Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Wedding Bells

The sound of bells at a wedding may not always be a happy omen.

A traditional church wedding often includes a peal of bells. The noise of their sacred music is meant to drive any evil spirits away. In some places they used to ring bells to ward off lightning strikes. Most church bells have a Christian name - and in France, they are actually baptised. Holy water is used to name them, and the fumes from a censer removes any lurking malevolence.

The joyous sound of ringing the changes has meant bells appear on wedding cards, invitations and even as bell-shaped confetti. Few events at a wedding can be quite so shocking, though,  as this tale from the Daily Mail of a bell-ringer in 2008 dying at a wedding.

A muffled peal is where the sound of the clappers is softened with leather covers. It makes a dull and mournful sound. There are stories of this being done in mockery or spite at weddings years ago - say, if the groom hadn't paid the bell-ringers.

Single, tolling bells also have a bad reputation as they were rung to announce a death. Throughout history, bells have signalled bad news, such as invaders or war. They were even rung in times of plague, to tell people to bring out their dead and to pray for deliverance. So, over the years, the slow ringing of a bell has become a sign of bad luck. 

The unnerving sound of an unseen bell is often associated with water. From Celtic times, bells were thought to contain magic. Some say Druids threw bells into rivers, streams or springs to get rid of bad spirits and make the water pure. There are many stories of ghostly bells heard at sea and they are nearly always a warning of a storm or disaster. They are also often linked to the idea of a drowned town or city, like the once-busy port of Dunwich now lost beneath the sea.

What would you think if you heard the sound of a bell coming through the twilit mist?