were removed from the church, their home of 98 years.

The Catholic Diocese of Portland has not said what’s going to happen with the church, but they have signed a deal to sell the bells to the city.

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Manoian and city officials led a ceremonial display of the bells Saturday, with speeches and presentations by local officials, and Franco-American music.

City Councilor Leroy Walker said the goal is to make it so everyone gets a chance to see them.

“We may have lost the opportunity to preserve the church, so the bells really mean a lot more moving forward,” Walker said. “I believe there will be a day when we can see the bells every day of the week and hear them. I believe that is the future of those bells.”

The goal is to raise $12,000 by January to buy the bells from the diocese and then to create a historical monument in the city, a new permanent home for them.

“We’ll need to design a place that is worthy of these bells,” Manoian said. “The bells will really set the standard of quality for what we do next.”

Walker, who remembered hearing the bells ring daily growing up, said they should stay in New Auburn.

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“The church sat on a hill, so you could hear them everywhere — all over Lewiston and Auburn and up and down the river,” he said.

The four bells were cast in 1915 at a world-famous foundry in Annecy, France, the Paccard Bell Foundry. Each is marked with Latin inscriptions, detailing for whom the bells were cast, as well as the date and location of the church.

“It was in October 1916 when the bells were brought to the church grounds, displayed there, and the community did a blessing of the bells,” Manoian said.

Two were built to commemorate the life of Auburn businessman and city Alderman Pierre Provost and his family. Pierre died in 1909, six years before the bells were cast. His wife, Virginie, paid for the first bell to honor her husband’s memory and their marriage. She honored sons Normand and Pierre on the second bell.

“The church obviously meant everything to them,” Manoian said. “They built their family house right on the corner of Dunn and Fourth streets, a magnificent white house where she could see the church from the front window.”

The third bell was designed to the specifications of Phillipe DuPont, a longtime New Auburn baker.

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“He opened his first bakery in New Auburn in 1904, the famous DuPont Bakery,” Manoian said. “So three of the bells were donated by families of men that immigrated here. They were two men who had left their native countries at a very young age, worked in the community and established a life. They helped shape the community.”

The fourth was paid for by the parish priest, the Rev. Henri Gory.

“He was the pastor there when the church was finished in 1915,” Manoian said. “We don’t know much about him before that, but that’s part of what makes this such a great project. There is still plenty to be learned about the bells.”

Manoian would like to see local students and historians get interested in the bells. For example, the yoke of the DuPont bell has six faces cast into it.

“So that’s a question: Why?” Manoian said. “Who are these six faces? That’s going to be a fun discovery process, figuring out that mystery.”

And long term, he hopes the bells contain a larger lesson for the community.

“Folks, our cities are filled with treasures like this,” Manoian said. “But we can’t really appreciate them if we just fly by them in our cars every day. The only way it works is if we slow down and connect with them. That’s the lesson of these bells.”

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