The history of bells

The history of bells. Bells were first manufactured in China, in 2000 BC.  From there the innovation spread and later on even images were engraved on them. 

The custom of having bells spread across Asia, to India to Japan and later to Europe.  And they were widely used for various purposes.

It wasn’t until the 5th Century (400AD) when churches were finally able to function publicly, that the Italian monks revived the ancient knowledge of bell founding and thus creating the first European church bells.

The bell can be the largest or smallest of musical instruments.  Bells were cast in different sizes – but only in the 16th century was it possible to tune bells.

They were roughly tuned – where necessary, inside the bell or on the edge, the material was just chipped away – so eight bells could be tuned to an octave of eight notes.

As bells became more common, their importance as church bells grew and they became a form of mass communication to convey religious and secular information or to summon people across large areas:

  • Signified the start of service (Signal for Mass (Catholic) or service (Protestant));
  • Became part of a worship service;
  • Marked each hour from morning to late evening to remind those hearing the bells of God’s daily presence in their lives;
  • Announced specific daily times of prayer;
  • Announced special occasions taking place at church, such as weddings and funerals and the end of a war;
  • Announced emergencies such as fire and important gatherings;
  • In some small villages even, the deaths were announced;
  • Welcomed Christmas day and Easter with a “joyful noise” (Psalm 100);
  • Hung around farm animals’ necks so that if they strayed it was possible to find them.

In Ulm, in the State of Baden-Württemberg (Germany), a Lutheran church is one of the tallest churches in the world, with a steeple measuring 161.5 meters.  Its foundation stone was laid on 30th June 1377.  Alterations were done over the years.  In 1530/31 the citizens of Ulm converted to Protestantism during the Reformation and the Ulm Minster became a Lutheran church.  The church was completed on 31st May 1980 and has 13 bells.

The bells are no longer rung by hand but since 1953 by a mechanism. Ten of the thirteen bells are still in use.

The oldest dateable cast bell in Germany is the Lullusglocke.  The Inscription indicates it was cast on 24th June 1038.  It used to hang in the Catherine Tower in the ruins of the monastery of Bad Hersfeld in Hesse but was repaired and hung in the Stadtmuseum.

So, over the centuries the bell became part of the Christian life.  It notifies Christians when a service or a special service starts, and it will always have the most inviting sound.

If you listen carefully, you will hear it sing: “Come, Come”.