Handbells stolen from a St. John's church have been returned to the church, after they showed up in online classified ad pages.

Four bells went missing from Gower Street United Church after it opened its doors to the public last week for Christmas celebrations.

After posting a story about the missing bells online and doing an interview on the CBC St. John's Morning Show, choir director Doug Dunsmore and the CBC received tips that a man was trying to sell the bells on local Facebook classifieds pages.

The bells were advertised as "homemade brass church bells" and listed at $400. Dunsmore says the bells are actually valued at around $5,000.

Stolen handbells ad

This advertisement was posted on the Mount Pearl/St. John's area buy-and-sell Facebook page on Christmas Day. (Facebook)

"I couldn't believe it," said Dunsmore.

"I thought, not possible, and then, wow, they're them. And then, this person's not that bright to do this."

Dunsmore immediately alerted the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) to the advertisements, who then searched the house of the man who had posted them.

The man told CBC that he was selling the bells "for a so-called friend," and gave the RNC the name.

Dunsmore said the RNC did not find the bells at the man's home so then went to visit the friend.

He was not home but Dunsmore said police told a relative that the church just wanted the bells back and would not necessarily press charges.

A few hours later, the bells were dropped off to the RNC, who then returned them to Dunsmore.

Dunsmore called the return of the bells "a little Christmas miracle."

'Tremendous' community response

Dunsmore said it's been wonderful to see the community come together to try to find the bells since CBC ran the story Monday morning.

"I think there has been tremendous co-operation. The number of phone calls from people who found the things advertised, the whole thing started from this morning's awareness," he said.

"Sometimes I forget that communities are supposed to work this way, but in fact it did. People are really trying hard and it certainly builds up one's confidence in life when that happens."

Empty case for brass handbells

When Doug Dunsmore arrived at Gower Street United Church on Boxing Day morning, he found the case for the four largest handbells in the set open and empty. (Doug Dunsmore)

Dunsmore said people in the community were unhappy when they heard the bells were gone.

"People [were] very sad and upset that, at a time where giving is important and these bells are used, that they should be defiled by being stolen," he said.

Brass handbell stolen from Gower Street United Church

Four brass handbells, part of a 37-piece set along with the one pictured above, went missing from Gower Street United Church in St. John's some time between midnight Christmas Eve and Boxing Day morning. (Doug Dunsmore)

The full set of handbells was given to Gower Street United as a gift from the family of Corbett Moores, a parishioner who died from cancer in the 1980s.

There are 37 bells in total in the three-octave set. Dunsmore said the bells are vitally important to the church, both for their sentimental value and for use by the choir.