The Bell Tower
times Christians travelled throughout Europe ringing bells
the news of the risen Christ, and summoning people to congregate.
Eventually, large bronze bells were cast and towers were
constructed to house them. At first these towers were built
apart from the church; then belfries were added above the
church structures. The Bishop of Nola, in Campania, Italy,
was the first to place a bell tower within the church.
When several bells are hung in a belfry, they can be rung together, or one
after another, to produce a clamorous effect. Such a set, known as a peal,
consists of multiple bells tuned to different degrees of the scale. The peals
can vary in size from three to twelve bells. Ringing these bells in various
sequences (permutations) is known as "change ringing." Throughout
the 1600s bellringers experimented with these sequences, keeping records
of the many changes that were rung. In 1667 Fabian Stedman published Campanologia,
a book on the art of change ringing.
By the 1700s change ringing had become a very popular pastime,
especially throughout the British Isles. Ringing bands were
formed, and marathon peals were held, sometimes lasting 24
hours or longer. The art of change ringing was considered a
test of physical and mental endurance rather than a means of
musical or religious expression.
Bells in most English Towers are large; ranging in weight
from a few hundred pounds to several tons and, like many things
in life, are referred to in the feminine gender. A ring of
bells will usually consist of four to twelve bronze bells.
A bell in her usual resting position is 'rung down' and is
free to swing gently in the breeze without sounding. Bells
for change ringing are hung in stout frames that allow the
bells to swing through 360 degrees. Each bell is attached to
a wooden wheel with a handmade rope running around it.
The mechanism achieves such exquisite balance that ten-year-olds
and octogenarians can control the largest bell easily. The
harmonic richness of a swinging bell cannot be matched by the
same bell hanging stationary, but each swinging bell requires
one ringer's full attention.
The bells are arranged in the frame so their ropes hang in
a circle in the ringing chamber below. Into each rope is woven
a tuft of brightly coloured wool (sally), which marks where
the ringer must catch the rope while ringing.
Bells are rung from the "mouth up" position. With
a pull of the rope, the bell swings through a full circle to
the "up" position again. With the next pull it swings
back in the other direction.