Our connection with the Liberty Bell

by Faithful Friar

Speaking of the 4th of July (which we all have been this week!)… Did you know that the tenor bell at the Community of Jesus bell tower was cast in the same pit in which the Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast 265 years ago? That’s right – in 1752, Lester and Pack (later known as Whitechapel Bell Foundry) of London, England received a commission for its creation from the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, along with the request to have the bell lettered with, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land to the Inhabitants Thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). The cost then was a little over 150 pounds, or the equivalent of over 21,000 pounds today.

 

Although there is no record of it having been rung on July 4, 1776, it was believed to have been rung on the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8th, 1776.  Bells throughout the land rang in celebration of America’s newly declared freedom. The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds. It is formed from 70% copper and 25% tin, and the remaining 5% from lead, arsenic, zinc, gold and silver. John Philip Sousa, inspired by this bell’s history,  composed The Liberty Bell March and debuted it on July 4th, 1893 in Chicago.

 

Sadly, Whitechapel Foundry closed its doors forever in May of this year. It was known as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570 when Elizabeth I was Queen, and they had been in continuous operation since that time. We will miss them dearly and all their help in our newly established tower. BUT, we are proud to have Whitechapel Bells in our midst, ringing every day, and equally proud of our bells’ connections to their more famous cousin, Liberty.

Some history on change-ringing

by Faithful Friar

As reported in prior posts, bell-ringers from the Community of Jesus who ring in the Church of the Transfiguration bell tower are preparing to attempt a first full peal as our own band later this year in conjunction with events marking the 5th centenary of the start of the protestant reformation. The art of English-style change ringing happens to be a direct descendant of said reformation in that following the dissolution of the monasteries in England there were untouched rings of church bells available for local young people to go ring. This became a new activity and soon spawned an interest in developing the rules and style of moving tuned bells in set ways to make patterns…”change ringing.”  This is why the oldest and most prestigious associations of bell-ringers in England have in their title the word “youths”, e.g. Ancient Society of College Youths. It was only later that change ringing began to find its place back in Church of England steeples where most such rings of bells are now to be found—in other words for devotional purposes rather than purely for sport. To be sure there remains a healthy mix of both. Bell-ringers today show up Sunday after Sunday to welcome and/or send worshipers on their way. Then they meet again at a weekly “peal night” to try and “get” another peal, learning new methods along the way. Devoted ringers count their peal totals in the hundreds or even thousands. By such measures we here are at humble beginnings. Yet perhaps humble beginnings is OK since we are also tying back into the devotional monastic practices from which the whole activity sprang.

Waiting for the Doors to Open

by Faithful Friar

Throughout the Triduum leading into Easter our bells ring at various times during services. At one point there is a tolling of the tenor bell, the heaviest lowest bell, a sound only heard at funerals. At another point, all the bells “fire” striking simultaneously celebrating the first “Alleluia” sung at Easter. Unlike the rest of the year, where ringing comes before or after a service, these rings come during the liturgy. In order to get the timing right, ringers attend the service until just before it’s time to head out to the tower and ring. Once in the tower, we wait for a “cue”. The “cue” in this case is the front doors of the church opening. Interestingly, the doors usually seem to take longer than expected before opening. As I was standing there, it seemed to me a microcosm of Easter. Here we are standing in the tower, looking out at closed doors, wondering what is happening inside, knowing the doors will open…and waiting. And of course what follows but a cacophony of clangorous celebration. He is Risen!

The Influence of the Bells

by Faithful Friar

This year, Spirit Winter Percussion has incorporated handbells into their show, “The Etchings of a Soul: A Russian Illustration.”

It made me think about the history of church bells in Russia, how they were silenced and became the object of continuous attacks. How difficult that must have been for the people who loved and appreciated their bells so much.

I found an article that stated in old times when there was an epidemic or terrible devastation, bad harvest, and other calamities, it was prescribed to continuously ring the church bells. In recent scientific studies, it shows the timbre and vibrations of bell ringing influences the entire living world around us. In the days of old, they commented that even mice, rats, and some insects feared it. Hating the sound of the bells, many carriers of diseases would run away further from the belfry and populated areas. The clear, purifying sound the church bells make exerts good influences also on people. This is one of the reasons the Russians loved bells so much. In these days where there is so much division and strife, perhaps the beauty of the sound of the ringing bells will help to clean our souls from spite, envy and impatience which will help us to live a better life.

Are you sleeping?

by Faithful Friar

Did you ever learn the translation to the childhood song “Frère Jacques?”  It hit me as we were ringing bells in our tower one night to mark the end of Vespers. The literal translation goes something like this: Brother John, are you sleeping? Sound the bell for Matins! Ding, Dang, Dong! This dates back to the duty of the monks to ring the “pre-service” bell to alert their communities to the service that will begin shortly. Poor Brother John must have been very tired because he slept heavily and ignored his sonorous duty to his Brothers! We have our own Brother John in our Community, and he is often responsible for ringing the pre-service bell! (So far he hasn’t slept through his commitment.) We ring the bell prior to our Midday Office and Vespers services.   

The tune for Frère Jacques was first published around 1780 in France, and the words were first seen in 1825. The tune is so familiar as to be claimed as a national folk song in many countries around the world, with Frère Jacques’ name changed to fit the country….Bruder Jakob,  Fra’Martino,  Panie Janie, and Mester Jakob to name a few.

So, whenever Br. John rings our pre-service bell, we are fitting right in with years of “Frère Jacques” tradition!   

FrereJacques

High Stakes Teamwork

by Faithful Friar

This year our bell ringing band plans to attempt our first “peal”. This is a big deal. Our tower holds 10 bells and we’re working on learning “Grandsire Caters” for the attempt. The peal must include over 5000 “changes” (a change in the order of bells each round) and typically takes at least 3 hours to ring. Peals are often rung to mark major celebrations. Having the capability within our local band to attempt a peal is significant and cause for celebration.

Grandsire Caters Grid

Grandsire Caters Grid from the Bell Tower at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Each ringer will learn the patterns for each colored line above, and a conductor will learn how to “call” and direct the attempt using “Bobs” and “Singles” shown on the right.

It takes years to learn how to ring. Most of the ringers in the peal band began learning in 2009 when the bells were installed. The first stage involves simply understanding how to control the bell, often referred to as “handling”. Next, we begin to learn patterns and methods. Enough of our band is at this stage where we can now attempt a peal in 2017. Attempting a peal will be a significant and exciting milestone.

There is an interesting aspect to the ringing language used in the tower, specifically the word “attempt”. We never say, “we’re going to ring a peal”, always “attempt a peal”. I think it underscores the challenging nature of a peal. If any one of the ringers “gets lost”, makes a mistake in the patterns, over the 3 hours of ringing, we will not have rung a peal. So, the stakes are fairly high for each ringer to stay focused and learn the patterns as best as possible. During the attempt, ringers often help each other stay on track, giving a nod here, a look there. Subtle affirmations point to advanced levels of teamwork and encourage success.  We very much hope our attempt is successful and look forward to hearing a celebratory peal attempt ringing out over Cape Cod Bay.

From the Bell Tower: Facing Fears with Friends

By Faithful Finch

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

I find it so interesting that ringing bells can be a spiritual exercise!

The other day, some of us were learning the process of “ringing the bells up.” This can be a frightening experience because if you don’t do it properly, you can have an accident. As the Lord is accustomed to doing, he taught me a lesson in the process.

I was so stuck in my fear, that I was doing things that blocked me from going forward in the process. I wasn’t breathing, my knees were locked rigid, and I couldn’t even hear Br. Matthew’s instructions he was giving me to help me. I had been quietly saying out loud, “Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.”

To my surprise, all of a sudden, I found myself saying, “Br. Matthew, I trust in you.” When we stopped ringing, I had a good laugh with those ringing with me, but realized, sometimes my lack of trust isn’t just a lack of trusting Jesus. It’s not trusting my friends around me that want to help and that the Lord has put there for me. I realized I allow my fear to block myself from going forward. Things don’t always have to be as difficult as I allow my own sin to make them.

What a great lesson!

Ringers at the bell tower, Church of the Transfiguration

News from the Bell Tower

by Faithful Friar

We had the privilege last week of having 2 interesting guests drop in to see our bells and our tower: Benjamin Sunderlin and his wife, Kate. It’s not often that people come to Cape Cod in the bleak midwinter, and even more seldom when they are interested in and knowledgeable about bells! They are the owners of B.A. Sunderlin Bell Foundry in Ruther Glen, VA, which is a “full service foundry that provides the highest quality, traditionally made, bronze bells in the States.” It was nice to show someone our bells and have them appreciate the way they were made and the sounds that they make – their personality!  Ben’s interest in bells has taken him all over the world in order to research the different techniques for bell making. They have the unusual ability to cast bells right in your yard or parking lot and turn this experience into a cultural event for the local community, complete with a lesson on the history and craft of bell casting.

I logged on to the Sunderlin Foundry website and watched the sad video on “The Death of a Bell”…don’t miss it if you are a bell ringer and need a new found appreciation of  how bells contribute to the voice of the church, and how we as bell ringers should bring out the best in our monolithic instruments! Don’t miss the brief video on Benjamin as “Notre Dame’s Bell Maker” and find out why he describes a bell as a “culturally charged object”!

Our best wishes accompany them both on their ambitious and much needed vocation.  Thanks for stopping by!

BenSunderlin

Ben Sunderlin (above) and Kate Sunderlin (right) at work in Ruther Glen, VA. Images courtesy of B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry Facebook page.

KateSunderlin

Ringing in the New Year 2017

by Faithful Friar

The symbolism inherent in bell-ringing is never clearer than when we “ring in” each new year. Combining the celebratory and the chronological elements perfectly as they do, it’s a privilege to participate in the midnight ringing Dec. 31st, even if it seems the whole world (i.e. sleepy Cape Cod) is abed. Members of our Community of Jesus ringing band began as usual with rounds on the 10 tuned bells in our tower, and one by one the upper bells were stood until only the lowest tenor bell remained to strike 12 blows at midnight. Then all joined back in for some festive called changes.

It is well to reflect at times like this how much God has blessed us both individually and corporately. We each have a testimony of his love and care in the circumstances of our lives. And yet we are called together in our various circles, and we have to listen and pull our ropes as intrepidly as we may, sounding out in as good a sequence as we can manage whatever signal call the Lord allows us to make. The ringing of our church bells at daily service times happens to be among the loudest such signal; so again it is a privilege as well as a responsibility to participate!

Follow this link to see a video of some of our ringing!

Bell Tower at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus, New Year's Night 2017

Why do bells sound different in the cold?

by Faithful Friar
Friday was cold. Orleans was as low as 16 Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius) that morning. So I thought I’d write about how awesome the bells sound in the cold. But first, why do the bells sound different in the cold? Of course Cape Cod is quieter in the winter, less people, animals are for the most part huddled away or at least quiet in their winter foraging. However, there’s more to it, specifically, the concept of sound refraction. Here’s a quick physics 101 on sound refraction!
During the winter it’s common for pockets of colder air to form near the ground. And it turns out, sound travels faster in hot air, or we could also say, slower in cooler denser air. The difference we hear during the winter in long distance sound is often due to sound refraction. Sound refraction is similar to visual refraction which causes mirages in the desert or on hot pavement during the summer. If you’re a physics buff or need a little more explanation on refraction I’d recommend taking a look at Snell’s Law. For the rest of us, here’s an illustration showing sound travelling from the bell tower towards two cold Cape Codders:
An illustration of the physics behind bell tower sound in the cold on Cape Cod, from the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus
As the sound travels from cold air at ground level, through a layer of warmer air above, the waves are bent back towards earth and our ears. The result: we hear more bell sound!
So even though our hands are barely warm enough to hold the rope, ringing in the winter sure can sound great. My favorite bell sounds, outside of good even striking (proper rhythm from all the ringers), are on a cold winter night, maybe even with a bit of fog or snow to muffle out everything else.