Thursday, 3 September 2009


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Taizé BelltowerI live within the sound of the bells of Taizé. When I hear the bells, here in Chazelle it reminds me three times a day what time it is. When the bells stop in the morning at 08.30, I know I should have got up, when they ring in the middle of the day at 12.15 I know I need to get lunch on the table and when they start in the evening at 20.15 and we still haven’t eaten I know I am running behind schedule!

When I heard the bells this morning I started thinking about how strange it was that I seem to have lived near bells almost all my life. As a child in Ickenham our house was within the bells of St Giles church, my first house in Worksop was next to the Priory church, my second next to St Leonards in Hythe, my third across the valley from The All Saints church in Highbrook, in the Netherlands whilst living in Benthuizen, I lived within the sound of a carillon that sounded the hour and now it is the bells of Taizé. I was struck by how all of these bells were very different and all were played differently as well.

How the Taizé bells are operated has been a mystery to me. I have always seen a monk scurrying into the services late after the bells have stopped ringing, I recognised him not only because of his lateness but that he look like a ex-colleague of mine, Rick. I was convinced that he was the “bell-monk” and he was the one that started and stopped the bells, but quite how that worked I had no idea.

Saint Leonard's, Hythe In most English churches the bells are operated by one bell ringer per bell, each person pulling his rope and ringing his own bell on cue to create “rounds”.

Worksop PrioryTo add variation to this process the director of the group will call out a change during the ringing to alter the order of the bells in the round, commonly called “change ringing”. This was the case for both the Worksop Priory and St Leonard’s at Hythe . However, the bells in St Giles were operated by one or other of the choir boys.

Saint Giles', IckenhamAll the bell ropes came down into a box about 2 feet wide and one choir boy would operate the bells by pulling the ropes in the set pattern. I found it fascinating to watch the frantic action of these boys. As this was a tiring job, to complete the full ring prior to a service, two boys were needed, one taking over from the other half way through the ring. During the changeover the two would work together to synchronise the rhythm then one would duck out and return to the vestry.

Another type of bell and belling ringing are carillon bells. These are a set of bells that play full tunes rather than just ringing out.
Highbrook carillonMy first experience of carillon bells was when I lived in Horsted Keynes. All Saints in Highbrook played tunes automatically at mid-day, three in the afternoon and six in the evening. The sound echoed through the valley and were clearly audible from our garden.
Benthuizen carillonIn my house in Benthuizen, The Netherlands, I was within earshot of the carillon mounted on a post outside the old town hall. When the town hall had been shut down and sold off as a private house the carillon had been in a poor state of repair and no longer worked. The new owner had the bells retuned and the whole mechanism overhauled and reinstated the hourly ringing, 24 hours a day. There was soon an uproar in the village as the neighbours started to suffer from sleep deprivation because of the noise! The bells were really deafening from close by, even in my garden (a block away) you could not talk over sound of the bells. Having said that they were beautifully tuned and from a distance they made a pleasant sound. Finally it was agreed that the bells could play a tune on the hour starting at nine in the morning with the last tune at nine in the evening.

Today I decided to get to the bottom of the Taizé bell mystery. The Taizé Belltower The five bells are hung in a very ugly (in my opinion) tower. We had heard that originally under the bells there was a small pond, this was intended to act as a “sound mirror” and reflect the sound increasing its potency, but complaints from the neighbours have meant that the pond was filled in and now wooden planks lie under the bell tower. Each bell is operated independently by an electro-motor connected to the top of the bells by a chain. The motor makes the chain oscillate back and forward, waggling the bell, if you like. Each motor operates at a different frequency, with the motors for the smaller bells moving quicker than that for the largest bell. When the bells are ringing, the “tune” created by the bells constantly changes because of this lack of synchronicity. We lay in wait for the bell monk and he never arrived, the bells just started and stopped most probably and quite boringly on a timer switch.

So now I know the truth about the late monk, he is just late and nothing else!


  1. This makes great reading. You are very detailed in your description and you post good pictures.

  2. Thanks Rico, keep reading!


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