You are on page 1of 32



John H. Arnold and Caroline Goodson*

Abstract: As both antiquarian and more recent studies have noted, bells played a central role in medieval
Christianity. This article aims to show that the history and meanings of church bells are more complex than
often assumed. Drawing on a mixture of archaeological and textual material, the article demonstrates that a
variety of types of belland indeed other signaling deviceswere found in early medieval Christianity,
and argues that the social and spiritual meanings of bells, whilst in some aspects determined by liturgical
texts of the eleventh century, could also vary markedly depending upon the context, use, and reception of
their sound. A bell calling a community to prayer was thus not simply marking the hours; it was
summoning and producing the spiritual community, and its voice could be contested and even on occasion
Keywords: bells, liturgy, church architecture, canonical hours, belief, bell-casting, miracles, pontificals,
Islam, popular revolts.

On 4 January 1216 Pope Innocent III wrote to the Maronite church in Lebanon, af-
firming the reception of this particular strain of Eastern Christianity into the Apostolic
See. The bull mainly comprises a concise statement of the basic tenets and practices of
Catholicism for the Maronites to affirm and adopt. The main section of the letter
briefly sets out the nature of the Trinity, the practice of baptism, the sacraments, and,
in conclusion, the need to have bells [campanas] to distinguish the hours, and to
summon the people to church.2 Thus bells are placed at the heart of Catholic faith, as
the final item in a list otherwise markedly liturgical and theological. Innocent men-
tioned no other church ornaments or liturgical objects: bells thus assume a clear and
transcendent importance, evoking the practical and material needs of the physical
church, and also the spiritual communion of ecclesia, the church as the gathering of
the faithful.
By Innocent IIIs time, bells had long been established at the core of Christian ob-
servance. Indeed some historians have thought that the ecclesiastical use of bells
stretches back to late antiquity, and various writers have noted the conjunction of
bells, liturgy, and community. But Innocents apparently seamless link between bells
and belief in fact provokes some further questions, little addressed by past scholarship.
Sounding-out the canonical hours, and convoking the faithful, have a long history
prior to 1215they are for example mentioned repeatedly, as we shall see below, in

Department of History, Classics, and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London, 27 Russell Square,
London WC1B 5DQ, UK. Versions of this article have been delivered at the Institute of Historical Re-
search, London, and the University of Cambridge; our thanks to the audiences and their suggestions. Further
thanks to Joe Canning, Paul Cobb, Helen Gittos, and the anonymous reviewers at Viator.
The following abbreviations are used: Mansi = G. D. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum conciliorum nova et
amplissima collection, 56 vols. (Venice 17591798); MGH Epp = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Episto-
lae; MGH Legum = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Leges; MGH SS = Monumenta Germaniae Historica,
Scriptores; MGH SRM = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum; MGH
SSRG = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum.
Acta Innocentii P.P. III (11981216), ed. P. Th. Haluscynskyj (Vatican City 1944) pars I, no. 216 (p.
459). The Maronite Patriarch Jeremiah al-Amshiti had visited Rome, and assisted at the Fourth Lateran
Council; hence one need not assume that this bull contained all the theological and liturgical information the
papacy thought important. See K. Salibi, The Maronite Church in the Middle Ages and its Union with
Rome, Oriens Christianus 42 (1958) 9298; the key part of the bull is translated 9596.

Viator 43 No. 1 (2012) 99130. 10.1484/J.VIATOR.1.102544


Carolingian ecclesiastical legislation. But this is not one unified action, but rather two
different procedures. Marking the hours is rooted in the daily schedule of monastic
prayer; summoning people to church is about a more irregular (or at least less fre-
quent) parochial piety; and although these can be linked in some times and places,
they were more often quite separate. Moreover, whilst Innocent quite definitely in-
tends bells as the auditory medium for achieving these endsand we may well
imagine here large cast bells, suspended on a frame inside a toweras we shall see,
this is not always as clearly the case when one examines evidence from earlier periods.
The origins and development of bells in the church took diverse and circuitous routes.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, various historians gathered to-
gether a corpus of examples for the early history of bells, and mapped an overall ac-
count of their development across a broad canvas, or via essentially antiquarian local
studies.3 Later work has largely rested on these foundations, and the narrative of
development they have provided. There has been a flurry of more recent work focused
particularly on Italywe would draw attention particularly to foundational research
by Sible de Blaauwthough here again, particularly for the early medieval period, the
received histories continue to be repeated somewhat uncritically.4 Bells have also ap-
peared in the considerable work prompted by Jacques Le Goffs seminal argument
about the shift from church time to merchants time in the later Middle Ages, and
these studies have useful analytical suggestions about certain aspects of bell culture, in
particular the recurrent tensions between clerical and lay use of bells.5 That theme lies
at the heart of perhaps the most important analysis of bells, Alain Corbins Village
Bells, which traces the shift in uses and meanings of bells in the French countryside
before and after the French Revolution.6 Corbin provides various major insights into
the meaning of bells, and their complex links with communities; as we will discuss
below, one may however wish to revise his assumption that before 1789 the culture of
bells enjoyed an untroubled and uniform sacrality.

For example, J-D. Blavignac, La cloche, tudes sur son histoire et sur ses rapports avec la socit aux
diffrent ges (Geneva 1877), which is a mine of fascinating material, but arranged thematically rather than
chronologically and sparse in its referencing; J. J. Raven, The Bells of England (London 1906), preceded by
a series of local studies by the same author (e.g., The Church Bells of Cambridgeshire [Lowestoft 1896]); H.
B. Walters, Church Bells of England (London 1912); S. N. Coleman, Bells: Their History, Legends, Making
and Uses (Chicago 1928). The antiquarian study of bells is mockingly evoked in Joris-Karl Huysmanns
1891 novel L-Bas (The Damned): Huysmann, The Damned, trans. T. J. Hale (Harmondsworth 2001) 31
S. de Blaauw, Campanae supra urbem: Sulluso delle campane nella Roma medievale, Rivista di
Storia della Chiesa 47 (1993) 367414; Giuseppe Cuscito, Alle origini del campanile nellarchitettura
cristiana, Campane e campanile in Friuli, ed. M. Bortolotti (Udinese 1998) 1528; N. Christie, On Bells
and Bell-Towers: Origins and Evolutions in Italy and Britain, AD 7001200, Church Archaeology 56
(2004) 1330; Del fondere campane dallarcheologia alla produzione: Quadri regionali per lItalia setten-
trionale, ed. S. Lusuardi Siena and E. Neri (Florence 2006); Elisabetta Neri, De campanis fundendis: La
produzione di campane nel medioevo tra fonti scritte ed evidenze archeologiche (Milan 2006).
J. Le Goff, Merchants Time and the Churchs Time in the Middle Ages, Time, Work, and Culture in
the Middle Ages, trans. A. Goldhammer (Chicago/London 1980) 2942; Time in the Medieval World, ed. C.
Humphrey and W. M. Ormrod (Woodbridge 2006).
A. Corbin, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth-Century French Countryside, trans. M.
Thom (Basingstoke 1998). Another noteworthy analytical approach is P. Price, Bells and Man (Oxford
1983), which takes a world historical perspective. Again, however, it is largely reliant on the received histo-
ries for its account of western medieval developments.

Constructing a coherent history of bells, alert to regional difference, precise usage

and chronological development, is a difficult task, yet to be properly attempted. We
have found (as indeed have most who have gone down these paths before us) that it is
quite easy to draw together interesting anecdotes about the use of bells. These can be
variously illuminating and helpfully suggestive. Making a proper history of bells is
however a harder task. In much of the classic historiography, the analysis suffers from
a strong teleological bent, which expects all paths to lead (more or less swiftly) to the
parish belfry, and to some sense of campanilismo. At worst, the bell-tower lurches
precariously back in time, and all its associated uses and meanings impose themselves
upon every past mention of bells (or of what are assumed to be bells).7 In this article
we do not claim to provide anything like a complete history, but rather we seek to be-
gin several lines of enquiry. One is broadly revisionist, examining the evidence for the
use of bells in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages in an attempt to separate myth
from history, and, as importantly, to disengage specific historical and cultural in-
stances from a received teleology of assumptions and conflations. Another aim is to
look more analytically at the intersecting purposes of bells adumbrated in Innocent
IIIs bull: the monastic use of bells, their liturgical use in the parish, and the connec-
tion between bells, lay devotion and community. Here we would situate our work in
the emerging field of the social history of soundfor which, of course, Corbins Vil-
lage Bells was a foundational text.8 The tolling bell in the bell-tower of the parish
church, situated socially and spiritually at the heart of local community (as indeed it
actually stood in much of later medieval Europe) hovers as an idealized image. How-
ever, as we shall demonstrate, one must be wary of allowing this image to assert itself
too readily in all earlier times and places; and even in the late Middle Ages, the practi-
cal provision, control and meaning of the parish bells could be complex and some-
times strongly contested.
Our study ranges across Europe, from late antiquity to the very end of the Middle
Ages, using a mixture of textual analysis and archaeological enquiry. We have fol-
lowed up footnotes in earlier research, re-reading the key texts, and have searched for
additional references in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Patrologia Latina, and
Mansis Sacra Concilia; for the later Middle Ages, we have sampled various editions
of conciliar legislation, and have surveyed a variety of diocesan visitations and the
like. As is ever the case (serendipity being the medievalists greatest research tool),
some fortuitous discoveries have also assisted. Whilst we have ranged broadly in our
studies, this piece is thus necessarily an essayan attempt, that is, to indicate how
much more could be done in these and other areas. Despite the criticisms we make

Etienne Delaruelle similarly noted that [bells] sont souvent traits avec une incroyable lgret: un
article ... semblait croire que les glises avaient eu de tout temps un clocher, toujours plac, simaginait-on,
au carr du transept: E. Delaruelle, Le problme du clocher au haut moyen ge et la religion populaire,
Etudes ligeriennes dhistoire et darchologie mdivales: mmoires et exposs prsentes la Semaine
dtudes mdivales de Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire du 3 au 10 Juillet 1969, ed. R. Louis (Auxerre 1975) 125
131, at 125.
See D. Garrioch, Sounds of the City: The Soundscape of Early Modern European Towns, Urban
History 30 (2003) 525; B. R. Smith, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-
Factor (Chicago 1999). See also C. Symes, A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras
(Ithaca 2007) esp. 138144; J. D. Hurlbut, The Sound of Civic Spectacle: Noise in Burgundian Ceremonial
Entries, Material Culture and Medieval Drama, ed. C. Davidson (Kalamazoo 1999) 127140.

about some of the past historiography, our studies have of course been partly
dependent upon this work, and we are grateful to those who have earlier attempted to
map these areas, even where we differ (sometimes greatly) in our interpretations. We
wish, at the very least, to persuade our readers that the history and use bells should not
be taken for granted, but thought about and questioned; and we hope that, through our
attempts to question and revise the general received picture, we can open out the
terrain for some future, more focused, studies.9


Talk of bells in an ecclesiastical context tends to evoke the still-familiar image of a
large cast bronze bell, suspended in a tower, sounded by means of an internal clapper
or external hammer operated by ropes, producing a highly resonant sound that could
be heard at a considerable distance. But early bells were not necessarily of this scale,
or this manufacture, nor used in this way. Medieval bells were both cast and beaten, of
large and small dimensions, were used in diverse ways and went by many different
names. As these were new inventions of the early Middle Ages, apparently emerging
from monastic culture, it will be worthwhile to try to identify the nature of these ori-
gins. Romans did not produce cast metal bells of any size, but rather small round
crotal bells with an internal rattle (like modern jingle bells), used probably for
personal adornment; and smallish bells made out of sheets of beaten metal, perhaps
used as animal bells.10 Both technologies continued into the late antique and early me-
dieval periods. We find hand bells, made from riveted iron sheets, sometimes coated
with bronze, in early medieval Ireland. No surviving example is larger than thirty-one
cm high (most are smaller), and these have wide handles for hand ringing; a surviving
example is the famous so-called bell of Saint Patrick, which may date from the sev-
enth century. It is made of two hammered sheets of iron bent into a sub-rectangular
form twenty cm high and riveted together. A strap handle was brazed to the top, and
the bell was then coated with bronze.11 We find small-scale bells also made from cast
iron, bronze and copper in Ireland and Scotland in the early Middle Ages, measuring

For two excellent examples, based upon focused archival research in one time and place, see M. Gar-
ceau, I call the people: Church Bells in Fourteenth-Century Catalunya, Journal of Medieval History 30
(2011) 118; and J. Gardner, For whom the bell tolls: a Franciscan bell-founder, Franciscan bells and a
Franciscan patron in late thirteenth-century Rome, Medioevo: I Committenti: Atti del XIII Convegno inter-
nazionale di studi, Parma 2126 settembre 2010, ed. A. C. Quintavalle (Milan 2011). We thank both au-
thors for sharing their work with us prior to publication.
The Ancient Chinese cast large-scale bronze bells from the middle of the first millennium BCE, but
there is no demonstrable transmission of this culture to the Mediterranean world. For a survey of the small-
scale bells of the ancient world, rich in pictures, see N. Spear, A Treasury of Archaeological Bells (New
York 1978). For a discussion of Roman and Coptic bells with particular reference to Britain, see Rupert
Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, vol. 3.2 (London 1983) 894899.
The Bell of Saint Patricks Will, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin (Treasures of Early Irish Art
1500 BC to 1500 AD from the collections of the National Museum of Ireland [New York 1977] cat. no. 45).
Two others of this type are the 25 cm tall iron bell preserved in the church of St.-Mriadec, Stival (near
Pontivy) dated to the 7th c. by the palaeography of its inscription (J. M. Abgrall, Quatre vieilles cloches et
deux pierres sonnantes, Bulletin de la Socit archologique du Finistre 22 [1895] 19, 28); and the Irish
bell of Saint Magnus at the Katholisches Pfarramt, Ramsach, Bavaria (Kilian, Mnch aus Irland, aller
Franken Patron, 6891989, Katalog der Sonder-Ausstellung zur 1300-Jahr-Feier des Kiliansmartyriums,
Mainfrnkisches Museum [Wrzburg 1989] 192193).

between fourteen and thirty cm in height.12 In Ireland, no known hand-bell predates

Christianization, and the case has been made that both cast and crotal bells should be
specifically associated with the circulation of Columban monasticism from Ireland to
the continent.13 There are also cast small-scale bells on the continent, not connected to
the insular tradition. They are preserved in ecclesiastical contexts, such as the mis-
named bell of Saint Columbanus originally from Bregenz, Voralberg, now at Sankt-
Gallen,14 the seventh-century cast iron bell of Sainte Godeberte, clad in bronze, now
at the Cathedral of Noyon15 and the so-called bell of St-Etienne, which Clothar alleg-
edly brought from Sens to Paris.16 There are also preserved examples of small-scale
bells cast or hammered out of iron or bronze with rings on top for suspending them,
such as the miraculous iron bell at Notre-Dame de Rocamadour measuring twenty-
two cm in height, dating perhaps to the ninth century.17
Thus, early medieval religious societies were capable of producing something that
we would recognize as bells, made either by hammered sheets or cast metal, but these
were most often hand-held objects of smallish size. Such bells would presumably have
clanged or tinkled, rather than tolled sonorously across a distance. Making these rela-
tively small objects, further, was significantly less challenging than the casting of lar-
ger bells, of the sort which could be suspended in order to generate a considerable
sound field. Moreover, casting of large-scale bronze, widely used for statuary in the
Hellenistic and Roman period, seems to have dwindled in late antiquity: the latest cast
bronze portrait known is the head of an empress, in Nis, dated to the fifth century.18
The same technology was, however, used for making bells some four centuries later: a
wax positive was made (turned on a lathe, for example) and then placed between two
molds, with channels for the bronze to run into the bell form. The mold was placed
over a hearth, which was lit to melt the wax, creating a void. Nearby another hearth
was lit to melt the bronze, which was then cast into the mold in one pour (the mold

Preserved Irish examples date from the 9th c., though their manufacture and use, it is argued, began in
the 7th c.; C. Bourke, Early Irish hand-bells, Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 110 (1980) 5266.
C. Bourke, The handbells of the early Scottish church, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland 113 (1983) 464468; C. Bourke, The hand-bells of the early western church, Irlande et Bre-
tagne: vingt sicles dhistoire. Actes du colloque de Rennes (2931 mars 1993), ed. C. Laurent and H. Davis
(Rennes 1994) 7682.
The bell in the Stiftskirche, Sankt-Gallen measures 33 cm tall. On the technique of its fabrication see
A. Mutz, Die Gallus-glocke in technologischer Sicht, Jahrbuch des Vorarlberger Landesmuseumsvereins
(19781979) 1939.
Bourke, The hand-bells of the early western church (n. 13 above) 79.
See also the bell of Sankt Caecilia, measuring 41 cm tall, made of iron with a copper alloy coating.
Suggestions for its date range from the 7th to the 9th c. It is now in the Museum Schntgen, Klnisches
Stadtmuseum. Our thanks to Bettina Mosler, who provided us with a prepublication copy of her catalog
entry on the bell in Mittelalter in Kln: Eine Auswahl aus den Bestnden des Klnischen Stadtmuseums, ed.
W. Schfke, M. Trier (Cologne 2010).
J. Rocacher, Rocamadour et son plerinage, tude historique et archologique (Rocamadour 1979)
G. Lahusen, E. Formigli, Rmische Bildnisse aus Bronze (Mainz 2002) no. 203 331333. The Syriac
chronicle of Zacharias, bishop of Mytilene, enumerates 3785 bronze statues in Rome in his description,
based on the Regionary catalogues, The Syriac chronicle known as that of Zachariah of Mitylene, trans. F. J.
Hamilton and E. W. Brooks (London 1899) chap. 16. Large scale casting of some variety still happened in
Constantinople, as the bronze doors of Hagia Sophia, which date from the 4th, 6th, and 9th c., attest; E. H.
Swift, The bronze doors of the gate of the horologium at Hagia Sophia, The Art Bulletin 19.2 (June 1937)

could not be reused). Once the bronze cooled, the bell could be tuned by turning it on
a lathe. This is, in other words, a fairly complex and effortful process, demanding
technical knowledge: not something easily replicable at parish level across Europe.19
The earliest preserved cast bells that are larger than, say, thirty cm in diameter date
from the ninth or tenth centuries. The bell of Canino, near Viterbo, north of Rome,
measures thirty-six cm tall and thirty-nine cm in diameter, has three loops for hanging
and is dated on the basis of the paleography of its inscription to the ninth or tenth
century (fig. 1).20 Its hammer was hung from a loop on the inside of the bell and the
cylindrical form and medium dimensions gave the cast bronze sonorous potential.
Another cast bronze bell of similar dimensions, dating from before the tenth century,
has also been found in Fleury.21 Medieval bell-casting pits have been excavated in
central Italy, the earliest presently known being those of the workshops of S. Vincenzo
al Volturno, which date from the construction of the basilica of Joshua, ca. 800. A
large bell-casting pit, and fragments of a bell mold for a bell measuring ca. fifty cm in
diameter were excavated there.22 The abbey church of Vreden, founded probably
around 839, was excavated in the mid-twentieth century, bringing to light a casting pit
for a bell, plus fragments of ten cast bells, ingot, and molten lead.23 Much further work
is needed to piece the puzzle together, but it would appear that there were sheet metal
bells, cast hand bells and some cast suspended bells (hung inside or outside churches)
produced and used contemporaneously in the early Middle Ages. It also seems clear
that the technique of cast medium-sized bells became more diffused and important in
the central and later Middle Ages.
Antiquarians and scholars have sometimes argued that the existence of towers at
churches implies the existence of large suspended bells from an early date. But the
presence (or depiction in manuscript illuminations) of a tower does not necessarily
imply a bell therein. The mid-ninth-century chronicle of Fontenay (St.-Wandrille),
records the building of a church dedicated to Saint Michael by Ermharius, deacon
from 734738. In the new church he hung a bell in a small tower (turricula) as was
the custom of the churches.24 But this does not sound like a bell tower in the familiar
sense but perhaps a smaller structure perched somewhere on the main church archi-

Even in the 19th c., parishes expected to call in expert itinerant bell-casters for repairs or upgrades; see
Corbin, Village Bells (n. 6 above) 8093.
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, inv. 31412 (ex 41). For the the redating see A. Bornschlegel, cited in H.
Drescher, Die Glocken der karolingerzeitlichen Stiftskirche in Vreden, Kreis Ahaus, 799: Kunst und
Kultur der Karolingerzeit (Paderborn 1999) 357.
The bell, now in the Muse lapidaire, Abbaye de Fleury, has a height of 34 cm and a diameter of 31
See the preliminary report in Richard Hodges, Sarah Leppard, and John Mitchell, San Vincenzo 5
Excavations of San Vincenzo Maggiore and the Associated Temporary and Collective Workshops (2009);
Karen Francis and Michael Moran, Planning and technology in the early Middle Ages, the temporary
workshops at San Vincenzo al Volturno, Io Congresso nazionale di archeologia medievale (Pisa, 2931
Maggio, 1997), ed. Sauro Gelichi (Florence 1997) 373378.
Drescher, Die Glocken der karolingerzeitlichen Stiftskirche (n. 20 above). The dating of the casting
pits, and of the church, is problematic because it is based on a mention in the Xantener Annals of the relic
translations from Rome of Felicitas, Alexander, and other saints to Vreden, to an existing church. The exca-
vators were confident that the bells were cast in the early 9th c.
ut moris est ecclesiarum, Gesta abbatum Fontanellensium, ed. S. Loewenfeld, MGH SS II (Han-
nover 1886) 10, 284. According to the story, the bell-caster absconded with part of the metal for casting but
was tormented by the sound of the imperfect bell.

tecture; this would not structurally accommodate the stresses caused by the kind of
weightierand hence more resonantbells that we find in the high Middle Ages.25 It
is in any case difficult to know whether we should see this as evidence of early eighth-
century practice, or a projection backwards by a later chronicler of what had by then
become more familiar. Einhards account of the translation of the relics of Saints
Marcellinus and Petrus to Seligenstadt, ca. 827, does mention a tower which held the
churchs bell.26 But even for the late tenth century, a key textual example cited fre-
quently in earlier literature rests upon a mistranslation: the Anglo-Saxon code known
as the promotion law, written ca. 1000, reads And if a ceorl prospered that he had
fully five hides of his own land, [church and kitchen], bellhus [or bellan] and
burgheat, seat and special office in the kings hall, then was he thenceforward entitled
to the rank of a thegn and has often been adduced to stress the importance of secular
bells in tenth-century Anglo-Saxon lands. In fact, however, bellhus most probably
relates to a defensive fortification, not necessarily a private church belfry, not neces-
sarily containing a metal bell.27
There are a few earlier textual sources for bells operated by ropes, which must im-
ply some form of suspension, though again not necessarily a large cast bell in a belfry;
bells rung by ropes can, for example, be suspended on the outer wall of a church. The
most interesting evidence comes from the works of Gregory of Tours (538594), who
twice tells miracle stories involving a rope associated with a bell. In the Liber de vir-
tutibus S. Iuliani the shrine of the saint is hit by a bolt of lightning, which enters via
the opening, through which hung the rope of the bell [signum], knocking bits off
some pillars but miraculously harming no-one.28 This would seem to imply a bell
perched atop the shrine in some fashion. From the Miracles of Saint Martin we are
told of someone cutting off a piece of the rope by which the bell was moved in the
basilica, which was subsequently used to perform healing miracles.29 We know from

On the dynamic stresses in medieval bell towers, see M. L. Beconcini, S. Bennati, and W. Salvatore,
Structural Characterization of a Medieval Bell-Tower: First Historical, Experimental and Numerical Inves-
tigations, Historical Constructions, ed. P. B. Loureno and P. Roca (Guimares 2001) 431444.
ut iam turricula, quae signa basilicae contenibat. Einhard, Translatio et miracula SS. Martyrum, ed.
G. Waitz, MGH SS XV.i (Hannover 1887) cap. 16, 254.
F. Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (Halle 19031916) 1.456; trans. in English Historical
Documents I, ed. D. Whitelock, 2nd ed. (London 1979) 468 (no. 51). The translation here is modified from
A. Williams, A Bell-house and a Burh-geat: Lordly residences in England before the Norman Conquest,
Ideals and practice of medieval knighthood 4, ed. C. Harper-Bill and R. Harvey (Woodbridge 1992) 221
240, at 225; on bell [house] see 233234. See also John Blairs discussion of the text: The Church in Anglo-
Saxon Society (Oxford 2005) 371 and n. 11.
... iaculum igneum per aditum, quo funes ille signi dependit, ingreditus, perculsisque duabus colum-
nis, frustas excussit. Gregory of Tours, Liber de virtutibus S. Iuliani, cap. 27, Libri octo miraculorum, ed.
B. Krusch, MGH SRM I.ii (Hanover 1885) 575.
Reverti autem cupiens, nocte ad funem illum de quo signum commovetur advenit; ex quo fune de-
cisam cultro particulam secum detulit. Gregory of Tours, Liber de virtutibus S. Martini, ed. B. Krusch,
MGH SRM I.ii (Hannover 1885) cap. 28, 601602. There are a great many other mentions of a signum
sounding to mark the beginnings of a service, or the death of a community member, in the writings of Greg-
ory: (signis ringing in a procession at Marseilles) Historia francorum, ed. B. Krusch and W. Levison MGH
SRM I.i (Hannover 1951) 6.11, 281; (sounding the signum for services) Liber in Gloria martyrum 9, De
puero in igne iactato, MGH SRM I.i (Hannover 1884) 495; De Virtutibus Sancti Martini 1.28, ibid. 603;
1.33, ibid. 604; 2.11, ibid. 612; 2.45, ibid. 625; 3.23, ibid. 638; Liber vitae patrum VII. Incipit de sancto
gregorio episcopo, Liber 2, ibid. 688; Liber in Gloria confessorum 94, ibid. 809; De sanctis Agaunensibus,
MGH SRM I, ii, ed. B. Krusch (Hannover 1885) 538.

various later evidence that bells were rung to announce miracles at shrines, and this
might well be the case here also. But what kind of bell exactly, suspended in what
way, cannot be known.
In the first half of the sixth century, a certain Ferrandus, based in Carthage, wrote
to his friend Eugippius, the African abbot who founded the monastery of S. Severino
at (Castello) Lucullano, near Naples, asking that he might pray for him, and enjoining
upon him good monastic practice, notably the saying of prayers at canonical hours.
And finally you should not do this alone, but you should call many others to collabo-
rate in these good works, to which function a most blessed sonorous bell [sonoram
campanam] will serve, as ordained by the customs of the most holy monks.30 The
emphasis upon sonority might imply that Ferrandus was thinking particularly of a cast
bell, though this is not specified; at the same time, in emphasizing sonority he is also
tacitly noting the possibility of less audible bells. Whether or not he was describing a
cast or riveted bell, Ferranduss letter is probably the earliest unequivocal evidence for
the use of bells in marking the canonical hours and thus summoning monks to prayer.
Other early texts similarly attest the practice of ringing bells for liturgical hours,
and the presence of bells in monasteries. Written in the mid-seventh century, Jonas of
Bobbios Life of Columbanus (540615) describes Columbanus convoking the com-
munity at the death of a brother with a sign (signum) which might be a bell.31 The late
seventh-century life of Columba (ca. 521597) has him hearing the midnight bell (sig-
num) at his church at Iona, and then dying at the altar with his collected brethren.32
Bede, writing in the early eighth century, describes a bell (campanam) at Whitby in
680, which awakened a nun to a vision. He described it as a notum sonum, which
called the nuns to prayer and marked deaths; the Latin phrase could be understood as
a well-known sound, implying familiarity and custom;33 or as a notable sound,
suggesting something slightly less usual.34 In Visigothic Spain in 646, King
Cindasvinthe gave a cast bronze bell of good modulation, heard when struck, to the
monastery at Complutum (now Alcal de Henares).35 Another frequently quoted
example for seventh-century usage is the Iberian pontifical known as the Liber ordi-
num, which includes a lengthy ritual for blessing the bell [signum] of the basilica,
which would imply a widespread use of bells in that time and place.36 However, there

Denique non ipse hoc solus operaris, sed alios plurimos ad consortium boni operis vocas, cui
ministerio sonoram servire campanam beatissimorum statuit consuetudo sanctissima monachorum. Anec-
docta Casinensia, Index scholarum in universitate litterarum Vratislaviensis, ed. A. Reifferscheid (Bres-
lau18711872; repr. 1971) 67.
Vitae sanctorum Columbani, ed. B. Krusch, MGH SSRG XXXVII (Hannover 1905) 184; as argued
below, this signum might in fact be a wooden clacker.
Adomnan uses the words cloca and signum. Adomnans Life of Columba, ed. and trans. A. O. Ander-
son, M. O. Anderson, rev. ed. (London 1991) 3.23, 224.
This is the reading of Raven, Bells of England (n. 3 above) 31.
Haec tunc in dormitorio sororum pausans audiuit subito in aere notum campanae sonum, quo ad
orationes excitari uel conuocari solebant, cum quis eorum de saeculo fuisset euocatus. She then had a vi-
sion that the abbess had died in a different monastery some 13 miles away. Historia ecclesiastica gentis
Anglorum, ed. B. Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford 1969) 4.23, 412413.
signum fusile eneum bone modulationis, demulcens auditum. Cronica general de la orden de San
Benito, ed. A. de Yepes (Madrid 1960) II, appendices, text XIV, 18.
Le Liber Ordinum en usage dans lglise Wisigothique et Mozarabe dEspagne du cinquime sicle,
ed. M. Frotin (Paris 1904) cap. LVI, 159161; on the manuscript history, see xvixxvii.

is a possible textual problem here: although the existence of a Liber ordinum or Liber
pontificale can be attested in seventh-century Spain through references to it in councils
of that period, there is no surviving manuscript earlier than the eleventh century.37
Nonetheless, whether or not the Liber ordinum can be included in the contemporary
evidence, there are sufficient other attestations to say that by the seventh century bells
can at least be found in monastic circles in various parts of Europe, used particularly
for marking the hours of the communitys liturgical life and members deaths.
In many of the examples just cited, there is no doubt that we are noting bells
(whether cast, hung, or otherwise) because the word used is campanum. However, this
was not the only term in use. There are other words which clearly indicate some kind
of bellclocca or glocca particularly in Irish texts, and tintinnabulum, usually under-
stood to be a smaller kind of bell, especially a crotal bell. However, by far the most
common term is signum, which is for example the word used on every occasion in the
works of Gregory of Tours (most frequently the signum marking the call to matins
prayer), and on most occasions in the textual evidence of the seventh and eighth centu-
ries, and indeed still quite often thereafter.38 And herein lies a further, rather interest-
ing complication: signum does not, strictly speaking, mean bell, but rather sign or
signal.39 Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that some texts use signum specifically
meaning bell (possibly a large cast bell, though not necessarily always so), and that
this meaning was clearly attested and stable by about the ninth century,40 the ascrip-
tion is not nearly so clear when one looks at earlier texts. For example, the Regula ad
virgines of Caesarius of Arles (d. 542) describes a signum summoning women to work
or to prayer,41 and the Regula of Saint Benedict (d. 547) urges monks to hurry to
prayer upon hearing the signum,42 but these do not necessarily imply a cast bell, large
or small, nor indeed a bell at all. The signal noted in these and various other monas-
tic textsand even in some Carolingian legislationmay have been made with a bell;
but this is not nearly as clear-cut as received histories would suppose.
From the Middle Ages we do in fact have evidence for the use of other mechanisms
for signaling, including in ecclesiastical and liturgical contexts. When Romans wanted
to convoke troops, or announce the passage of the days, or make other signa, they did
so primarily through the use of horns; a practice that of course remained in later secu-
lar use ever after. But the example also informed early monastic practice. Pachomiuss
(d. 348) Precepts describe the use of a horn to gather the faithful: Cumque audierit

It is particularly difficult therefore to know whether the precise content of the extant text corresponds
to the 7th-c. version. Pontificals are discussed further below; but it is worth noting here that another text
often cited as an early example for the blessing of bells, the so-called Pontifical of Ecgbert, is now thought
to date from the later 10th c., rather than mid-8th c.: see Two Anglo-Saxon Pontificals, Henry Bradshaw
Society 104, ed. H. M. J. Banting (London 1989) xxxiixxxvii.
For example, Gregory of Tours, Libri Historiarum X, ed. B. Krusch and W. Levison, MGH SRM I.i
(Hannover 1951) 2.23, 68; 3.15, 116; 4.25, 292.
See similarly Delaruelle, Le problme (n. 7 above) 125126.
Amalarius of Metz and Wahlafrid Strabo, both writing in Carolingian circles in the early 9th c., make
clear that cast bronze bells were normal and expected parts of ecclesiastical equipment. See below, nn. 46
and 50.
Caesarius of Arles, Regula ad virgines, cap. X, PL 67.11051120.
Cap. XLIII, 1.

vocem tubae ad collectam vocantis, statim egrediatur cellula sua.43 Various later writ-
ers knew that when looking back to earlier times, and to Old Testament precedents,
horns or trumpets were the instruments used to convoke the faithful.44 (Etienne Dela-
ruelle tantalizingly noted in passing that a trumpet was still in use for this purpose in
the churches of Gascony in the fourteenth century.45) The cleric Amalarius of Metz,
visiting Rome in 831, was surprised to find that Romans used wooden clackers to
bring the people to church, rather than bronze bells; this, he said, came from long-
standing tradition, based originally in poverty but continued from respect for the
past.46 In another text, a letter to Abbot Hilduin of St.-Denis, Amalarius relates that
during Holy Week these wooden clackers were still used, and that until the time of
Pope Stephen II (752757) these had been the mechanism for summoning people to
church, as was still the case for the Greeks and Illyrians. But, he wrote, bronze sur-
passes wood; cast bells were clearly preferable once available.47

In chapter five of the first book of his De ecclesiasticarum rerum, Walahfrid Strabo
(d. 849) glosses signa as follows:

Concerning vessels [vasis] which are simply called signs [signa]48

Concerning cast vessels or even wrought ones which are simply called signa, because the
hours for celebrating the prescribed offices in the house of God are marked by their sonorous
sound when they are struck. Concerning these, I say, it should be said here, that their use is
not much recorded among the ancients, because they were not so frequently holding so many

Praecepta, in Pachomius, Pachomiana Latina, ed. Amand Boon (Louvain 1932) 3 (14); similarly 9
(15); and Pachomius, Regula a Hieronymo, canon 2, PL 50.277. Elsewhere in the same regula, Pachomius
refers to the use of a signum to gather the monks, and to indicate other parts of monastic practicePrae-
cepta 5 (14), 22 (18), 23 (1819), 33 (21), 58 (31), 68 (33)which could mean the same mechanism, or
could imply something contrasting. Pachomius also uses signum to indicate a hand-sign for preserving
monastic silence (116 [44]).
Amalarius of Metz, De ecclesiasticis officiis 1, PL 105.11011103; and Signa, quae nunc per cam-
panas dantur, olim per tubas dabantur, Honorius of Augsburg, Gemma anime I.142, PL 172.588.
Delaruelle, Le problme (n. 7 above) 128; unfortunately he fails to provide a reference.
Necnon etiam altitudo signorum, quae fiebat per vasa aerea, deponitur, et lignorum sonus,
usquequaque humilior aeris sono, necessario pulsatur, ut conveniat populus ad ecclesiam. Potest et in hoc
humilior usus ecclesiae Romanae designari antiquis temporibus, quam nunc sit, et praecipue tunc, quando
latitabat per criptas propter persecutores. Nam adhuc iunior Roma, quae antiquis temporibus sub uno
dominio cum antiqua Roma regebatur, usum lignorum tenet, non propter aeris penuriam, sed propter vetu-
statem. Amalarius, Liber officialis IV.21, 7, in Amalarius Symphosius, Amalarii episcopi opera litugica
omnia, ed. J. M. Hanssens, 3 vols. (Vatican City 19481950) 2.470. It is notable that this sound is struck
(sonus ... pulsatur), a verb familiar from its use for the sounding of signum/signi in various other texts of
this and earlier periods; again, what might be thought to imply the presence of a bell is, on closer inspection,
not so certain.
Ad id etiam valet, ut profusius ieiunium exprimatur circa ipsud tempus paschale quod a sonoris
campanis aereae vocis aures ieiunant. Praecellit enim aes ligno. Eodem enim signo ante Stephanum pon-
tificem per omnes horas consecratis colligebantur fideles ad ecclesiam; quem usum Illyrici et omnis Graecia
adhuc observat. Amalarius, Epistula Amalherii abbatis ad Hilduinum abbatem, Opera litugica omnia, ed.
Hanssens (n. 46 above) 1.344. See Price, Bells and Man (n. 6 above) 8083, for examples of these wooden
boardssemantrastill used in modern Greek Orthodox worship.
Both of these words could be rendered as bells, and indeed the Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus,
ed. J. F. Neiermeyer and C. Van de Kieft, rev. ed. (Leiden 2002), partly on the strength of this passage,
gives such a meaning for vas. However, following in part the translation by Harting-Correa, we feel justified
in a different interpretation, as other texts of this and later periods clearly use vasa to refer to vessels or
liturgical objects more generally.

meetings, as we do now. For some people, devotion alone drove them to come together at
the appointed hours. Others would be summoned by public announcements and would learn
at one church service when the next would be. Amongst others, the hours would be indicated
on wooden boards [tabulis],49 and for others by horns. They affirm that the Italians were the
first to use the vessels of which we are talking. Those bigger vessels are called campanae,
because they derive from the Campania which is a province of Italy; the lesser ones which
are called tintinnabula from their sound, they name nolas after Nola, a city in the same
Campania, where these same vessels were first mentioned. But because we find bronze and
silver trumpets in the Old Testament (Num. 10), and the prophet orders the voice of preach-
ing to sound forth like a trumpet (Isa. 18), it is fitting that we use these vessels to call to-
gether the faithful, so that the purity of our preaching in the church may be signified by sil-
ver, and its lastingness and melodiousness by bronze; that is, that it be fouled by no heretical
rust nor enfeebled by negligent laziness, nor suppressed by human fearfulness.50

It is clear that Walahfrid Strabo understood signa (and indeed vasa) to be bells, and it
is probable that by the ninth century, this was the most likely interpretation in all ar-
eas. But as Walahfrid himself notes, other mechanisms had been used in previous
times. And, as already noted, bells could be beaten outwroughtas well as cast.
Despite the figurative allusions Walahfrid provides to the strong and sonorous signals
associated with preaching (imagery found similarly with various other writers), the
practical implication of the different methods of production is considerable variability
in the size of sound-field they could produce. Finally, Walahfrid provides us with a
notional account of the origin of bells. This narrative is found in various other places,
and occasionally still gets repeated in more modern accounts; but it is without basis.51
What can we say, then, about the development of the use of bells in the early Mid-
dle Ages? The standard history, which appears in a great number of the modern
general discussions of the subject, is that bells were used in northern Europe under the

This could mean notice boards, or could possibly mean wooden clackers. Note also R. E. Latham, Re-
vised Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources (London 1965) 474: tabulis sonatilis, ca.
1266, monastic clapper.
De vasis quae simpliciter signa dicuntur. De vasis vero fusilibus vel etiam productilibus, quae
simpliciter signa vocantur, quia eorum sonoritate quibusdam pulsibus excitata, significantur horae, quibus in
domo Dei statuta celebrantur officia: de his, inquam, hic dicendum videtur, quod eorum usus non adeo apud
antiquos habitus proditur: quia nec tam multiplex apud eos conventuum assiduitas, ut modo est, habebatur.
Apud alios enim devotio sola cogebat ad statutas horas concurrere. Alii pronuntiationibus publicis invita-
bantur, et in una solemnitate proxime futuras discebant. Apud quosdam tabulis, apud nonnullos cornibus
horae prodebantur. Vasorum autem, de quibus sermo ortus est, usum primo apud Italos affirmant inventum.
Unde et a Campania, quae est Italiae provincia, eadem vasa majora quidem campanae dicuntur: minora
vero, quae et a sono tintinnabula vocantur, nolas appellant, a Nola eiusdem civitate Campaniae, ubi eadem
vasa primo sunt commentata. Quia vero tubas aereas et argenteas in lege habemus (Num. X) et propheta
quasi tuba vocem praedicationis exsultare jubet (Isa. VIII) [sic; read XVIII.3 or LVIII.1]: congrue his vasis
utimur in convocatione fidelium, ut praedicatio nostra in Ecclesia, pura in argento, in aere significetur dura-
bilis et sonora, id est ut nec haeretica foedetur rubigine, nec negligentiae lassetur pigritudine, nec humana
supprimatur formidine. Walahfrid Strabo, De ecclesiasticarum rerum exordiis et incrementis I.v, PL
114.924. See also the edition and translation in Walahfrid Strabos Libellus de Exordiis et Incrementis Qua-
rundam in Observationibus Ecclesiasticis Rerum, ed. A. L. Harting-Correa, Mittellateinische Studien und
Texte (Leiden 1996) 6263, though we differ somewhat in our translation of this passage.
See Neri, De campanis fundendis (n. 4 above) 3. The origin of the Campania derivation may be
drawn from Isidore of Sevilles Etymologies, in which he describes the working of bronze ductilis and
fusilis, and declares the best bronze for vasis to be that of Campania. When Isidore mentioned a cam-
pana from Campania, however, he was in fact describing a steelyard (a kind of balance). Isidore, Isidori
Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri XX (Oxford 1911) bk. XVI, xx.79, xxv. 6; trans.
The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, trans. S. Barney, W. J. Lewis ,et al. (Cambridge 2006) 331, 333.

Carolingians, and diffused as a part of the Carolingian liturgical reforms even as far as
Rome. Thus Richard Hodges argued in 2000 that the technology of making heavy
bells from moulds cast in special deep pits was probably imported from the East along
with the clock and elephant.52 For Hodges, these clocks gave Charlemagne the idea to
propagat[e] the new ideology Cast bells [were] intended to help the [monastic]
community regulate the services and respect time. Bells marked the major points of
the reformed Benedictine liturgy.53 There is however no evidence for the first claim:
though Charlemagne did indeed receive gifts of metal clocks and chimes from emis-
saries from Baghdad, we have no record of bell casting being similarly imported, nor
bell casting happening whatsoever in the Middle East.54 Moreover, whilst the idea of
bells as ideology cast into bronze is a nice one, it again lacks any foundation in medie-
val evidence. There are some gifts of bells in this period (Walahfrid himself records
the donation of a bell [campanum] to the shrine of Saint Gallus),55 but not as part of
any royal programme of dissemination; and whilst we find various mentions of bells
(most often signa) in monastic records from the Carolingian period, there is once
again no certainty as to whether the texts refer to cast, wrought, large, smallor pos-
sibly still some other means of signaling.
But this is not to deny the role of bells in monastic practice. Wherever they had be-
gun, and whatever form they took bells were indeed in Carolingian monasteries in the
mid-eighth century. Boniface, then archbishop of Mainz, wrote in 744 to Huetbert,
abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow, asking that he send him a cloccam.56 This is an inter-
esting request, but it may not indicate regional differences in technological availability
so much as practices of gift-giving and inter-monastic amicitia, since forty years later
we find the episode mirrored: Abbot Cuthbert from Wearmouth wrote to Lullus,
archbishop of Mainz (d. 786), acknowledging that he had sent him two palliums with
books and a clocca that he had to hand.57 By the latter half of the eighth century we
can see bells in some use in monasteries, and in the ninth century references to their
use and exchange become more frequent.58 Theodulf of Orleans, writing his precepts
for priests in 797, noted critically that many who think they are fasting have the habit
of eating as soon as they hear the bell [signum] for nones [originally mid-afternoon,
gradually migrating to noon].59 At some point between 833 and 841, Hrabanus Mau-
rus wrote to the Bishop Gauzebert in Birka to tell him that the monastery of Fulda was

R. Hodges, Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne (London 2000) 96.
Ibid. These assertions are quoted and upheld in Christie, On Bells and Bell-Towers (n. 4 above) 17.
On the gifts, see Annales Regni Francorum, s.a. 807, Annales regni Francorum inde ab a. 741 usque
ad a. 829 qui dicuntur annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, ed. F. Kurze, MGH SRG SRL VI (Hano-
ver 1895).
Vita Galli auctore Walahfrido, ed. B. Krusch, MGH SRM IV (Hannover 1902) II.xi, 320.
Et si vobis laboriosum non sit, ut cloccam unam nobis transmittatis, grande solacium peregriationis
nostrae transmittitis; Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini Aevi, ed. W. Gundlach and E. Dmmler, MGH
Epp III (Hannover 1892) 348.
Ille quoque presbyter Hunvini ad urbem, que vocatur Beniventum, perveniens, ibi de hac luce mi-
gravit. Quapropter neque per illum necque per tuorum aliquem, utrum ad te ista pervenierent, ulla responsio
umquam mihi reddita est. Duo vero pallia subtilissimi operis, unum albi, alter tincti coloris, cum libellis et
clocam qualem ad manum habui, tuae paternitati mittere curavimus. Ibid. 406.
See below references from the beginning of the 9th c.though mainly to unspecified signain
Carolingian episcopal chapters.
Theodulf of Orlans, Capitula ad presbyteros, cap. 39, PL 105.204.

giving as a gift unam gloggam et unum tintinnabulum.60 These may yet be small
bells, but some clearer evidence of casting starts now to emerge. As noted above, the
abbey church of Vreden, founded probably around 839 (the date of an important relic
translation), was excavated in the mid-twentieth century, bringing to light a casting pit
for a bell, plus fragments of ten cast bells, bronze ingot, and molten lead.61 Notker of
St. Gallen, writing in the mid-ninth century, told a story of a wicked bell caster, for-
merly a monk of St. Gall, who took silver that Charlemagne had given him to mix
with copper for a new bell, and used tin instead (the bell would not ring and then fi-
nally fell onto the head of the caster, killing him).62 This suggests both that bell-cast-
ing was well-known in Notkers circle, but also that it was, as one would expect, a
fairly high-cost/high-status activity. The possibility of bell-towers (noted also above)
also appear more strongly at this point in time: the ninth-century Miracula sancti Dio-
nysii, describing the rebuilding of the abbey church of St.-Denis, notes that when the
fabric of the basilica was completed, bells (signa) were hung in the tower, as was the
custom.63 Another story about St.-Denis refers to the main altar, east of the crossing,
as beneath the bells.64 Sumner McKnight Crosby, who studied every shred of evi-
dence for the building, hypothesized that there was a crossing tower for the abbey
church, though he admits that there is no archaeological evidence for a crossing tower
in the Carolingian church, only two towers at the faade.65
To recap thus far: we have sporadic but actually quite rare evidence of the existence
of bellsmost probably simple wrought bellsin a few monastic (and, more particu-
larly, shrine-related) contexts in southern/central France and southern Italy in the sixth
and seventh centuries. The use of bells might be implied more broadly at this time
when monastic rules enjoin the use of signabut later texts and practices in fact sug-
gest that this was not universally the case, as other methods of summoning to prayer
were clearly sometimes used. We see a few examples of what are definitely bells (and
may in some cases be cast bells) owned by monasteries in the eighth century. And by
the ninth century the use of bells is clearly established in Carolingian practice (with
possible evidence for some bells suspended in towers); though not so established that
it goes without discussion or explanation by contemporary writers. The next question

Epistola ad Simeonem, Epistolarum fuldensium fragmenta, MGH Epp III (n. 56 above), 523. Cf. Vita
Sturmii Abbatis Fuldaensis, Die Vita Sturmi des Eigil von Fulda, Literarkritisch-historische Untersuchung
und Edition, ed. P. Engelbert (Marburg 1968) cap. 24, 161, where at the death of Sturmi currere citius ad
ecclesiam iubet, omnes gloggas pariter movere imperavit, et fratribus congregatis obitum suum cito adfutu-
rum nuntiare praecepit.
Drescher, Die Glocken der karolingerzeitlichen Stiftskirche (n. 20 above). See n. 23 above.
Notker of St.-Gallen, Gesta Karoli, in Notker von St-Gallen, Die Taten Karls des Grossen, ed. H. F.
Haefele, MGH SRG n.s. XII (Hannover 1959) 29. Tin or lead was used to make bronze, not silver; there are
various literary references to silvery sounds, probably influenced by silver trumpets in the Old Testament,
but silver was apparently not commonly used in bell production. For ancient texts on properties of bronze,
see Jerome on Ezekiel 40.1, PL 25.373: haec enim materia (aes) cunctis metallis vocalior est, et tinnitu
longe resonant.
Basilicae fabrica completa, impositaque turri, in qua signa, ut moris est, penderent; Miracula sancti
Dionysii, I.15, Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti, ed. J. Mabillon (Paris 1668) saec. III. 2, 348.
Fui sicut in oratione in aecclesia eiusdem beati martiris subtus campanas, et vidi ante altare bonum
pastorem domnum Petrum et magistrum gentium domnum Paulum. This is Hilduins story about Pope
Stephen IIs visit to Paris in the mid-8th c., the Revelatio, from Ex Hilduini abbatis libro de S. Dionysio, ed.
G. Waitz, MGH SS XV.i (Hannover 1887) 2.
S. McK. Crosby, The Abbey of St-Denis (New Haven 1942) 153.

is to ask when bells moved from purely monastic use into churches more generally;
and hence, at what point and with what associations did bells become not simply a tool
which could be used as part of monastic activities, but a central element in Christian


It is clear that by the twelfth century, bells were a recognized, essential element in
Christian practice, and could be read as part of the short hand by which Christian
identity was signaled. For example, the opening chapter of slendingabk, a twelfth-
century Icelandic history, explains that the first immigrants from Norway realized that
Irish monks must have settled in Iceland in a previous era, because they found books,
bells and crosiersholy objects identifying the earlier settlers as Christian.66 We have
already seen, at the beginning of this article, the importance of bellsspecifically for
summoning all the faithfulin Innocent IIIs bull to the Maronites.
Of course, we have also noted some earlier texts, such as the treatises by Amalarius
and Walahfrid, where bells are included as one element in Christian religious practice,
in need of explanation and gloss. But when we find bells figured as central to Christi-
anity in the early Middle Ages, it is particularly in the context of conflict with Islam.
Sources from the middle of the ninth century describe the conflict of cultures between
the bells of Christian communities, and the muezzins calling the adhn (announce-
ment) for prayer five times a day.67 Eulogius, a Christian, described Muslim reactions
to the peal of bells in ninth-century Crdoba: As soon as they hear the sound of
clanging metal in their ears, as if beguiled by a false superstition, they begin to exer-
cise their tongues in all kinds of swearing and foulness.68 Paul Albar, also a Christian,
described Muslim public prayers and Muslim criticism of Christian bells. Every night,
in their towers and high places, they cursed the Lord through praising their own

But when they hear the bell [signum] of the basilica, that is the sound of ringing bronze,
which is struck to bring together the assembly of the church at all the canonical hours, gap-
ing with derision and contempt, moving their heads, they repeatedly wail out unspeakable
things; and they attack and deride with curses (not in uniform derision, but with a thousand
different infamous outrages) both sexes, all ages and the whole flock of Christ the Lord.69

slendingabk, trans. S. Grnlie (London 2006) cap. 1, 4.
The adhn is a liturgical tradition established by the Prophet. Muhammad discussed with his compan-
ions the best manner of announcing to the faithful the hour of the prayer. The list of their suggestions neatly
mirrors the list of early medieval meanings of signum: some suggested a fire signal, or a horn, or nqs
(wooden clappers). But one Muslim, named Abd Allah b. Zayd, reported a dream of someone calling from
the roof of a mosque, and Umar recommended it, and thus it was established by order of the Prophet: Ency-
clopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., ed. P.J. Bearman et al., 12 vols. (Leiden 19542005) 1.188.
mox ut illectum superstitione mendaci vulgus clangorem tinnientis metalli aure captaverit, in om-
nem maledictionem et spurcitiam linguam admovere non differt. Eulogius, Memoriale sanctorum I.21, PL
115.755, trans. J. Dodds, Architecture and Ideology in Early Medieval Spain (University Park, PA 1990)
Sed cum basilicae signum, hoc est, tinnientis aeris sonitum, qui pro conventu ecclesiae adunando
horis omnibus canonicis percutitur, audiunt, derisioni et contemptui inhiantes, moventes capita, infanda
iterando congeminant, et omnem sexum, universamque aetatem, totiusque Christi Domini gregem non uni-
formi subsannio, sed milleno contumeliarum infamio, maledice impetunt et deridunt. Adhar, Indiculus
Luminasus 6, PL 121.520521. Trans. (slightly modified) E. P. Colbert, The Martyrs of Cordoba (Wash-

Christians like Albar saw functional analogies between the adhn and the bells sig-
naling the call to prayer. Albar asserted that the muzzeins calls taint the souls of
noble people, and Eulogius describes his grandfathers attempts to shield his ears
from the muzzeins cries.70 The Covenant of Umar, a collection of laws dating proba-
bly from the eighth century, described the attempts to suppress Christianity by the
public exclusion of cult objects, including bells: Crosses will not be put in our
churches, neither crosses nor sacred books will be exhibited in Muslim public places,
church bells will be rung without clamour.71
During particularly virulent Muslim-Christian battles of the tenth century (such as
those under Caliph Al-akam II and al-Manr [ca. 9381002]), bells as emblems of
Christian culture were targeted in attacks and collected as trophies. For example, in
997 the Cordoban ruler al-Manr sacked the town and shrine of Santiago de Com-
postela, razed the pilgrimage church, and carted the bells home to Crdoba with
Christian captives, apparently hanging them as trophies at the Great Mosque.72 These
trophies were returned to Santiago in 1236 when Fernando III conquered Crdoba:

And as, in contempt of the Christian people, the bells of Santiago which, as we have said, al-
Manr removed to the Cordoban mosque, were hung there as lamps, King Fernando had the
bells brought back to the church of Santiago, and they were restored to the church of Santia-
go. With other well-sounding bells [cimbalis], the devotions of the pilgrims praised God in
His saints.73

The Qarawiyyn mosque in Fez has a number of lamps made of church bells, such as
those described at Crdoba. Bronze bells were surrounded by rings of lights in tiers,
some fashioned in the style of contemporary Almohad (twelfth- to thirteenth-century)
candelabra, others in the style of the Marinid ones (fourteenth century). Some of these
captured and modified lamps still exist,74 and many contemporary accounts describe

ington 1962) 275276. See also A. Priester, The Italian Campanile: Where Did It Come From? Pratum
Romanum: Richard Krautheimer zum 100. Geburtstag, ed. R. Colella (Weisbaden 1997) 270.
Eulogius, Apologeticus martyrum, verse 20, PL 115.863; discussed in Dodds, Architecture and Ideol-
ogy (n. 68 above) 103. For the later medieval period, see O. R. Constable, Regulating Religious Noise: The
Council of Vienne, the Mosque Call and Muslim Pilgrimage in the Late Medieval Mediterranean World,
Medieval Encounters 16 (2010) 6495.
Priester, The Italian Campanile (n. 69 above) 269; Dodds, Architecture and Ideology (n. 68 above)
5960, 152 n. 57.
Al-Maqqar repeating Ibn ayyan, Amad b. Muammad al-Maqqar, The History of the Moham-
medan Dynasties in Spain. Extracted from the Nafhu-t-tb min ghosni-l-Andalusi-r-rattb wa trkh Lisnu-
-n Ibni-l-Khattb, 2 vols., trans. with notes P. de Gayangos (London 18401844) cap. I.ii, I.41. See also
the late 13th-c. Castillian chronicle which reports that in the Great Mosque at Cordoba, bells served in the
place of lamps: Primera crnica general de Espaa, 2 vols., ed. R. Menendez Pidal (Madrid 1977) 2.734;
and discussion in Constable, Regulating Religious Noise (n. 70 above) 94. These stories are collected in I.
Vaj, Reimpiego di campane spagnole in lampadari della Grande Moschea di Fes e di Taza (Marocco) XII
XIV secolo, Del Fondere Campane, ed. Lusuardi Siena and Neri (n. 4 above) 169180.
So reports R. Jimenez de Rada (d. 1247): Et cum in opprobrium populi christiani campane Sancti
Iacobi, quas, ut diximus, Almanor detulerat in Cordubensi mezquita, dependerent functe officio lampada-
rum, rex Fernandus easdem campanas fecit ad ecclesiam beati Iacobi reportari, et ecclesie beati Iacobi res-
titute sunt. Cum ceteris cimbalis bene sonantibus in sanctis suis peregrinorum deuotio laudat Deum. R.
Ximenii de Rada, Historia de rebus hispanie sive Historia gothica, CCCM 72 (Turnhout 1987) chap. xvii,
See, for example, the bell turned into a lamp at the mosque of Taza: H. Terrasse, La grande mosquee
de Taza (Paris 1943) 6364.

their seizure from Christian churches, or their silencing, and their installation in im-
portant mosques. Ibn ib alalt, secretary to the Almohad caliph Abu Yaqb,
relates that the Almohads took nine bells from the city of Ubeda in 1180 and then
placed them in different mosques in the Maghrib, especially the Qarawiyyn.75 At least
one Almohad lamp made of bells and four Marinid lamps of bells are preserved in the
Qarawiyyn.76 One is made from a bell which came from Gibraltar, when it was recon-
quered by Ab Mlik in 1333. It was brought to Fez, made into a candelabrum, and
placed in the third nave of the oratory, where it still hangs.77 Another Marinid lamp in
Fez was made of a bell with the very common inscription: MENTEM SANCTAM
SONAT: DOMINICUS D[E]TORO ME FECIT, dated to the thirteenth century on the
basis of the lettering.78 There were others: Jronimo Mnzer, who wrote about his
travels in Spain and Portugal in 14941495, reports the word of two Germans that in
the mosque of Almera there were bells stolen from Christians during the war.79 The
robbing of bell towers and silencing of bells was a common action of Muslim con-
querors, or else a common topos in conquest narratives: it is also said of Saladin upon
his entry into Jerusalem, 1 October 1187.80
When King James I held Muslim Valencia under siege, the ruler Ibn Zayyn sought
assistance from Tunis, expressing the urgency of aid by warning that the adhn might
soon be replaced by the sound of bells.81 Indeed after the capture of Valencia in 1244
by James I, the first ringing of bells under Christian rule at the nearby town of Segorbe
caused a riot among the Muslims and the expulsion of the bishop.82 Similarly, in 1323
Pope John XXII wrote as supplicant to the Tartar emperor, asking that Christians
might enjoy some toleration in his lands, and that they be allowed to ring their bells
for divine office (having heard that this had been forbidden, and that in city of Soldaye

Abd al-Hd al-Tzi, Jmi al-Qarawyin/La mosque Al-Qaraouiyin, 3 vols. (Beirut 1972) 2.330.
See Al-Andalus: the Art of Muslim Spain, ed. J. Dodds (New York 1992), cat. nos. 55, 57; and H.
Terrasse, La mosque al-qaraouiyin a Fs (Paris 1968) 6667.
Ibid. 66. The mid-14th-c. description of Fez, the Zahrat al-s, reports the provenance of the bell and
its location in the mosque: Ab al-asan Al al-Jazn, Jany zahrat al-s f bin madnat Fs (La fleur
du myrte), ed. and trans. A. Bel (Algiers 1923) 147. Al-Jazn reports an inscription on the bell, which
cannot be seen on the bell presently. Whether or not it existed originally or was only intended or desired but
not inscribed, it expresses succinctly the role of the lamp as a trophy: Praise to God Alone. This holy bell
was ordered emplaced by the lord of the Muslims, defender of the faith Ab al-asan Al, son of the lord
of the Muslims, combatant in the Way of the Lord of Worlds, Ab Ysuf Yaqb ibn Abd alaqq, may
God assist their power, may He make joyous their reign and their time. This is the bell found at Jabal al-
Fata, God keep it, conquered by the help of God and with His aid by the lord of the Muslims, Ab al-asan,
may God assist and give him victory, in aid of his son the lord Ab Mlik al-Sad, and this at the time when
our master, whom God assist and give him victory, besieged the city of Sijilmsa. Trans. A. El-Hajjami, L.
Moussa Aouini, in Dodds, Al-Andalus (n. 76 above) cat. no. 58.
Terrasse, La mosque al-qaraouiyin (n. 76 above) 66. See also N. de la. R. Campanas cautivas, Al-
Andalus 18 (1953) 430; Vaj, Reimpiego (n. 72 above) 176.
C. de Prraga, Las campanas, Al Andalus, Galizia y Santiago (Madrid 1967) 26; J. Mnzer, Viaje por
Espaa y Portugal: 14941495 (Madrid 1991) 77.
B. Platina, Le Vite de Pontefici, 2 vols. (Venice 1744) I.291.
Al-Maqqar, Khurj al-Andalus min yad al-Muslimn (Kuwait 1993) 145, cited in Constable,
Regulating Religious Noise (n. 70 above) 93.
This is reported in a trial of 1323, where witnesses recount the event: F. Aguilar, Noticias de Segorbe
y de su obispado (Segorbe 1890) 1.84, as cited in R. I. Burns, The Crusader Kingdom of Valencia. Recon-
struction on a Thirteenth-century Frontier, 2 vols. (Cambridge 1967) 1.48, 56.

the Christians had recently been oppressed, the bells in their church taken down and
the church turned into a mosque).83
Beyond the core fact of religious conflict, several things can be gleaned from these
examples. One is that we clearly see the public use of bells, in some instances clearly
in bell towers, being used not only to mark canonical hours for monastic purposes, but
also to summon the wider community. Another is that the opposition to the use of
these bells is not simply directed toward what they are marking (prayer at canonical
hours), but rather to the publicness of the soundscape they produce. One could see this
simply as hostility toward their function as a summons; but it is interesting to note that
the Islamic adhn, in addition to acting as a signal, is in itself a proclamation of the
faith. For Muslims, it might have appeared that the sound of the bells was carrying a
similarand thus unwelcomemessage. The bells were giving voice to Christianity,
the wave of sound they broadcast acting not simply as a marker of time, but as an
auditory enactment of the Christian faith.
The Iberian examples quoted above would establish this as an element in the gen-
eral practice of the Christian faith for the ninth century. It is not certain whether we
can see it any earlier, here or elsewhere: if we were to take the evidence of the Liber
ordinum as applying to the seventh century (problems with which are discussed
above), that would suggest a similar use.84 If this is so, one may wonder whether it is
at that point specific to the Iberian peninsula (not least because the liturgy of the Liber
ordinum is quite different and separate from later pontifical texts elsewhere in
Europe), and that the use of bells in Spain was encouraged precisely because of com-
petition with the adhn.
When we look elsewhere, things are similarly uncertain. It is often said that the
idea of casting bells for churches travelled from Carolingian Francia to Rome: that
Pope Stephen II, when he went to St.-Denis in 754 saw bells for the first time in use in
St.-Denis, and that these bells inspired the pope, who upon his return to Rome report-
edly put three bells in a tower he built at St. Peters.85 Most of this is based on the fact
that the Liber Pontificalis reports that Stephen II (752757) built a tower at the basil-
ica of St. Peters which held three bells (campanae) which would invite the people
and clerics to the Divine Office.86 But it is in fact doubtful that Rome was the fons et
origo of church bells; we have already noted the report of Amalarius of Metz that Ro-
mans used other signa to convoke prayer, and the evidence for eighth-century bell
towers is very weak. It is curious that the passage from the Liber Pontificalis is an
interpolation added to the original text and only attested in Frankish manuscripts of the
later ninth century. It is perhaps therefore an addition of someone in the North, who
knew Amalariuss work and was interested in promoting the importance of Carolin-

Clement V et Johannii XXII Pontifica commissio ad redigendum codicem iuris canonici orientalis,
fontes ser. III, vol. vii, ed. F. M. Delorme and A. L. Tautu (Vatican City 1955) 27 September 1323, 146.
See n. 36 above.
See Neri, De campanis fundendis (n. 4 above) 8; de Blaauw, Campanae supra urbem (n. 4 above)
Eodem tempore hisdem beatissimus papa fecit super basilicam beati Petri apostoli turrem in quo
tribus posuit campanis, qui clero et populo ad officium Dei invitarent. Le Liber Pontificalis: texte, intro-
duction et commentaire, 2 vols., ed. L.-M. Duchesne (Paris 18861892) 1.454.

gian-era liturgical developments in Rome, rather than an accurate report of the Roman
adoption of Frankish trends.87
The strongest evidence for the use of bells to summon the laity to church comes
from Carolingian chapters of the ninth century; though even here, things are more
complicated than the historiography tends to assume. For example, the earliest possi-
ble reference (canon 13 of the council of Friuli [Foroiuliense] (796/7)) does mention
both the laity and a bell, but the conjunction is not as clear as one might think. The
bell [signum] is there to signal vespers at the start of the Sabbath; the text goes on to
note that all Christians are then ordered to abstain from sin, carnal work, from sex and
from worldly effort, and to pray. This is an interesting (if probably unrealistic) expec-
tation for parochial piety, but it does not necessarily imply that the laity themselves
will generally hear the signum, only that they should observe the Sabbath.88 An
episcopal council of 802 says that all priests should sound out the canonical hours,
signaling that they are celebrating the holy office and instructing the people [populos
erudiant] in what manner or in which hours God is worshipped, an injunction re-
peated word for word elsewhere.89 But this again does not necessarily mean summon-
ing, but rather marking the hours. This is not to say that the Carolingian parochial
clergy are not enjoined to instruct the people, in church: indeed they are, elsewhere in
the same council. But in fact that injunction is clearly quite separate from this mandate
regarding the signaling of the hours; they are two separable parts of ecclesiastical good
practice, not one and the same thing.
We do find a reference, in the council of Aachen [Aquisgranense] of 816, for a sig-
num summoning all to church, though it is not entirely clear whether the all are
the laity or monks. The instruction begins by reminding canonici to have great care to
learn the canonical hours, and undertake the divine offices with humility and devotion;
moreover, immediately, as given a sign, all should hurry to church, which they
should enter not pompously or shamefully or in disarray, but with reverence and fear
of God. Later in the same canon, priests are reminded to mark the hours, namely
with signa beat out [pulsent] the specific times; again clearly separate from any

This passage is found in the class of manuscripts B + D, which generally date from the mid-9th c. or
later and generally held in Carolingian scriptoria north of the Alps. Raymond Davis believes that the addi-
tions date from the late 8th c.: The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes, trans. R. Davis (Liverpool 1992) xv
xvi, 52.
Diem autem dominicum inchoante noctis illius initio, id est vespere sabbati, quae in prima lucescit
sabbati, quando signum insonuerit vel hora est ad vespertinum caelebrandum officium, non propter honorem
sabbati ultimi, sed propter sanctam illam noctem primi sabbati, hoc est dominici diei, cum omni reverentia
et honorifica religione venerari omnibus mandamus Christianis, abstinere primum omnium ab omni peccato
et ab omni opere carnali, etiam a propriis coniugibus et ab omni opere terreno et nichil aliud vacare nisi ad
orationem. Council of Friuli, 796/7, canon 13, Concilia aevi Karolini, ed. A. Werminghoff, MGH Legum
III, Concilia II.i (Hannover 1908) 194.
Ut omnes sacerdotes horis competentibus diei et noctis suarum sonent aecclesiarum signa et sacra
tunc Deo celebrant official et populos erudiant, quomodo aut quibus Deus adorandus est horis. Concilia
aevi Karolini, ed. A. Werminghoff, MGH Legum III, Concilia I (Hannover 1906) 106, canon 8. See also
chapter of Ghrbald von Lttich, late 8th or early 9th c., Capitula episcoporum, ed. P. Brommer, MGH
Legum IV, Capit. Episc. I (Hannover 1984) 17; and the chapter of Theodorius von Oria, late 9th c., which
uses a different wording but has the same intent, to signal matins and other canonical hours, using a signum
of suitable size [signum competentibus oris]: Capitula episcoporum, ed. R. Pokorny, MGH Legum IV,
Capit. Episc. III (Hannover 1995) 315, canon 6.

summoning function.90 Another mid-ninth-century chapter, admonishing priests to

look after their churches, says they should have suitable signa to convoke the peo-
ple, which does undoubtedly indicate summoning people to church, presumably for
mass; though we should remember that it still does not necessarily mean a suspended
bell.91 Perhaps the strongest evidence for this time comes from a source which might
be thought to belong to an earlier period: the Vita of Rigobert (d. 743). This mentions,
in passing, that during prayer, bells were rung according to the custom of the church
to gather the assembly of the faithful; and there were twin bells that gave no sound
when struck. But the author, Hincmar of Reims, was writing in the second half of the
ninth centuryand it seems to us that this custom of the church can be more se-
curely dated to his time than that of the putative narrative.92 This is of course also the
impression we have already gained from the mid-ninth-century text by Walahfrid
Strabo, quoted above.
The repetition of references in these sources, plus the earliest archaeological sur-
vivals, clearly indicates that bells were by this stage in use; our source-critical com-
ments above are not meant to drive one toward total scepticism. The point, rather, is
that the widespread use of suspended, cast bells is still not clearly established, even by
the beginning of the ninth century.93 Conciliar evidence for the tenth and eleventh
centuries is rather sparse on this kind of aspect of church practice, but it is of course
clear that bells and belltowers were commonplace by the twelfth and thirteenth centu-
ries. As Christie has pointed out, in most Italian images of churches from the eleventh
century and indeed beyond, towers are shown, and indeed there was a boom of bell-
tower building in Rome at the end of the eleventh and twelfth centuries; in Britain,
bell towers were increasingly built in churches from the mid-eleventh century, and
there was a characteristic type of Norman belltower in the twelfth and thirteenth centu-
ries.94 Square belltowers were used extensively in churches in Lombardia and then
Burgundy from the end of the tenth century, especially in monastic churches.95

Ut horas canonicas canonici religiose observant. Studeant summopere praedictas horas [discussed in
previous canon] vigilantissima cura custodire et in his divinum officium humiliter ac devote persolvere.
Mox enim ut datum fuerit signum, festinate omnes ad ecclesiam convenient, quam non pompatice aut in-
honeste vel inconposite sed cum reverentia et Dei timore ingrediantur. Nec cum baculis in choro exceptis
debilibus, sed religiossime illis standum et psallendum est. Custodes praeterea ecclesiae harum horarum
distinctiones bene norant, ut scilicet signa certis temporibus pulsent, luminaria vero cum omni diligentia
concinnanda provideant, sitque eorum studii, ut nihil de sibi commissis rebus ecclesiae pereat. Concilia
aevi Karolini, Werminghoff (n. 88 above) 408409, canon 131.
Perneccessarium duximus admonendum esse, ut sacerdotes de custodia basilicarum suarum emen-
dacius quam actenus agant, qualiter eas construant et cooperiant, quantum ornacius poterint. Signa decora
ad convocandum populum habeant. Capitula Franciae occidentalis, mid-9th c., Capitula episcoporum, ed.
R. Pokorny, MGH Legum IV, Capit. Episc. III (Hannover 1995) 41, canon 3.
Et inter orandum campanae pulsabantur secundum morem ecclesiasticum ad fidelium contionem
congregrandam, ibique fuerunt geminae, quae nullum dederunt sonum pulsatae. Vita Rigoberti Episcopi
Remensis cap. 15, Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici V, ed. B. Krusch and W. Levison, MGH
SRM VII (Hannover 1920) 72.
One can further note Yitzak Hens characterization of the Carolingian legislation as being directed
more toward doctrinal conformity with Rome than spreading uniformity of liturgical practice: Y. Hen, The
Royal Patronage of Liturgy in Frankish Gaul to the Death of Charles the Bald (877), Henry Bradshaw
Society subsidia 3 (London 2001) 8586.
Christie, On Bells and Bell-Towers (n. 4 above) 16, 19, 2223; P. L. Everson and D. A. Stocker,
Summoning St. Michael: Early Romanesque Towers in Lincolnshire (Oxford 2006).
K. Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 8001200, rev. ed. (New Haven 1978) 105.

Thus it became increasingly usual to create the architectural arrangement for ring-
ing a large-scale bell, and church legislation by this stage discusses not simply the use,
but the provision and care of bells. For example, the Statutes of Salisbury from the
early to mid-thirteenth century ordain that parishioners should make sure that the
church is in good order, and that the bell tower [campanile] is well roofed and secure
against all danger; and they are to provide bells and the ropes for bells, the crucifix,
and images etc.96 In some councils, it is specified that this bell summons people to
church, as in the Statutes of Exeter, 1287: that the priest should make the bells
ring the canonical hours, from which sound the people are roused when they should go
to church to hear divine office. Later in the same council it is noted as an abuse that
absent priests sometimes have the bells rung by other clerics, which summon people to
mass, who then want to know why the priest is not there, and are sent away disap-
pointeda small reminder that even once bells are commonplace, their use and effects
may still vary.97

We have noted various practical ways in which bells, and their uses, could differ.
Overarching these concerns is the issue of how bellsthe sound of bells, the voice of
the bellwere understood and interpreted. The most influential texts here are liturgi-
cal, specifically the rites for blessing bells found in many medieval pontificals.98 If the
text of the Liber ordinum can be inferred to have existed in the early Middle Ages, it
provides probably the earliest example of such a rite: chapter 56, Exorcism to conse-
crate the signum of the basilica, which comes amidst various other rites for blessing
objects.99 The chapter begins by recalling Gods instruction to Moses to make two
trumpets [tubarum] of beaten silver, to gather people to worship and to lead the faith-
ful to war [Num. 10]; and thus, this vessel [vas], made from various kinds of metal, is
sanctified in the manner of those trumpets. The text moves from trumpets to bells via
mention of the tintinnabula which, in Exodus 28.33, the high priest Aaron was in-
structed to adorn his clothing. It then focuses on summoning, with the signum acting
as the means not only by which people will congregate, but also as a reminder to obey
Gods laws; and that the sound of the signum should defeat all laziness, worldly de-
sires, and anger, in order to bring people to prayer. Finally, the sound of the signum (in
keeping with the chapter from Numbers with which the rite began) will bring terror to

Councils and Synods, 2 vols., ed. F. M. Powicke and C. R. Cheney (Oxford 1964) 1.513. See similarly
Councils and Synods, II.1123, Pechams statutes (1279x92) where we see specifically three different bells:
tintinnabulo, campane manuales pro mortuis, and campane in campanile et corde ad easdem.
Councils and Synods (n. 96 above) 2.1006, 1019: Preterea audivimus quandoque quod presbiteri,
quamquam fuerint absentes forte ex illicita causa, tanquam presentes essent ad horas canonicas faciunt
campanas pulsari; quarum sonitu populus excitatus dum ad ecclesiam divinum officium audiendi et orandi
causa accedit, presbiterum non inveniens, a clerico presente querit ubi sit, et responsum accipiunt: Non est
hic; iam recessit; et sic parochiani illusi recedunt, et ecclesia debitis defraudatur obsequiis. Cf. Statutes of
Salisbury II (1238x44), ibid. I.378.
A. Heinz, Die Bedeutung der Glock im Licht des mittelalterlichen Ritus der Glockenweihe,
Information, Kommunikation und Selbstdarstellung in mittelalterlichen Gemeinden, ed. A. Haverkamp,
Schriften des Historischen Kollegs, Kolloquien 40 (Munich 1998) 4169, provides the most detailed expo-
sition and study of the pontifical liturgy in this area, though he omits Anglo-Saxon material.
See n. 35 above.

enemies. It is interesting to note that, here and in many other texts, the clang or peal of
the bell is strongly associated with the blast of Mosess silver trumpets. The biblical
trumpets produce a sound in the imagination, overlaying what is heard in this world; a
spiritually resonant sound, echoing across all sacred history, from the Old Testament
account of the Israelites to the eschatological opening of the seals in the apocalypse.
The ritual in the Liber ordinum is not found elsewhere in Europe. A different,
rather more extensive rite, probably originating in Francia, is first found in various
pontificals of the late ninth or tenth centuries: the so-called Egbert Pontifical, the
Pontificale Lanaletense, and most influentially in the Romano-German pontifical.100
In these cases there is no doubt that a bell is specified, though the symbolic association
with trumpets is again very strong. The bell is anointed with blessed water and oil,
washed with more blessed water, and suffumigated with incense, whilst various
psalms are sung. There are four specific passages of blessings. The first begins with a
brief invocation of the dual summoning-faithful/dispersing-enemies trope, invokes
protection from storms and lightning, asks that people will grow in devotion when
hearing the bell, and then notes various other holy sounds. The second passage takes
us, like the Liber ordinum, to the two trumpets which God had Moses create, again
noting the dual purpose of summoning/going to war; it then returns to the theme of
protection from storms and so forth. The third passage begins with the image of God
bringing down the walls of stone with trumpet blasts, and other transformative feats.
The final passage invokes Christ as one who can calm stormy seas, before emphasiz-
ing comfort and protection for the faithful. Slight variations on what is essentially the
same rite are found in high and late medieval pontificals: in the eleventh century, the
Cracow Pontifical and a Spanish pontifical which soon thereafter supplanted the Liber
ordinum; the Roman Pontifical of the twelfth century; Guillaume Duranduss Pontifi-
cal; and the York Pontifical of the early sixteenth century.101
We mentioned above the existence of casting pits associated with abbey churches.
The location of these may intertwine with the liturgical texts. At Vreden, the casting
pit was located in the north transept of the church, and bell fragments, presumably
from a ruined bell, were scattered in liturgically significant places: the central nave at
the entrance to the church and then across the transept. We might read into the
findspots of these objects something of their significance: they were liturgical vessels,
consecrated and thus sacred even in their creation, disposal and reuse. The locations of
excavation pits, which were often placed in liturgically significant places within the
church, suggest that the act of casting a bell was invested with sacrality. It does of
course make practical sense that bells would be cast inside churches whilst they were
being built or restored. It was easier to achieve the very high temperatures necessary

Two Anglo-Saxon Pontificals, ed. Banting (n. 37 above) 125127; Pontificale Lanaletense, ed. G. H.
Doble, Henry Bradshaw Society 74 (London 1937) 1920; Le Pontifical Romano-Germanique du dixime
sicle, ed. Cyril Vogel and R. Else (Vatican City 1963) cap. LI, 185190.
The Cracow Pontifical, ed. Z. Obertynzki, Henry Bradshaw Society 100 (London 1977) 5356; El
sacramentari, ritual i Pontifical de Roda : Cod. 16 de larxiu de la Catedral de Lleida c. 1000, ed. J. R.
Barriga Planas (Barcelona 1975) 527; Le Pontifical Romain au moyen-ge, I : Le Pontifical Romain du XIIe
sicle, ed. M. Andrieu (Vatican City 1938) 293295; Le Pontifical Romain au moyen-ge, III : Le Pontifical
de Guillaume Durandus, ed. M. Andrieu (Vatican City 1940) 533; Liber pontificalis Chr. Bainbridge, Ar-
chiepiscopi Eboracensis, ed. W. G. Henderson, Surtees Society 61 (Durham 1875) 133137.

for melting the bronze inside, rather than outside. But the location of bell casting pits
at the centre of the nave in the twelfth century, as have been excavated at S. Lorenzo a
Cerreto (Pescia) (fig. 2) and SS. Giovanni e Reparata (Lucca), suggest that creating
the casting pit here was more than a convenience.102 It is possible therefore that some
of the liturgical blessings proscribed in pontificals were conducted soon after the bell
was cast.
The biblical and apotropaic associations bestowed by the pontifical rituals are
found echoed in many other texts. Many medieval bells have been found with inscrip-
tions Daemones ango (I torment demons), fulmina frango (I break lightning), or
combinations of these explanations of their functions, as from the thirteenth-century
bell at Franciscan church at Assisi, donated by Pope Gregory IX:

Sabbatha pango, funerea plango, fulgura frango.

Excito lentos, domo cruentos, dissipo ventos.103

I determine the Sabbath, I lament funerals, I break lightning.

I rouse the lazy, I tame the cruel, I disperse the winds.

Particularly important in these inscriptions is that the action is carried out by the ring-
ing. The bells have a voice which is part of their power, and it is that resonant sound,
and the particular inflection it lends to the summoning bell, that makes the peal not
simply a reminder or prompt, but a battle-cry.
A rich gloss in this vein is provided in a text from ca. 1025, part of a very lengthy
peroration on the faith given by Bishop Gerard of Arras-Cambrai:

Chapter 5, De signis
The use of signa is also derived from the Old Testament. In this, the Lord commanded that
silver trumpets be made. While they sounded at the time of the Levites sacrifice, the people,
alerted by the sound of their sweetness, would hasten to adore at the Ark of the Covenant.
Also summoned by their sound to war, they would cast down the weapons of their oppo-
nents; and the enemys bravery would fail through terror at the sound ... In this way, tintin-
nabula are used in Holy Church today, so that, when they are rung, the faithful may be called
to the bosom of Mother Church, so that, putting aside preoccupation with the cares of this
world, they learn to arm themselves against spiritual onslaughts. And thus it comes to pass
that, through hearing the war-trumpet, soldiers are lit up with more spirit for the fight [and]
the enemys attack, vanquished by fear, is routed and broken. Thus, with the hordes who
would harm them panic-stricken, the people, summoned to the war of the Lord by a signum,

J. A. Quiros Castillo, La fabbricazione di campane a Lucca nel Medioevo e Postmedioevo, Sulle
vie del primo giubileo. Campane e campanili nel territorio delle diocesi di Luni, Lucca, Pisa, ed. G. Lera
and M. Lera (Lucca 1998) 4447. See the list of the locations of medieval bell casting pits, S. Lusuardi
Siena, E. Neri, Come scoprire qualcosa se appagati da quanto gi scoperto? Bilancio delle nuove acquisi-
zioni per continuare la ricerca, Del Fondere Campane, ed. Lusuardi Siena and Neri (n. 4 above) tab. 1,
454463. To cite but one English example, at St. Albans, the bell (called Amphibalus) was recast in the
sacristy in the early 14th c.; T. North, Church Bells of Rutland (Leicester 1800) 8.
F. M. Angeli, Collis Paradisi amoenitas, seu Sacri conventus Assisiensis historiae (Montefalisco
1704) 2.20. For a list of other inscriptions on bells, see Price, Bells and Man (n. 6 above) 274280; J. Le-
clercq-Marx, Vox Dei clamat in tempestate: propos de liconographie des vents et dun groupe
dinscriptions campanaires (IXeXIIIe sicles), Cahiers de civilisation mdivale 42 (1999) 179187; and
M. Bottazzi, Campane e scrittura: informazioni dalle iscrizioni campanarie e dalla documentazione
darchivio, Del Fondere Campane, ed. Lusuardi Siena and Neri (n. 4 above) 109118.

would be much strengthened, and with the aerial powers [=demons] driven far away, the as-
sembled church would be saved by a host of angels.104

Making the church bell into a war trumpet had a long appeal, and we find it again in a
late medieval English sermon by John Mirk. His sermon for the Ascension, at the end
of the Rogation days, sets the scene by evoking demons of the air who cause storms
and cause dissent, and then glosses the parochial procession which was to take place

For just as a king, when he goes into battle, trumpets go before, the banner is displayed and
goes after, then comes the king and his host following him; just so in Christs battalion, the
bells, that are Gods trumpets, ring, banners are unfurled 105

Thus by the late fourteenth century, the ritual of the pontificals had gained a louder
resonance in the parish. These and other texts work strenuously to make the sound of
the bell something more than a mere signal. The bell is to protect and defend, as
well as to summon. Its sound is to rouse the faithful not only to prayer, but to the ac-
tive defense of the faith; and what is figuratively happening on the human battlefield is
mirrored by a less corporeal struggle in the air between angelic and demonic spirits.
Responding to the sound of the bell places one within sacred history; the sound itself
is a part of the manifestation of sacrality.
A key term here is roused (excitare): that the faithful be not just summoned, but
roused to spiritual activity.106 By the thirteenth century this use of bells tends to have a
particular further inflection: the celebration of the Eucharist. It is not entirely clear at
what point liturgical rituals began to include the sounding of a bell specifically con-
nected to the Eucharist, rather than attendance at church in general; the general con-
sensus would appear to be the late twelfth or very early thirteenth century, as various
passing references suggest. Caesarius of Heisterbach relates that Wido, a cardinal and
former Cistercian abbot, introduced the practice in Cologne around the turn of the
thirteenth century, emphasizing that the point of the bell was to signal to the laity that

Signorum quoque usus a veteri Testamento sumptus est. In quo per Moysem Dominus jussit fieri tu-
bas argenteas ductiles, quam dum Levitae tempore sacrificii clangerent, sonitu dulcedinis populus com-
monitus, ad tabernaculum foederis ad adorandum festinarent, quarum etiam clangore hortatus ad bellum tela
prosterneret adversantium, et fortitudo inimicorum eo sono exterrita in se deficeret ... Ad hunc modum in
sancta ecclesia hodie tintinnabula fiunt, ut per illorum tactum fideles ad gremium matris ecclesiae invitentur,
ut depositis curae saecularis occupationibus discant se armare adversus spirituales incursus. Et sicut fit, ut
audita bellica tuba milites ad praelium animosius accendantur, hostilis impetus formidine fusus dispergatur;
ita exterritis turbis nocentibus confortetur ad dominica bella per signum populus evocatus, et procul pulsis
aereis potestatibus, conventus ecclesiae manu angelica servetur. Council of Arras, 1025, Mansi 19.441.
Bishop Gerard was preaching at extraordinary length in order to bring some heretics back into the Christian
faith. Our thanks to Joe Canning and an anonymous reviewer for Viator for assistance with the translation.
J. Mirk, Festial: A Collection of Homilies, ed. T. Erbe, Early English Text Society e.s. 96 (London
1905) 150: For ry3t as a kyng, when he goe to batayle, trompes go before, e baner ys desplayde and
comy aftyr, en comy e kyng and his ost aftyr sewying him; ryght so in Cristys batayle e belles, at ben
Godys trompes, ryngen, baners byn unfolden ...
Injunctions to being roused to devotion by a bell are also frequently associated with hearing hand-
bells passing in the street, marking the passage of the Viaticum to dying person: for example, Statutes of
Canterbury, 1213x1214, c. 17, Councils and Synods (n. 96 above) I.28; Las Siete Partidas, ed. R. I. Burns, 5
vols. (Philadelphia 2001) 1.42, cap. lxi.

they should make particular devotion to the body of the Lord.107 By the second decade
of the thirteenth century, its use was clearly in place;108 though which bell was to be
sounded is not always clear. General accounts of the Mass, guided in part by modern
Catholic practice, have assumed that the bell to be rung at the elevation was always a
small hand-bell (tintinnabulum most usually), and indeed this could often be the case.
But it was not necessarily so. The Statutes of Worcester, 1240, specify that a little
bell [campanella] should be rung, so that by this the devotion of the sluggish might
be aroused and the charity of others more strongly kindled.109 So we have a little
bell, though that could still be a little suspended belland it does not necessarily
imply a bell which only those within church could hear: it may intend to kindle char-
ity in those hearing it beyond the confines of the church. Because at some points in
the conciliar material, that is more clearly what a bell, rung liturgically, is forto link
those outside the church to what is going on inside.
Thus in the earlier Statutes of Worcester, 1229, we are told that, When the bell is
rung for the Holy Land during the celebration of mass, everyone hearing this outside
the church and understanding it should bend their knees and say the Lord's Prayer,
namely Pater Noster, for the succour of the Holy Land.110 By the late thirteenth cen-
tury, we find some clear idea of this in relation to the Eucharist: the Statutes of Exeter,
1287, specify that the campanelle are to be rung first, and at the elevation [of the
Host], three strikes on the great bell should be rung. The Council of Lambeth, 1281,
spells it out even more clearly: At the elevation of the body of the Lord, the bells
should be struck on one side, so that the people, who do not have the time to concern
themselves with the celebration of masses every day, wherever they are in their fields
or houses, genuflect.111 A sermon by Federico Visconti, archbishop of Pisa, from
around the same time makes the same point explicit: that the bell is also to signal to
those outside the church that they should make obeisance. Whether they are involved
in business or detained by illness, bowing their heads toward the church where the
body of the Lord is being sacrificed, they should adore and say some prayer, at the
very least saying Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us or say the Paternoster.112

Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus miraculorum, ed. J. Strange, 2 vols. (Cologne 1851) IX.51, II.
206: Praecepit enim ut ad elevationem hostiae omnis populus in ecclesia ad sonitum nolae veniam peteret,
sicqueusque ad calicis benedictionem prostratus iaceret. Praecepit etiam ut quotiens corpus Domini deferen-
dum esset ad infirmum, scholaris sive campanarius sacerdotem praecedens, per nolam illud proderet; sicque
omnis populus tam in stratis quam in domibus Christum adoraret.
See M. Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge 1992) esp. 5859
on bells. See also J. A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, 2 vols. (New
York 1955) 2.207210.
Per hoc devotio torpentium excitetur et aliorum caritas fortius inflammetur; Councils and Synods
(n. 96 above) 1.299. Statutes of Coventry 1224x1237 similarly specify a campanella, and this appears to be
the same campanella as is used when carrying the Host to the dying; ibid. 1.210211. However, other coun-
cils usually specify tintinnabulum for the latter.
Ut quando pulsatur campana pro Terra Sancta in celebratione misse, quilibet hoc audiens extra
ecclesiam et intelligens genibus flexis dicat orationem dominicam, scilicet Pater noster, pro succursu Terre
Sancte; Councils and Synods (n. 96 above) 1.175.
In elevatione vero ipsius corporis domini pulsentur campane in uno latere, ut populares, quibus
celebrationi missarum non vacat cotidie interesse, ubicunque fuerint seu in agris seu in domibus, flectant
genua; Councils and Synods (n. 96 above) 2.990991, 894.
Les sermons et la visite pastorale de Federico Visconti, archvque de Pise (125377), ed. N. Briou
(Rome 2001) sermon 67, 866: Secundo honoravit personam Iesu Christi quoad pulsationem campane cam-

French statutes of the thirteenth century display some similar sense of potential
variation to the English ones. The Statutes of Guillaume de Seignelay, bishop of Paris
12191224, order that when the body of Christ is elevated, at the elevation or slightly
beforehand, the bell [campana] should be rung so that the minds of the faithful are
roused to prayer.113 In Albi in 1230probably particularly mindful at that point
about making the laity feel involved in orthodox celebrationthe bishops specified
that the big bell [maior campana] should be rung three times, and the people who
hear it should bend their knees wherever they are.114 The extent to which the sound of
the bell could be intended to involve those beyond the confines of the church is further
illustrated by a few injunctions on when not to use the bell to mark the elevation of the
Host. In 1216, Pope Honorius III wrote to the abbey of St. Theodosius the Coenobite
in Laberia (southern Albania), ordering that when the land is under interdict, although
their monastery is exempt and can continue to hold divine services, it still should not
ring its bells.115 A similar injunction is found in a French council of 1252: that when a
church is under interdict and therefore cannot celebrate mass, if a parishioner dies they
are simply to be laid out for obsequies sine campanarum pulsatione, et cessantibus
aliis solempnitatibus.116 The reason was not simply that bells could summon people to
mass (forbidden during an interdict), but that ringing bells might accidentally in-
volve some people in the mass from a distance, when they were supposed to be ex-
cluded from the church and the sacraments.117
At the council of Bordeaux, 1234, it was ordered that priests should have a special
bell to ring at the elevation; or else ring the bell of the church.118 This last reference
to parochial need and availability reminds us that the programmatic ideals of conciliar
and liturgical texts would, in practice, find varied applications and audiences. We can
imagine a spectrum of experience. At one pole we would find something like the
heightened scene set out in the early thirteenth-century Ordinarium for Soisson Cathe-
dral, in its Easter liturgy. There, Christs resurrection is announced by the cleric
playing the part of Mary; then the priest of the Sepulcher brings forth the Eucharist,
and immediately the little bells and all the bells of the church should ring.119 Christ

panilis, quia, quando tintinnabulum audiunt sive campanam qui sunt extra ecclesiam, tunc non solum hono-
ratur et inclinatur ab illis qui sunt in ecclesiam, sed etiam ab aliis qui sunt extra. Sive sint negotiis occupati,
sive in infirmitatibus detenti, inclinato capite versus ecclesiam ubi corpus Domini sacrificatur, adorant et
dicunt aliquam orationem, adminus dicunt Domine Iesu Christe, miserere nobis vel debent dicere Pater
noster ...
Les Statuts synodaux Franais du XIIIe sicle, I: Les Statuts de Paris et le synodal de louest, ed. O.
Pontal (Paris 1971) 101.
Les Statuts synodaux Franais du XIIIe sicle, II: Les Statuts de 1230 1260, ed. O. Pontal (Paris
1983) 22.
Acta Honorii III et Gregorii IX, Pontifica commissio ad redigendum codicem iuris canonici orien-
talis, ed. A. L. Tautu, Fontes series 3, vol. 3 (Vatican City 1950) 4.
Status synodaux II, ed. Pontal (n. 114 above) 417.
See generally Peter Clarke, The Interdict in the Thirteenth Century: A Question of Collective Guilt
(Oxford 2007) 134 and passim. There are two intriguing references from earlier centuries, which suggest a
similar concern. The council of Reims in 1148 prohibited the celebration of the mass, or the ringing of bells
in the city, or in the castle, or in the courtyard, where any excommunicated person is present; Mansi
21.719. Less clearly, an 11th-c. council at Winchester ordered that tintinnabula should not be rung when
mass was celebrated tempore secretathe meaning of which is unclear to us; Mansi 20.401.
Statuts synodaux II, ed. Pontal (n. 114 above) 62.
et statim pulsentur tintinnabula et omnia signa ecclesie; Lateinische Osterfeiern und Osterspiele,

is made present in the form of bread, and in the form of soundthe bells acting again
not simply as a signal, but as a plenitude of sonic experience, presumably producing
considerable bodily and emotional affect. At the other end of the scale, in a poor par-
ish with a broken bell rope and no tintinnabulum, and with various of the parishioners
absent, Christ might make a rather more muted daily appearance.120


A cast, suspended bell of sufficient size and qualitythat is, of sufficient sonority
sits at the epicenter of a potentially circular sound-field, the borders of which might be
imagined as roughly corresponding to the social unit to which it belongs: the monastic
precincts, the parish, the cathedral grounds. This ideal-type, only available once suffi-
ciently large cast bells are available, could perhaps be found in most rural parishes of
later medieval Europe. But in many other contexts, the assumed harmony between
soundscape and community is more complicated, and sometimes even fractured. Be-
cause the issue is, which community is thus being rung?
One might notionally divide bells and their uses into monastic, priestly andto in-
voke a category we have not explored particularly in this paperlay. A key point in
Alain Corbins Village Bells is the use of bells as unifying markers of civic identity;
for Corbin, this being particularly noted as an assertion of secularity in the wake of the
French Revolution. However, although some elements of nineteenth-century campanal
practice had specific modernizing aspects (particularly around issues to do with
marking time), we would suggest both that bells, from quite an early period, fed into
medieval civic identity, and that this could be the source of conflict within, rather than
against, the Christian sense of community. There are various references to com-
munes, and to fraternities of citizens, who acquire bells and take over the ringing of
them. The Consuls of Cremona ordered a large bell de credentia and a bell for call-
ing the knights to horse be made in 1190,121 and by 1250 there was a bell del popolo
in Florence.122 In times of crisis, church or cathedral bells were long called into service
for the defense of the secular community: in the 1120s the bells of cathedrals were
used to ring during the wars between Como and Milan, and news about the siege of
Ancona was announced by bells.123 Bells also play a key summoning role in many

ed. W. Lipphardt, 9 vols. (Berlin 1975) 1.204205, no. 167. From Troyes, late the same century, a vernacu-
lar text makes much the same stage instruction: et sonne len les cloches ...; ibid. 211. Our thanks to Nils
Holger Peterson for pointing us to this material. One is reminded that late medieval pastoral texts often
explained the indivisibility of Christs body in the Host through the simile of many people hearing the sound
of the same bell.
For example, an episcopal visitation in 1397 found that in the village of Codyntone, the parish priest
was using the bell tower as a hay store, and to keep his calves in; he was moreover supposed to pay for the
bellropes, and he does not do this, though it is unclear whether that actually implies the utter lack thereof.
A. T. Bannister, ed., Visitation Returns in the Diocese of Hereford in 1397, part III, English Historical
Research 45 (1930) 93.
campanam grossam de credentia et schelam militum ad equitandum fieri fecerunt; Annales
cremonensis, Annales et chronica Italica aevi Suevici, ed. O. Holder-Egger, MGH SS XXXI (Hannover
1903) 8.
G. Villani, Nuova cronaca, ed. G. Porta (Parma 1990) 1.vii, 39 (328).
R. Bordone, Campane, trombe, e carrocci nelle citta, Information, Kommunikation und
Selbstdarstellung, ed. Haverkamp (n. 98 above) 89. As we have seen above, the image of bells as war trum-
pets can be traced back to the liturgical blessings.

civic uprisings, with different factions liable to struggle over control of the belfries.
An account of a popular rising in Bruges in 1301 tells of how the commoners beat
metal bowls since they dared not use the belfry, in order to summon their neighbors
to arms.124
Where there is more than one bell presentas is always the case in any larger ur-
ban settingit is not uncommon to find disputes over which bells have liturgical pri-
ority, both for apparently purely spiritual reasons (such as monks not wanting to be
disturbed in their prayers) but also in competition for associated benefits, such as ob-
lations. For example a charter of 25 January 1220 records agreement between the
hospital of St. Severin and a parish church at Cologne. Among various other matters,
the hospital chaplain was to ring a small bell only once, to call his residents to mass or
other offices.125 In 1257 Archbishop Eudes of Rouen ordered the parishioners at
Corneuille, who were in the habit of attending mass at the church attached to the local
monastery, to construct a partition between the bells so that the canons might sound
their own bells more freely and be able to concentrate upon the divine service with
more quiet.126 Some cases suggest, as Corbin found to be the case in modern France,
that physical access to bells might be in hands of the priest rather than the
parishioners. In fourteenth-century Grenoble we hear of a parish priest who had gone
missing, and left the church locked up; the parishioners pushed a small boy through a
small hole in a ruined wall, and he then rang the church bells to try to summon the
priest (who did eventually reappear).127 But it would sometimes be the parochial laity
who would do the actual ringing. There is an interesting English law case from 1206,
over disputed rights relating to a church and its land, where the lay person involved
claimed rights of usage feudum laicum, and his oath-swearers confirmed that he holds
such rights by the service of 4d of wax per annum, and the ringing of bells on feast
days.128 In 1248, the Berkshire Eyre noted that a man died after he struck a bell in
Wantage belfry and the clapper of the bell fell on his head.129
As one would expect, there is evidence that lay communities could be proudly in-
volved in the purchase of parish bells. At Muzy, in 1250, Eudes of Rouen found that
the parishioners had pawned some silk capes in order to get bells made.130 However,
such senses of ownership could lead to dispute. In the late 1220s a large bell in the

Annales Gandenses, Popular Protest in Late Medieval Europe, ed. and trans. S. K. Cohn (Manchester
2005) 27, and passim. For a vivid account of a much smaller scale dispute (in Beverley in 1535) where the
ability to ring the town bells was absolutely crucial, see Yorkshire Star Chamber Proceedings II, ed. H. B.
McCall, Yorkshire Archaeological Society 45 (1911) No. 40, 105108.
Quellen zur Geschichte der Stadt Koln, ed. L. Ennen and G. Eckertz, 6 vols. (Cologne 1863) 2.8081
(No. 67). See J. R. Hoffmann, Potens et pauper: Charity and Authority in Jurisdictional Disputes over the
Poor in Medieval Cologne, Plenitude of Power: The Doctrines and Exercise of Authority in the Middle
Ages, ed. R. C. Figueira (Aldershot 2006) 111.
Regestrum Visitationum Archiepiscopi Rothomagensis, ed. Th. Bonnin (Rouen 1852) 280.
C. R. Cheney, The Diocese of Grenoble in the 14th Century, Speculum 10 (1935) 167177, at 176.
A. W. Douglas, Frankalmoin and Jurisdictional Immunity: Maitland Revisited, Speculum 53 (1978)
The Roll and Writ of the Berkshire Eyre of 1248, ed. M. T. Clanchy, Selden Society 90 (London
1973) 332 (No. 829).
Regestrum Visitationum, ed. Bonnin (n. 126 above) 70. This does not necessarily imply that the par-
ish church currently lacked bells; rather, as is clearer in the much later evidence used by Corbin (n. 6
above), the parish might be upgrading its bells to larger and louder models.

cathedral tower at Cahors broke. The people of the city argued with the chapter over
replacing it, because both sides claimed that they themselves should bear the expense;
that is, city and chapter both tried to claim the expense, in order to assert ownership
over the bell. A papal legate, investigating the case in 1229, concluded that the towns-
people had rung the bell and could continue to, but that the bell belonged to the cathe-
dral.131 That conflict needs to be set in the context of a fairly wealthy and independent
city; we find a contrasting example slightly later that century, in a parochial context in
Flanders. The abbey of le Val Benoit had got the dean of Maastricht to agree that they
only needed to supply a small bell [campanella] in the parish church at Simplevelt,
that can be heard only within the circumference of the cemetery. Any larger bell was
the financial responsibility of the laity. But the laity did not agree, and at a council at
Maastricht in 1282 they successfully argued that the tithes that they paid to the abbey
made a big bell which can be heard by the parish (and various other things for the
church and liturgy) the abbeys financial responsibility.132 Although in the latter case
the laity were not willing to shoulder the financial burdenquite possibly because it
would have been beyond their abilitiesthere is still a sense of moral ownership
lurking: having paid their tithes, they were due their bell. On some occasions, the par-
ish had to assert its right to bells even more strongly. The arrival of a new prior and
vicar at the abbey church at Wymondham in the early fifteenth century seems to have
prompted various kinds of discord between the parishioners and the priest. This cul-
minated in some villagers breaking into the church, briefly imprisoning the vicar, and
suspending three bells in a tower. A main part of the dispute was that the priory
claimed that, in order that the monks should not be disturbed, and in keeping with the
practice at other priories, the only bells which should summon people to church were
those of the priory itself. The case eventually ended up with the archbishop of Canter-
bury, who decided largely in the villagers favor, emphasizing that the possession of
bells was a key feature of a parish.133 The question of ownership is in part to do with
the question of use: when does one ring the bells, and for what extra-liturgical pur-
poses? Other English parishioners complained to their bishop, in 1397, that their priest
did not ring the bells as he was held [to do], namely one ring in the morning, called
the Daybelle, and the curfew at night.134
The different ways and purposes to which bells were rung suggest important in-
flections to the particular conjunction between sound and community. As is well
known, religious festivals, including those in honor of saints, exercised civic pride and
drew together townspeople; and these often involved substantial bell ringing. Thus the
feasts of San Matteo and San Lorenzo, at Pisa, were marked by the ringing of all bells,
all night long, according to the Liber Maiolichinus of the twelfth century.135 The same
suffusion of sound, again communal but with a very different meaning, can be found

Archives municipales de Cahors, charte FF. 2; transcribed in Bibliothque nationale de France,
Collection Doat MS 119, fols. 26rv, 28r29v. Our thanks to Claire Taylor for pointing us to this reference.
Cartulaire de labbaye du Val-Benot, ed. J. Cavalier (Brussels 1906) 170 (No. 132), 255 (No. 195).
H. Harrod, Some Particulars Relating to the History of the Abbey Church of Wymondham,
Archaeologia 43.2 (1872) 264172; Archbishop Arundels decision is printed in Archaeologia 26 (1836)
A. T. Bannister, ed., Hereford Visitations IV, English Historical Review 45 (1930) 451.
Liber maiolichinus de gestis Pisanorum illustribus, ed. C. Calisse (Rome 1904) lines 554557, 1517.

in an account of a tax revolt at Tournai in 1365, when all day the emergency and cur-
few bells rang without pause, accompanied by other loud sound-making by the insur-
gents.136 The sound of bells occupies the civic space in a way parallel toor per-
haps overarching and supplementingthe physical occupation of that space on the
ground. The voice of the bell is itself implicated: at Rouen in 1382 after another tax
revolt, the king entered the city enraged at their uprising. Passing by the towns bel-
fry, he dismantled the bell that had called the commune to action, before going on to
sentence ringleaders to death. Another account of same event sets up an interesting
symbolic parallel: He took the tongue from the towns bell. Afterwards he ordered
the decapitation and quartering of six men of the city.137 A nicely opposed mirroring
of this can be found a century earlier in Norwich, when in 1272 the local people as-
saulted the cathedral (using a local parish church tower as a fortified place of attack),
prompted in part by the fact that the prior had brought in Yarmouth men to fortify the
bell tower of the monastery. That bell tower, and some other buildings, were razed to
the ground by the civic rebels.138
All of these examples demonstrate that bells operate as more than simply signals,
and that in various ways the sound-field of a bell was not straightforwardly cotermi-
nous with the landscape to which it was supposed to belong. Moreover, even when
signaling is the primary function of bells, they are not merely marking the existence
of a community, but rather, one might say, appealing to their audience to respond to
the communal callrousing, summoning and hailing them in a discursive as well as a
practical fashion, whether that summoning is to collective acts of worship or violence.
Nothing illustrates this more clearly than a few fascinating examples where bells are
misused or refused, where the appeal rings discordantly. We have found two very in-
triguing instances of women using bells for their own personal purposes. In a French
diocesan visitation record of 1333, the wife of one Sanson le Viellart was called to
account for having rung a certain bell at night and thus pretended to be the priest,
deceiving the people as is said by many; she admitted her guilt, but left us with no
idea as to her motive.139 However, another notably similar case provides a potential
clue. Just four years later, in the pieve of Bacialla (about ten miles south of Cortona),
another episcopal visitation found via various witnesses that the church bell had been
rung at night, summoning many of the parishioners to church. They had there found
that a woman called Lena di Castello was ringing the bell, and was arguing with the
parish priest. Why? She was protesting that the priest, Alessandro, had various of her
belongings and refused to give them back. She was (the episcopal investigators even-
tually uncovered) Alessandros concubineas everyone knew, but did not quite want
to admit publicly.140 Lenas use of the bell made very public that which was infamia
but yet not fully voiced.

Popular Protest, ed. Cohn (n. 124 above) 98.
Ibid. 281, 298.
N. Tanner, Cathedral and City, Norwich Cathedral: Church, City and Diocese, ed. I. Atterton et al.
(London 1996) 259261; material relating to these events is collated in W. Rye, The Riot between the
Monks and the Citizens of Norwich in 1272, Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany 2 (1883) 1785.
Registre de lofficialite de Cerisy 131457, ed. G. Dupont, Memoires de la Socit des Antiquaries de
Normandie, 3rd ser., 10 (Caen 1880) 397.
D. Bornstein, Parish Priests in Late Medieval Cortona: The Rural and Urban Clergy, Quaderni di

A final example, from an inquisitorial trial in late thirteenth-century Languedoc:

Jean Moret, sworn in as a witness and questioned, said that he had seen and heard that when
the same witness, and Bernard Fradui, and another whom he does not recall, hired by Ber-
nard de Souillac of Montauban, working in his vineyard, heard the bell struck at the eleva-
tion of the body of Christ, and for this reason prayed to God with joined hands, the said Ber-
nard de Souillac asked them if they believed that the host which the priest elevated was the
body of Christ, and added more, saying, Dont believe that it is the body of Christ, because
if it were, and were as large as the Mount of Vinhar, it would have been eaten long ago. And
if you believe it you are fools, and I dont want any share in that credulity of yours.141

It is rather wonderful to find a piece of evidence to corroborate the fact that bells
marking the Eucharist could be heard out in the fields, well beyond the confines of the
church. But it is also instructive to be reminded that that not everyone necessarily re-
sponded in the same way to the call to devotion and belief that such a sound invited.
Bells are not merely markers of community so much as auditory performances of
community; the nature of the community thus summoned by each stroke of the clapper
can be social, spiritual and political. And the summons can on occasion be refused.

Storia Religiosa 4 (1997) 170173. We note a third case from yet another set of visitation records: in Erde-
sley, parishioners complained that three women servants of the vicar rang the bells and helped the vicar
celebrate mass, that is against the respectability of the church. Bannister, Hereford Visitations IV (n.
134 above) 447.
Iohannes Moret, testis iuratus et interrogatus, dixit se vidisse et audisse quod dum ipse testis, et
Bernardus Fradiu, et alius de quo non recolit, conducti a B[ernardo] de Solhaco de Monte Albano, operantes
in vinea sua, audirent pulsari campanam ad elevationem corporis Christi, et propter hoc supplicarent Deo
iunctis manibus, dictus Bernardus de Solhaco dixit eis si credebant quod hostia quam elevabat sacerdos
esset corpus Christi, et adiecit, dicens, Non credatis quod sit corpus Christi; quia si esset, esset ita magnum
sicut Mons de Vinhar, diu est quod fuisset comestum. Et si creditis fatui estis, et ego nolo esse particeps
illius credulitatis vestr. Inquisitors and Heretics in Thirteenth-Century Languedoc: Edition and Transla-
tion of Toulouse Inquisition Depositions, 127382, ed. P. Biller, C. Bruschi, and S. Sneddon (Leiden 2011)

FIG. 1. Bell from Canino, Central Italy, ninth or tenth century. Musei Vaticani (Pio
Cristiano), inv. 31412 (ex 41). Inscription: D[omi]NI N[ost]RI C[h]RISTI ET
S[an]C[t]I [MIHAEL]IS AR[c]HANGELI VIVENTIV[s]. Reproduced by kind per-
mission of the Archivo Fotografico, Musei Vaticani.

FIG. 2. The plan of the church of S. Lorenzo a Cerreto (Tuscany) with the bell casting
pit and structures for bronze casting. Reproduced by kind permission of Juan Antonio
Quirs Castillo.