Lifted heavenward by a towering crane, the first bell made its 120-foot journey to the top of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End just after 10 a.m. Friday.
When it had reached its destined height, a worker in a bright safety vest pulled it inside, beginning a momentous installation for the historic parish that has long relied on electronic tones instead of real bells.
The bell — and four others like it — will sound again soon in the neighborhood where they long rang out from the nearby Holy Trinity German Catholic Church, which closed in 2008. The connection made Friday's events especially meaningful for the faithful of the South End.
Barry Hayes, 74, heard the bells ring when he was married at Holy Trinity in the 1960s. As a worshiper there, he continued to ring one bell for services until the parish closed.
He walked over to watch the project in progress Friday morning. He said he only wished more members of the German-American community were there to see it.
"This is history," he said. "It's history in the making right now."
Even before the bells arrived on Shawmut Avenue at Holy Trinity, which was completed in 1877, they had made an extraordinary journey.
They were shipped here by General Benjamin Butler, a former Massachusetts governor who was a Civil War-era Union commander of New Orleans. Butler confiscated them from a church in an uncooperative section of the southern city. Father Ernest Reiter paid $1,500 for the bells in 1863.
Getting the bells into Holy Cross on Friday was a challenge of its own. The church tower became slightly pitched toward Washington Street during construction in the 19th century as it settled into the soft soil, according to cathedral spokesman Timothy McGuirk.
That made placing the bells there a challenge, he said. The belfry has been reinforced with steel, and the bells are now wired to be rung electronically instead of by swinging — another measure to ensure the structure's stability.
Cathedral leaders are not aware of there ever having been real bells in the belfry since the church was dedicated in 1875, McGuirk said.
He said the bells are a gesture of continuity for the Archdiocese of Boston — a nod to the generations of congregants on Shawmut Avenue and in New Orleans.
All five of the bells were in the tower by Friday afternoon, and they could ring as soon as next week.
"To have a real, physical reminder of God's presence in this city is great," McGuirk said.