The Meaning of the Tolling Bells ~ Romancing Italy

Jul 13, 2009

The Meaning of the Tolling Bells

The bells don't just mark the passage of time, they convey different messages. In the Borgosesia area, there are 13 churches but the one I hear the best, the closest of the country villages, brought my attention to the different meanings of the toll.

I'm used to the bells tolling on the hour and am tickled by the fact that the churches are not synchronized, so I hear their bells counting down the hour one after the other...thirteen different tones, near and far.

On Sunday, I hear the bells that call the village to church. They play a lovely melody but at 7:30am, I am not inclined to join them and the church is far enough for it to still be a "lovely" tune. The bells also ring out in song when the service is over and people spill out from behind the large, ancient doors to return home and celebrate the day over food.

We are probably more used to hearing joyful bells celebrating a wedding but they are also used to announce a death. Here in Borgosesia, I've heard them ring at odd times and assumed they were for a funeral. In Bivongi in the south, the bells have a certain ring to inform the village of a death.

Four bells with different tones are involved:
  • One bell is used to give notice of a death
  • Another tone is used to indicate the sex of the deceased (thus one bell for a male and another bell for a female)
  • The last bell signifies that the person died in town. Silence after the tone indicating if it was a man or woman says that they died elsewhere.
Word of mouth is still the best method as it tells you WHO passed away. It's always a sad time when someone dies, but I have to admit I am curious to actually hear what the bells sound like...probably more so from the fact it is like a code and I want to decifer it.

The chimes on the hour are now automated, but the others (naturally) are rung manually. I also seem to hear the bells when I don't need to know the time. One hot mid morning, I was outside cutting weeds and decided to stop when the one o'clock hour arrived. Of the thirteen church bells that were to bring my relief, I heard NONE.


  1. While living in Maarssen a/d Vecht the Netherlands I lived 100 m from a church...and it rang it bells every hour....365 days a year..)))
    I didnt need a watch..))

  2. You certainly know your bells and obvioulsy don't have much choice other than to hear them. I used to live in Old Hatfield Hertforshire where the church bells rang every hour and half hourly. When I moved I was lost for time. The bleeringer int he evening were always practising and the scales were out of tune, rather painfully. I am not in earshot of bells here in Bulgaria unless the wind is in the right direction.
    The less the bells ring the better as far as I'm concerned.
    Take Care


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