Agnone is a town of 5000 souls in the Italian region of Molise; there is the famous papal bell foundry Marinelli. The oldest written evidence of its existence dates back to 1339, when Nicodemus Marinelli cast and signed a 200-kilogram bell. Since then, the foundry has existed without interruption and under the same name. It is the oldest bell foundry in the world and the oldest family business in Italy. How could you survive so long? The Marinelli brothers Pasquale and Armando, who are the 26th generation to run the company, have a clear answer: passion and mission have kept the company alive. They practice their profession with dedication.
One looks in vain for computers in the foundry; you will find many medieval tools there that are still used today in the manufacture of the bells. The Marinelli brothers employ up to 40 people, about a dozen in the bell foundry. They cast up to 40 bells annually. The production time is three to six months; each bell is handmade. “Marinelli bells are not mass-produced, but individuals with a soul and their own character,” says Armando Marinelli. “The birth of a bell is a special, sacred moment.”
The bells have a distinctive sound. They are also provided with artistic decorations that serve as documents of the time. And since 1924 they have carried the coveted papal seal, awarded by Pope Pius XI. for special merit and quality.
Fast deals are not the goal
“The strength of our family business does not lie in technological innovations, but in preserving the tradition of a highly specialized craft business,” says Pasquale Marinelli. “Our goal is not quick business, but to continue as we have for centuries.” The greatest demand is on the domestic market, even if it is being dampened by the economic crisis. “The parishes have to save money and are putting off buying a bell for economic reasons,” says Armando Marinelli.
One is increasingly looking for sales markets abroad, including in Germany, where the competition is greater than in many other countries. “The bell and art foundries in Germany are avant-garde and have a good reputation,” explains Armando Marinelli. “So it’s not easy for us to gain a foothold in the German market.” The reputation as the oldest bell foundry in the world helps, as do the good references from customers.
Thanks to the Internet, the company can draw attention to itself around the world, which is having an impact. Above all, the demand from overseas has largely offset the decline in orders in Italy. Meanwhile, every second bell goes abroad. The bells from Agnone can be found in Italy, for example in the Vatican, in Assisi, and in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They ring in the United Nations building in New York, Beijing, Jerusalem, South America, South Korea and Thailand. The Marinelli brothers are also contacts for renowned restorers, musicians, scientists and architects.