Bells

A metallic structure assuming the campaniform shape; to be distinguished in musical history from the gong, cymbal, struck tube, or bar. In the East, the bell appears as early as 2500 b.c. Biblical reference may not always meet the campaniform structure (cf. Exod. 28:33-35; Zech. 14:20). Josephus writes that King Solomon used large bells on the roofs of his dwellings to keep the birds away. Ecclesiastically, the first Christian writer to speak of bells in any significant way is Gregory of Tours about 585. Paulinus, bishop of Nola in Campania about 420, has traditionally been given credit for introducing the bell; however, the historicity of these accounts is debatable and may be an attempt to justify the two Latin words used to denote bells-campana and nola. The famous bell of St. Patrick in Dublin dating from the sixth century still survives, and since the seventh century there is evidence of widespread use of bells in England and the Continent. About the eighth century, the custom and rite of blessing bells with holy water and chrism came to be known as the “baptism of the bells.” There seems to be greater justification for attributing the use of bells to functional rather than symbolic reasons. It could summon the congregation for worship or announce some special occasions such as the death of a church member, a special religious holy day, or set times for prayer. Since late medieval times it has been a custom to inscribe bells with a dedicatory statement of significance. Perhaps as a result of the OT association of bells with the high priest (Exod. 28:33-35), gradually certain small bells began to be associated with the eucharistic celebrations in the liturgy of the church. The bells of the carillon are a seventeenth-century French attempt to make musical instruments from the bell. Most of the largest bells in the world are church bells: Notre Dame (1680), 17 tons; “Great Paul” of St. Paul's Cathedral (1716), 16.25 tons; Cathedral (Duomo) of Milan, 15 tos.

See S.N. Coleman, Bells, Their History, Legends, Making and Uses (1928).