Since my friend, Jennifer and I visited the bell foundry in Molise I have been thinking about bells a lot. I’ve always liked them…been fascinated by them. When we lived in Germany, in the small villages they were always evident, telling the time so no need of a watch…as a matter of fact, until 50 years ago, most people didn’t own a watch so the bells served an important purpose. When we returned home to the US I really missed hearing them.
The foundry was super interesting, and in my investigation for this post I found this nice little video about the Campane Marinelli – Pontificia Fonderia di Campane.
Before we moved here, and after our return from Germany, we lived in Alexandria, VA, outside of Washington DC. It was founded in the 1600s. There are still many of the original churches in town and they all have their bells. Usually just the one to call to service.
In Arlington, near the Iwo Jima memorial, there is the Netherlands Carillon with it’s 53 bells. A gift, in thanks, from the Netherlands to the US for the liberation of their country from the Nazis. It rings the Westminster Quarter everyday and visiting musicians play it as well. It is played like an organ, with pedals and keyboard.
Then there is the National Cathedral in Washington. It has a full 53 bell carillon too. But to me the best thing is that it has a full set of Peal Bells. I have always been fascinated by this tradition. The Cathedral has ten peal bells. These are rung by a group of Ringers by pulling ropes. Each person has a rope attached to one bell. They are rung in mathematical sequence and are not melodic. This is because each bell can only be rung once every two seconds due to the swing of the bell, the hit of the clapper, and the return of the bell to a position to be pulled again. I won’t go into all the interesting things about “change ringing” it is quite the feat, and art. You can google it if you’re interested, and the National Cathedral site has a nice write up. The tradition originated in the cathedrals in England. So, there are some bells in the US, but not the really personal village church bells like in Europe.
I know you are all wondering what this has to do with Italy, right? Well, in our town we have, so far as I know, three active Catholic Churches, all of whom have bells. [The town seems to have at least eight Catholic churches when I googled but I’m not sure they are active with congregations etc.] We are between two of these churches so we are treated to the bells many times a day. I’ve been here seven years and I still don’t understand all of the ringings and why they are rung when they are rung.
One of the most historic buildings in Umbertide is the bell tower on the edge of the piazza which is all that’s left of San Giovanni Batista (Collegiata), an old church which was hit by bombs in 1944. It has four beautiful bells that now ring for the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’, the town’s main church, which is associated with the Chiesa San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco. Construction of the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’ began in 1559 and it is a unique round building. The four bells in the tower of San Giovanni ring simultaneously for Sunday Mass at 11 a.m. and for High holy days and Saints days. They make an amazing, and to me, joyous cacophony. One of these bells also rings the hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. …for those who forgot their watches. 😁 I tried to video the bells ringing but as usual, I was flummoxed by them. One never seems to know the schedules and they change for no apparent reason.
The church behind us is called Chiesa Parrocchiale del Convento di Santa Maria della Pietà built in 1481. It also has four bells. Unfortunately the note that one of them has is very flat. To make it worse they play “tunes” on them. At noon and at six p.m. every day they “sing”. They also ring a different tune for masses etc.
This church also rings the bells for funerals. Each of the four bells, starting from the highest (and flat) one, toll slowly one after another. Then pause and begin again. Over and over. It is mournful and sad. Someone told me they ring them longer, the older the person was, who died. I looked it up and did see this could be true… “ traditional ringing calls for the funeral bell to ring six times (twice three times) for a woman. The bell would toll nine times (three times three) for a man. Then, the bell would ring one time for each year of the deceased’s life.”
The church behind us also rings a bell precisely at 7:30 a.m. every day. For the last year or two, it has been one bell ringing 33 times, then pausing and ringing 33 more times. Yes, I counted. I’m usually still in bed at 7:30 🙂. No one could tell me why they rung this way. I did figure it could have been Jesus’ age. But why twice? On Saturday, October 3, the bell changed! It still rang at 7:30 but only 30 times, and only once. Please tell me why!?
I guess you all can see I am fascinated by the bells. I freely admit it and it is an ongoing fascination. There is much I don’t know, and much to learn.
This is a video I found while researching. It is of the bells in the church behind us.