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Sound of history

Church bells in the city are captivating conduits of fascinating facts.

PHOTO: SATISH H

STATELY RING The bell tower at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Gunfoundry.

Climbing the belfry at St Mary's, Secunderabad, requires a leap of faith and a conscious decision not to dwell on a horror for closed spaces. If you were to let in a whiff of claustrophobia, it will not take much to translate into full-blown panic. However, climbing the narrow steeply winding steps in the closed capsule like tower, taking a well-deserved break at the choir, one is rewarded by the sight and sound of history.

The four bells, which were brought all the way from Italy in 1901, speak of the tradition of church bells from the earliest Celtic bells.Important at a time when clocks and watches were not as popular as today, there is mention of bells from ancient times. The church began using bells from 400 AD and Paulinus, bishop of Nola is supposed to have introduced them.

Bells, apart from calling the faithful to prayers also rang out in warning and when death is imminent (passing bell). The peace bell for the morning Angelus was first rung in 1318 in Italy. The Angelus has an interesting story and traces its roots to the ringing of the curfew bell, which was rung in the evening to tell the villagers to douse the fires. There is also a belief that church bells are safeguard against lightning and tempests and so are rung vigorously during storms.

The blessing of bells, a ritual to sanctify the bells is an exorcism where the evil spirits are driven out and is done to this day before the bells are put in church. There are definite rules about church bells from the number - five or more for a cathedral and two or more for a parish church to who can ring the bells.

PHOTO: MOHD YOUSUF

The chipped bell at St Mary's Church.

The bell at St Mary's has been in the news as it has developed cracks. The closed bell tower - a feature of Gothic architecture means no one can really see the bells. But as Father Jude, assistant parish priest comments, "it is the sound that told us the bell was cracked."

Replacing the bell would be a tough job according to Vicar General B. Julian. "There is a bell maker in Nagarcoil who could probably replace the bell. Italian missionaries must have brought the bells as in those days we could not cast such big bells. The missionaries must have used the ship route from Italy to Australia via Cochin." The bells are made of an alloy called bell metal where the percentage of silver determines the sound of the bell.

St. Joseph's cathedral in Gunfoundry with its baroque architecture has five bells in an open bell tower. While the belfry is slightly roomier, the steps are not advised for anyone with the faintest stirrings of vertigo. But all the creaky stairs and dicey perpendicular ladders are worth trotting up for the breath-taking view of the city and the stately bells.

Installed in 1892, the five bells follow the tradition of names and inscriptions. The bells are named after the saints Peter, Joseph, Thomas and Francis Xavier. Inscribed with Ora Pro Nobis (pray for us) and the date, the bells when rung in sequence chime to the tune of Ave Maria.

While there is a plan to recast the bell at St Mary's, it would be nice if the bell were to be preserved for generations to see like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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