St.Havel's Church gets new bell thanks to crowdfunding

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There is now a bell ringing in St. Havel's church in Old Town for the first time since the 1940s. How the new bell  came to be is a story of crowdfunding, WWII Nazis, Youtube and so-called love locks. 

Photo: Vincent Farnsworth

It's all the result of the successful effort by a popular local Youtube channel to raise donations for the new bell for St Havel's, which has been without a bell since WWII when the bell was removed by the Nazi occupiers so the metal could be used in the war. According to Ondřej Boháč, a church bell ringer involved in the campaign, around 200 bells in Prague and 2,000 in the country were removed during WW2.

The Youtube channel Honest Guide, which focuses on Prague and the Czech Republic, started the crowdfunding campaign late last year in 2019. After successfully raising over 7,000 Euros, the bell was made in Austria and transported to Prague in August.

The organizers showed off the new bell on Tuesday, September 2nd with a small ceremony that started on the street in the Lesser Quarter of Prague that leads to the Charles Bridge. The bell was driven across the bridge on a motorized "bell mobile", followed by a procession of about 60 people, driven around Old Town Square and then placed in St. Havel's church in Old Town.

Janek Rubeš, photo: Ian Willoughby

Janek Rubeš, the host of the Honest Guide Youtube channel that organized the crowdfunding, said the idea came from his friend, the bell ringer Boháč.

"The idea popped in my friend's head in November, and he said look, let's gather money for a new bell, because there are still a few missing in Prague, and the bells were made in April or May. Due to quarantines, it was eventually delivered here in the summer."

The full story of this new bell not only includes the Youtube channel, crowdfunding, the bell ringer and WW2 Nazis. It also has a funny connection to so-called love locks, the small padlocks attached to various tourist attractions, put there by couples hoping to commemorate their love during their visit to Prague.

St. Havel's church, photo: Øyvind Holmstad, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Honest Guide Youtube channel is a popular forum for learning about Prague and the Czech Republic. In addition to the usual tourist advice, their videos also target some of the negative factors of Prague, such as crooked taxi drivers, scam artists, tourist traps and some of the pet peeves of Rubeš himself.

One of these pet peeves are the so-called love locks. This somewhat recent phenomenon has resulted in padlocks attached to railings and metal barriers along the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square and around many other sights in Prague. The love locks have become so numerous in some places that some structures are in danger of being weakened by the weight of all the padlocks attached to them.

Rubeš became fixated on the locks partly because their purpose, the permanent commemoration of love, is undermined by the fact that the locks are regularly removed by city workers, and also because of the waste. Some street vendors sell the padlocks at hugely inflated prices.

Photo: Vincent Farnsworth

So late last year in 2019, Rubeš and his team, including his Youtube channel partner Jan Mikulka, came up with the idea of using people's love lock impulses to a more positive and permanent goal. Instead of buying a love lock, you could donate the same amount of money to fund the new bell for St. Havel's.

Rubeš seemed rather exhilarated by the whole experience.

"I think it was great. I had the time of my life. Somebody said, which maybe is true, that I turned somebody else's love into a love for our city, by asking people to donate their money to show the love that we have for Prague. It kind of cracks me up that we did this. To see the bell cross the bridge, with the people, with the car, it's an event that will never repeat  in my life. So I'm touched by it, a lot."

The story is also connected to St. John of Nepomuk. St. Nepomuk was a priest at St. Havel's in the 14th century. The small installation next to his statue on the Charles Bridge is one of the places that attracts the love locks, and the new bell features an image of St. Nepomuk.

The story isn't quite over. Rubeš said the bell will be installed in the church bell tower in October later this year.