French Bells

In Alain Corbin’s Village Bells Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth Century French Countryside, the records are far from silent regarding bells for a wide range of uses, such as helping people to navigate in the forests, especially when there was snow, of coastal villages ringing bells to help sailors or to lure them into danger. But he most intriguing use is that of the storm bells, many of which had phrases on them such as “Wherever my voice goes, none shall perish by storm”. Airborne demons were believed to spread plagues and insect swarms, and their presence prevented prayer, but they were also terrified by the sound of bells. Bells could summon angels, who were thus invited to join in prayers. They were often rung in the belief that the bells’ voices, like God could quell tempests and repel early frosts; devils were said to be terrified of them. They were later believed to be able to break up storm clouds, improve air quality. Ringing was banned for a time due to the risk of lightning strikes, but mostly they continued, with the ringing even being considered therapeutic so carried out whilst surgery happened. So everyone in the village was expected to do some ringing. There was even a long running dispute between two villages, the one which rang storm bells was accused of diverting the storm to the other, so causing malicious damage.

All this is not from ancient times, but from 19th century. The past is closer than you think. Or maybe just in France.

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