In March 2023, three bells bearing the names of the Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael will leave Normandy and find their destination in Mosul in the bell tower of the Church of Our Lady of the Hour. This has been announced by UNESCO, which is involved in projects to rebuild the historic part of the northern Iraqi city, which is still scarred by the devastation of years of ISIS occupation. The three bells were cast in the “Cornille Havard” foundry in Villedieu-les-Poêles in Normandy (France), a workshop employing 15 specialized craftsmen who combine modern technological tools with medieval traditions. Unesco also reports that restoration work on the entire church should be completed by 2023.
Local sources often give unsatisfying reports of the “return” of Christian families who fled Mosul in 2014, when the city became the Iraqi capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). However, after years of jihadist occupation, which lasted until 2017, the city’s social life is once again accompanied by the ringing of the bells of Our Lady of the Hour, one of the simplest and most discreet signs used to make the Christian presence perceptible to all over the course of the day.
The Church of Our Lady of the Hour (Al-Saa’a) is located in the heart of Mosul, at the intersection of the two main streets that run through the old city. Built at the end of the 19th century, it has always been one of the symbols of Mosul, mainly because of its bell tower, visible from afar, with its large clock, which had been donated to the church by the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. The church, which was run by the Dominicans in the past, was badly damaged during the jihadist occupation.
The restoration of the sacred building was included in the plan for the reconstruction of churches and monasteries destroyed during the jihadist occupation. The reconstruction program was also supported by the European Union. UNESCO also financed the reconstruction of Mosul with donations from the United Arab Emirates.
“The chimes of the clock of this Church,” Sister Luigina Sako, Superior of the Roman House of the Chaldean Sisters Daughters of Mary (and birth sister of the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael), told Fides in April 2016, “marked our youth, when Mosul was a city where people lived together in peace. I remember that as students, when we had an important exam, we all, Christians and Muslims, would bring cards with our requests for help to the Lourdes Grotto, which was housed in this church and which even our Islamic friends knew and honored as ‘the Church of the Miraculous Madonna’”