I’ve been aware lately of all the bells that have accumulated in my life. Let me introduce you to just a few that are around me as I write. A ‘new’ pottery bell (from Daily Bird Pottery) hangs outside my window in our back yard and is rung each time I walk by, I love the clear sound it makes in the outdoors.
Inside, a bell I gave my mom years ago now hangs on the bookshelf behind me, I ring it occasionally when I come and go in the room, it is a simple bell with a beautiful ring. Behind it hangs a collection of ‘jingle-bells”, a life collection though I suspect there are more elsewhere.
The holiday season brings out a small ceramic angel bell I’ve had since childhood, and this year I brought home from my mother’s a set of tiny ceramic bells, I can’t remember a Christmas without them hanging in her house, wherever she lived. These little bells apparently broke at some point and have been lovingly glued back together, not ringing so pretty, but still pretty to look at. Another childhood favorite is a green painted brass bell, so loved it has hung year round for years in my house, the green paint long faded.
Also pictured is a brass bell from India my Mom tried to sell at a flea market we both sold at, I snatched it from her, she couldn’t sell this ‘dinner bell’, as we called it, that had hung in our house all my growing up years! A few years ago she passed on to me a set of bells, also from India, also ever-present wherever we lived.
The study of bells is called campanology, from the Latin word campana, meaning bell. It primarily concerns the large bells and carillons of temples, churches, and other religious and community installations. These ‘tower’ bells are musical instruments for which compositions are written. Westminster Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Mission, British Columbia, has a tall bell tower housing 10 bells. Many years ago a few friends and I arrived early to attend a meditation retreat at the abbey and were given a tour of the Abbey, including the bell tower during the time the bells were rung. It was both deafening and exhilarating! I think we were invited to ring one of the bells, but I don’t remember who was brave enough to try! These bells sound out beautiful melodies at certain times each day that reverberate across the Fraser Valley. When I hear them I think of all the bell towers throughout Europe in abbeys, churches and cathedrals that have been ringing such melodies for centuries.
There is a fascinating history of bells, including a list of well-known bells, on Wikipedia. From cow bells (I have one of those somewhere too!) to cathedrals, there is not a corner of the earth, nor a culture, that has not used bells for both ceremonial and everyday uses. Even our modern high tech society has its own high tech bell sounds on cell phones and computer devices. Most of us grew up with doorbells, electronic renditions of the bell at the garden gate announcing the arrival of a guest.
Last spring we attended a concert of bell ringers while in Leavenworth. It was the highlight of the trip for me, I love the Carol of the Bells, heard only at Christmas, and to hear bell songs in May was a musical treat!
The history of bells is the history of people, of a form of music which can be both simple and complex. Bells were perhaps one of the first music instruments following the discovery of metal, but then, given the loveliness of our pottery bell, bells may have been around, made from clay, even before people learned about making tools and everyday items from metal.
There is something about the clear ringing of a single bell calling Buddhist monks to meditation, and the chimes of churches calling communities to worship, that connect us to the heavens in a way no other instrument can.
It is likely you have a bell, (or several) in your house that you perhaps have not rung for awhile. Go find it, ring it, and let the clarity of its song welcome you to the New Year!
Would love to ‘hear’ about your bells in the comments below!