Interesting Facts About the History of Bells

Updated on October 7, 2017
Vellur profile image

A Botany graduate, Nithya Venkat writes about topics that interest her.

Bells of Saint Nicholas Church at Narikala, Tbilisi, Georgia
Bells of Saint Nicholas Church at Narikala, Tbilisi, Georgia | Source

China was the birthplace of bells. Bells played an important role in the life of the Chinese people.

The Chinese people used bells for worshiping the Gods, making important announcements and as alarms during times of danger. A record of the very first bell can be traced back to 2000 BC.

Presenting interesting facts about the history of bells, read on.

Bhuddist Bell, Rewalsar, India
Bhuddist Bell, Rewalsar, India | Source

Introduction of Bells Across the World

In Ancient Egypt, bells were used in ceremonies while worshiping God Osiris. These bells were flat and were struck with a metal gong.

The practice of the use of metal bells for worship spread from China to many countries such as Japan, India, Thailand. The ringing of metal bells for worship became a practice in Hindu and Buddhist religions.

In Hindu temples, bells were placed above the entrance to temples or above the inner sanctum of worship. Small hand bells were also rung during times of worship and while offering fruits or food items to the Gods.

In Buddhism, bells were rung while offerings were made to Lord Buddha. The ringing of bells was also associated with wisdom, peace, patience and cure of confusion.

In Japan, Buddhist bells were huge and sometimes many monks were needed to ring the bell. Japanese Shinto temples used animal-shaped small bells that were rung by visitors who came to the temple to offer prayers.

In Italy under the leadership of Palanius, the Bishop of Nola metal bells were made and were incorporated into ceremonies of worship and celebrations.

In the next few centuries, Christian Monks from Italy spread the knowledge about metal bells across Europe.

In England, Saint Bede introduced the practice of ringing bells during funerals. During the Renaissance period, bells with enormous dimensions were cast and the sound became much louder. During the Gothic architectural period, bells in churches became massive and were decorated with designs.

Japanese Buddhist Bell
Japanese Buddhist Bell | Source

How Were Bells Made?

The very first step was to make a drawing of the bell to be made.

After the first drawing was made, a model of the drawing was made from clay and was baked at a high temperature so that the clay could harden. This was called the core of the bell. The core is nothing but a model of the inner part of the bell.

In olden days, the core was thickly coated on the outside with wax and another layer of clay known as the “cope” was laid around the wax and baked to harden.

The next step was to drill holes through the lower edge of the core and the cope and through these holes heat was applied to make the wax melt.

The melted wax ran out through the holes leaving a space between the core and cope of the bell. This space was filled with hot molten metal of copper and tin and left to cool.

The hardened molten metal became the final finished bell.

Tuning of the Bell

After the bell had been made, the bell was tuned to perfection. Each bell had a unique tone depending on the size of the bell. To get a pitch perfect tone, the bell was chiseled on the inside or the outside of the bell to make it sound right.

If the tone of the bell had a low sound, the tone was raised by chipping off metal from the lower edge of the bell. If the tone was too high, then the tone was reduced by chipping off metal from the inside of the bell. In olden times, the clapper or the tongue of the bell was attached by using a leather strap.

Some of the bells that were made were decorated with designs and inscriptions. Today modern techniques are used in the making of bells that can last for about 3000 years.

Handbells
Handbells | Source

What Are Handbells?

Handbells are small bells designed to be rung by hand. Handbells were used to practice change ringing bells in the 18th century.

They were developed by the Cor brothers, Robert and William Cor of Wiltshire, England. The Cor brothers tuned the handbells to produce a specific ring tone.

Handbells became popular in England and US. In the 19th-century hand, bells were used by ringers in groups to make music

Handbell choirs play music that is specifically written and composed for handbell ringing. The two well-known groups of bell ringers are the Lancashire Bell Ringers of England in the UK and the American Guild of English Hand Bell Ringers in the US.

Joseph Memorial Clock Tower
Joseph Memorial Clock Tower | Source

Bell Towers

Bell Towers are towers that are designed to hold one or more bells. They are usually a part of a building or they can be found standing alone. Bell towers can also be found attached to churches or temples.

The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower is the tallest stand-alone tower in the world. It has a height of 110 meters and is located in the Chancellor’s court at the University of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England.

The bell is rung to indicate the time of day, during times of worship and for occasions such as weddings and funerals.

What Is Bell Metal?

In recent times, an alloy called Bell Metal is used to make bells. Bell Metal is a mix of 78 % copper and 22 % tin.

Bell Metal is the perfect material for making bells because this metal alloy has the ability to sustain the resonance of the bell for a long time.

The following properties make the Bell Metal an ideal choice for making bells - sturdy, slightly elastic vibrates well, hard and does not bend or crack easily, can resist weathering and oxidization.

Tsar Bell in Kremlin
Tsar Bell in Kremlin | Source
The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell | Source
World Peace Bell
World Peace Bell | Source

Famous Bells Around The World

  1. The Tsar Bell in Moscow, Russia is the largest bell in the world that still exists. It weighs 400,000 pounds and was cast during 1733 -1735. This bell cracked due to a fire mishap in 1737.
  2. The largest bell ever made was the Great Bell of Dhammazedi that was forged in 1484 with a weight of 330 tons. This bell was lost to the floods of the Burma River 1608.
  3. The Mingun Bell located North of Mandalay, Burma is the largest bell that still rings. It weighs about 90.55 metric tons.
  4. The great bell of Kyoto in Japan is the second largest ringing bell in the world. It is located inside the Chion-In temple.
  5. The largest swinging bell in the world is the World Peace Bell in the Millennium Monument of Newport, Kentucky, United States. It has a weight of 66,000 pounds and a diameter of 12 feet. It was cast in 1998 by the Verdin company.
  6. The Bell of Seongdeok, South Korea is the largest extant bell in the world that weighs 25 tons. It is currently kept in the National Museum of Gyeognju.
  7. The most famous bell in American history is the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was cast by the White Chapel Bell Foundry and initially weighed 2080 pounds.
  8. The three notable bells in the United Kingdom are Great Paul in St. Paul’s Cathedral City of London, Great George in Anglican Cathedral Liverpool and Big Ben Clock Tower in Palace of West Minister City of London.
  9. The Big Ben clock tower is located in the St. Stephen’s Tower London. The bell had a weight of 13 tons and was installed in 1859. BBC started broadcasting the chimes of the Big Ben in 1924.
  10. The Great Tom is a bell that hangs from the Tom Tower of Christ Church in Oxford. This bell is still rung 101 times at 9 pm every day.
  11. The most famous Austrian bell is the Pummerin bell that is located in the north tower of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. It was cast in 1711, and it represents the victory of Vienna over the Turks.

Starting from China, metal bells have spread across the world and have become part and parcel of many cultures. Today modern technology has improved the art of making metal bells by leaps and bounds.

References

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Nithya Venkat

    Comments

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      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        3 years ago from Dubai

        Daisy Mariposa thank you, it must have great to see it in person.

        mary615 thank you, there are many explanations but no one knows how it really happened.

        whounwho thank you for stopping by.

        tillsontitan thank you, it must have been great to play songs with the "Melody Bells". Thank you for the many votes.

      • tillsontitan profile image

        Mary Craig 

        3 years ago from New York

        A great and original topic. One of those things we either see or hear and never give a second thought to.

        I remember as a child having a set of bells called "Melody Bells". I loved how each one was so different and I could play songs with them. Thanks for the memories.

        Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

      • whonunuwho profile image

        whonunuwho 

        3 years ago from United States

        Interesting and informative my friend. Well done. whonu

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        3 years ago from Florida

        I love bells. The country people where I grew up had bells that called us in from the cotton fields to eat. I still have our old family bell, and I used it to call my children in from play.

        Does anyone know why the Liberty Bell has a crack in it??

        Very interesting and infomative Hub. Voted it UP, and shared.

      • Daisy Mariposa profile image

        Daisy Mariposa 

        3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

        Nithya,

        I enjoyed reading your very informative article. I saw the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia a number of years ago. I had been aware of the bell and its meaning ever since I was a child. Seeing it "in person" was a special moment.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 years ago from Dubai

        midget38 thank you!

        VioletteRose thank you.

      • VioletteRose profile image

        VioletteRose 

        4 years ago from Chicago

        Very interesting information here! I never knew that bell was originated in China.

      • midget38 profile image

        Michelle Liew 

        4 years ago from Singapore

        Both creative and informational!! Ding dong!!

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 years ago from Dubai

        Jackie Lynnley thank you and yes the sound of bells is really enchanting! Thank you for the vote up and share.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        4 years ago from The Beautiful South

        A lot of information; thank you, and nothing more beautiful to hear is there? Voted up and shared.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 years ago from Dubai

        AliciaC thank you for stopping by and reading.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for sharing these very interesting and informative facts about bells, Vellur.

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 years ago from Dubai

        RachelOhalloran thank you. Bells ringing for Christmas celebrations is really wonderful. Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences. Thank you for your vote up and share, much appreciated.

        AudreyHowitt thank you and bells are fascinating instruments.

        DDE thank you and the sound of bells is divine.

        always exploring thank you and yes listening to bells is very enjoyable. Your sister-in-laws's bell collection must be amazing.

        FlourishAnyway thank you for reading, the vote up, share and pin. Much appreciated.

        teaches12345 thank you for stopping by . It must be great to hear the bell tower ring.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        4 years ago

        We have a bell tower near our home that rings on the hour. I love to hear its sweet melody play. I also enjoy the Christmas celebrations to include handbells. Thanks for the lovely education on bells.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 years ago from USA

        This is a unique subject and I enjoyed learning about the history and uses of bells. Voted up+++, sharing and pinning.

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        4 years ago from Southern Illinois

        I love listening to bells, esp. the Bell towers. My sister-in-law Irene collects bells, they are quite beautiful. Interesting hub. Thank you for sharing..

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        We have a village Catholic church close to our home and the bells ring at noon and at 6am daily. I like the sound of bells. I learned lots from you about the facts of bells.

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 

        4 years ago from California

        Bells are such an interesting instrument really--this was a great article on the subject!

      • RachaelOhalloran profile image

        Rachael O'Halloran 

        4 years ago from United States

        My first memory of bells was our local church ringing at noon. But my favorite ringing of the bells was outside department stores in New York City where I grew up. The Salvation Army and other charities with their kettle for donations rang bells to bring attention and at noon, a group would get together to perform "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" all with perfect harmony - each ringing their bell at the right time.

        I didn't become deaf until much later years. Whenever I visit NYC at Christmas time and see them at their stations with their bells, I can remember hearing them from years ago and it's almost like I can hear them still.

        I loved this history lesson on Bells and applaud you for your topic choice. Voted up, interesting, awesome and shared!

      • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

        Nithya Venkat 

        4 years ago from Dubai

        DealForALiving thank you. Listening to bells is really soothing.

        ChitrangadaSharan thank you, yes bells are important in many cultures. Thank you for the vote up and share.

        rebeccamealey thank you, I was always fascinated with bells and the art of bell making.

        billybuc am so glad you enjoyed, you made my day!! thank you.

        Pawpawwrites thank you, it is great to hear church bells ring.

        Nell Rose thank you, I love bells too! Thank you for reading, the vote up and share, much appreciated.

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        4 years ago from England

        What an interesting hub! And so different! I am fascinated with bells, I love reading about them, this was after seeing the big ben one, great read, voted up and shared, nell

      • Pawpawwrites profile image

        Jim 

        4 years ago from Kansas

        Interesting history on bells. We have a small church, in this small town, and they have a bell they ring each sunday morning.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I don't know why, but I greatly enjoy articles about obscure subjects. This was very interesting, and I'm impressed that you even thought of this topic.

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        History of bells! Very interesting, and what a unique idea to write about them!

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        4 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Bells are so important in almost every culture and every country. I must say you have done a wonderful job by sharing its interesting history.

        Voted up and shared on HP!

      • DealForALiving profile image

        Sam Deal 

        4 years ago from Earth

        Really interesting history! I actually have a few bells I keep around my place and use for chanting or just to hear the sound at times.

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