St Thomas's Church, Neath, returns bell to Chile

Chilean firefighters formed a guard of honour at a south Wales church as a historic bell was handed over at a ceremony.

The bell was one of several removed and taken to Wales after being salvaged from a 19th Century fire which killed 2,500 people at a church in Chile.

They had been due to be melted down, but were donated to churches, including St Thomas's Church in Neath.

The bell has now been handed back in a ceremony involving the Earl of Wessex.

The earl received the bell on behalf of the British and Commonwealth Fire Company Foundation of Chile, of which he is an honorary member.

He was the first royal visitor to the church since medieval times.

In 2010, three other bells from the disaster in 1863 at the Jesuit Cathedral of La Campania were returned to Chile from All Saints Church in Oystermouth, Swansea, to be part of a memorial.

The St Thomas's Church bell is being given to the fire service, which is made up of unpaid volunteers and which was set up in response to the blaze.

Image caption The bell was kept at St Thomas' Church in Neath but never hung

Canon Stephen Ryan, the Rector of Neath, said the bell had never been hung at St Thomas's Church but had been kept in the building since 1870.

"The church already had six bells when it was given this one so it was kept at the back and over time was largely forgotten about," he said.

"We had always known it was from South America and had been given to the church by the Vivian family of Swansea.

"But we had no idea how significant it was until we found out about the other bells in Oystermouth.

"We are delighted now that it is to return to where it belongs and be part of a memorial to the brave volunteers who risk their lives fighting fires in Chile."

The service was attended by the ambassador of Chile, Tomas Muller Sproat; the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan; and children from Alderman Davies primary.

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