Summoned by Bells

John posted on Flickr about the sound of church bells, especially electronic carillons, and wondered if people find them intrusive or if they make them think of God. (These two are obviously not mutually exclusive but we won’t go there 🙂 )

Church Bells in Spain and Scotland

BellTowerI’m not a Christian but I love to hear the sound of church bells. I have lived in old towns and villages most of my life. These sounds that punctuate the day are something I miss in London. I just got back from Spain and the sound of the bells ringing the hours of the day, as they have for hundreds of years gives daily life a reassuringly grounded feeling. In the south of Spain at Christmas many towns have loud speakers that play traditional carols all day long. I love that too as the music is a wonderful mix of medieval chanting with Arabic overtones. I hated it when they played cheesy Christmas pop, like they did in Ronda 😦

In St Andrews (Fife) there is a wonderful carillon, not an electronic one but a 1920s version that can be played with a keyboard. It is one of only four churches in Scotland to have a carillon. The instrument consists of 27 bells and is housed in the church tower. It is always played before Sunday morning service around 10:45 am. Sometimes other times as well, most often for weddings. The church web site says :

the first fifteen bells were installed in 1926, as a memorial to Rev Patrick Playfair, minister of the first charge from 1899 to 1924, and the inspiration behind the 1909 restoration. The bells were cast by John Taylor of Loughborough and dedicated on St Andrews Day, 1926. Two more bells, an anonymous gift, were hung in 1938, and six more, in memory of members of the Mercer family, were presented by Miss Jane Mercer in 1962. Four more were added in 1998 and dedicated on Easter day in that year.

I remember the dedication of the new bells, it was a big deal in the town. I never minded the sound of them, it fact I always thought it was a pleasure to hear. Some visitors staying in nearby guest houses used to object to it getting them up on Sunday mornings though. I was usually ensconced in MacGregors with a big mug of black coffee & a Sunday paper by then 🙂
The sound of bells doesn’t make me think of God. I’m just not wired that way 🙂 I like it because it connects me to all those people who went before, to a feeling of continuity and stability. It reminds me that those people were, in fact, just like us. People doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.

I think I’m with Larkin , not with Betjeman after all, standing awkwardly in a quiet church, enjoying the stillness and the solemnity of the bells.


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