Posts Tagged ‘bells’

In last Sunday’s bulletin, Nicoletta shared some thoughts about bells and bell towers:

Campanilismo (a/k/a Parochialism)

By: Nicoletta MacKenzie

Actually, the translation of campanilismo into parochialism is not a good one. The literal translation would be closer to “bell-tower-ism,” since a campanile is in fact a bell tower.

How did the usage of the word start? It started when, in the mid 500s, Italians began to build towers with bells, both for church and for public use. In the beginning, it was supposed to be the highest building in the village, town or city, and the bells had a very practical use. For instance: church bells were rung at very specific times or events and according to specific sounds. They would notify all within hearing distance that Mass was about to start, or the beginning of a novena, a triduum or the 40-hour Eucharistic Adoration. Every noon the bells told us that it was time to pray the Angelus (noon), and at 3:00 pm every Friday they’d toll Jesus’ death. Festive bell peals announced weddings, the local parish feast day, solemnities and processions and the election of a new Pope. Slow tolls notified of deaths and funerals.

Church bells also warned of danger and disasters, such as a fire, war and of pirate incursions, in the dark days when they prowled, pillaged and burned all around the coasts of Italy.

Bells on civic towers tolled national holidays, school times, marked the hours (down to the quarter hour) and also served as a warning mechanism.

You can see how important bells were in everyday life, and they were set on the tallest building so that their sound would reach as far as possible.

That’s why Italians became attached to their bell towers, their campanili. Soon there arose a spirit of competition in the breasts of citizens of neighboring villages, towns and even cities. After all, if it was to be the most visible representative of a community, the bell tower had to be beautiful; it had to be recognized from a distance; and it had to be unusual. A town with a “run of the mill” campanile reflected poorly on its inhabitants. And so the larger towns, who could count on the financial support of more people, started to hire architects to design the building that would represent them to anyone who came within sight.

Some of these towers are so famous that just about everyone in the world has heard of them.

For instance, who has not heard of The Leaning Tower of Pisa? Yes maam, it’s the bell tower of the Duomo (or principal church) of Pisa. Its striking structure has no rival anywhere in the world. It took “only” 177 years to complete and although the good Pisani certainly did not intend for their masterpiece to start sinking into the ground, they undoubtedly got their money’s worth! Here you can clearly see the Duomo, which is almost dwarfed by its magnificent and yes, leaning, tower.

Closer to the town from where my family hails, there is a less well known but equally distinctive bell tower: the Campanile di Ossuccio. Its delicate, slender and tall form is also unmistakable. This one stands guard over the church of St. Mary Magdalene. The characteristic top was added in the late 1400s, while the original “stem” goes back to the 1100s.

And who has not heard of the bell tower of Notre Dame? Or at least, of its bell-ringer? Now I’m going to dare to say that my campanile has that squat structure in Paris beat all hollow. And you can call me campanilista if you wish.

And now our Holy Trinity church also has a bell tower, with a full contingent of bells. I venture to say that it’s the most handsome in all Westminster, and while it may not rival in beauty with the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the slender marvel in Ossuccio, when it’s lit up at night it brings a lump to the throat. Its tall grace proclaims to our part of the city that we love God and put our trust in Him.

I can hardly wait to hear the sound of “our” bells calling us, and anyone else who wishes to join us. In fact, a bell tower with its ringing bells is eminently Catholic and exemplifies what the writer James Joyce said: “Catholic means: here comes everybody.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful?


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Father Hilton has called all bell ringers to practice sessions on Monday, 3 May and Thursday 6 May. Practice starts at 7:00PM.

Here’s a description of another bell-ringer’s practice, as described by Dorothy Leigh Sayers in her book, The Nine Tailors:

“Joe Hinkins, my gardener. He pulls Number Five. Harry Gotobed, Number Four, our sexton, and what better name could a sexton have? And Walter Pratt – our youngest recruit who is going to ring Number Three, and do it very well. You, Lord Peter, will take poor William Thoday’s bell, Number Two. She and Number Five were recast in the same year as Dimity, the the year of the old Queen’s Jubilee; her name is Sabaoth. Now, let’s get to work. Our good old friend Hezekiah will be the conductor, and you’ll find he can sing out his calls as loud and clear as the bells. Can’t you, Grand-dad?”

“Ay, that I can, ” cried the old man, cheerfully. “Now boys, if you be ready, we’ll ring a little touch of 96. You’ll remember, my lord, that you starts by making the first snapping lead with the treble and after that you goes into the slow hunt till she comes down to snap with you again.”

“Right you are, ” said Wimsey. “And after that I make the thirds and fourths.”

“That’s so, my lord. And then it’s three steps forward and one step back till you lay the blows behind.”

“Carry on, sergeant major.”

The old man nodded, adding: “And you, Wally Pratt, mind what you’re about, and don’t go a-follerin’ your course bell beyond thirds place. I’ve telled yew about that time and again. Now, are you ready, lads – go!”

The art of change-ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully-tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, fit only for foreigners; the proper use of bells it to work out mathematical permutations and combinations. When he speaks of the music of his bells, he does not mean musicians’ music – still less what the ordinary man calls music. To the ordinary man, in fact, the pealing of bells is a monotonous jangle and a nuisance, tolerable only when mitigated by remote distance and sentimental association. The change-ringer does, indeed, distinguish musical difference between one method of producing his permutations and another; he avers, for instance, that where the hinder bells run 7, 5, 6 or 5, 6, 7 or 5, 7, 6, the music is always prettier and can detect and approve, where they occur, the consecutive fifths of Titttums and the cascading thirds of the Queen’s change. But what he really means is, that by the English method of ringing with rope and wheel, each several bell gives forth her fullest and her noblest note.

To any disinterested spectator peeping in upon the rehearsal, there might have been something a little absurd about the eight absorbed faces; the eight tense bodies poised in a spell bound circle on the edges of eight dining rooms chairs; the eight upraised right hands, decorously wagging the handbells upward and downward; but to the performers, everything was serious and important as an afternoon with the Australians at Lord’s.

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A New Bell

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:12

During Sunday’s Mass announcements, Father John Hilton let the congregation know that, due to the generosity of a donor, we have purchased the third bell for our chimestand.  The new bell will be be pitched between the bass of Marian Gaudens, and the tenor of Saint John (pictured below). We thank these donors for their generosity.

Saint John

Maria Gaudens

So – with the name of this saint, and the central tone, should we call this bell, “Middle Joe?”

Photographs courtesy of Dave Koski.

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In today’s bulletin, Father Hilton writes:


When we open our beautifully renovated church in May, there are two important volunteer positions that will need to be filled in order to help make our Sunday Masses run smoothly.

The two positions are:

Coordinator of Bell Ringers

When the new church is opened, our new bells will joyfully ring out for five minutes before every Saturday evening and Sunday Mass! The glad sound of the bells will call us to the Holy Mass and to prayer with adoration of our God. Two parishioners will be needed at each Mass to perform this ministry of bell ringing. It will be the job of the new Coordinator to sign-up bell ringers, train them and make up a monthly schedule. This volunteer position is perfect for someone who loves the Mass, likes working with people and is well organized. If you’re interested, call Fr. Hilton and he will give you all the details.

Coordinator of Sound Engineers

Our newly renovated church will have a sound engineer’s booth in the choir loft, which will allow us to constantly adjust sound levels and music mixing during the Holy Mass. This will result in a dramatic increase in the quality of sound of our music during Mass and help everyone present to hear clearly the priest and lectors. The sound booth will require a trained sound engineer to be present for each of the Masses of Saturday evening and Sunday. It will be the job of our new Coordinator of Sound Engineers to recruit and train sound engineers for each of the weekend Masses and to make up a monthly schedule. This volunteer position is perfect for someone who knows and loves sound equipment, likes working with people and is well organized. If you’re interested, please call Fr. Hilton.

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Cathedral Bells Rung by Hand

Maintenance worker David Porterfield looks over Big George, which arrived at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in 1903. It rings in at 9,240 pounds and is 6 feet tall, 6 feet wide. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

From the Christmas Eve edition of the Denver Post:

At two Denver cathedrals,

bells still rung by hand


The Roman Catholic Church considers bells to be “evangelists,” Lane said, and so, unlike a church organ, bells can be consecrated with holy oil.

At the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the bells are rung by hand each Sunday for the 10:30 a.m. Mass and for some special occasions and funerals, said John S. Miller, the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver’s liturgical director.

Four big bells, weighing up to 3,500 pounds each and installed in 1912, are on pull-ropes that turn a large wheel that swings the bells against the clappers, just like the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral rung by Victor Hugo’s fictional heroic hunchback, Quasimodo, according to archdiocese records. Eleven other bells are mounted below these four.

The No. 1 bell, Presentation, was donated by John Francis Campion. It takes its name from the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, described in the Gospel of Luke, Miller said.

Bells, from the beginning and to this day, call a parish and a nation to worship, or to rejoice or to mourn, he said.

In Denver, bells may be rung after midnight on only one day: Christmas.

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HT_BellsAfter Sunday’s 9:00AM Mass, Father Hilton and the Knights of Columbus led the congregation to the atrium for a short ceremony to bless the new bells. Father used the old rite, which resulted in a beautiful and moving ceremony.

KoC, Fr. Hilton and nine altar boys after the blessing of the bells on 18 October 2009

KoC, Fr. Hilton and nine altar boys after the blessing of the bells on 18 October 2009

Holy Trinity was lucky to get these bells from the original foundry: The McShane Bell Foundry near Baltimore Maryland.

The McShane Bell Foundry is the last survivor of seven historic American bell foundries. They are located in Glen Burnie, a suburb of the city of Baltimore, where Henry McShane (1833-89) started the McShane bell foundry in  1856. In 1912, McShane cast and installed the 15-bell chimestand for Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. On 12 December 2006, the McShane Bell Foundry was featured on an episode of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs.

Other Links:

Thanks to reader MK for the photographs!

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