Angels in the Belfry

English style change ringing is an unusual activity. The basic mechanics of ringing a large bell are daunting but mastered with perseverance. However, placing oneself on the avenue of learning bell patterns – known as methods – and then agreeing to learn to ring them correctly can become a “down the rabbit hole” experience, causing one to exclaim with Alice: “curiouser and curioser!” Perfection in ringing is especially challenging in the presence of others attempting the same thing.

One simple “curious” example is that we are operating possibly the loudest musical instruments on the planet, but the degree of constant focus requires absolute silence both amongst the ringers and also the area around the ringing chamber. Signs reading “silence please” are quite common in change-ringing belfries, and in our particular case of a ground-floor level ringing room, there’s the phenomenon of passers-by tiptoeing by the tower during special rings (our Community of Jesus family have become very good sports in all of this.)

With all the oddities and difficulties, it can be a source of comfort and inspiration to recollect that our tower connects with God’s angels. The obvious visible connection is the hovering massive hovering presence of the Angel of the Church of the Transfiguration sculpted in bronze at the pinnacle. Just as important for us ringers, is the annual Feast of St. Michael and All Angels at the end of September. Ten years ago, this feast day was selected for our first public bell ringing. In honor of the decade remembrance this year, a group of us were able (with angels’ help!) to ring our first full peal in commemoration. Many of our family, well-versed in bell listening requirements (silence please!), crept up near the tower to support us.

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