Bell Associations

The bell ringer is a person who is in charge of ringing the bells for any occasion or event in the Christian religion according to a specified number of precise signals, which vary from place to place and which have been codified over the centuries. Nowadays this person is wrongly named as the sacristan.

Almost always, the bell ringer was (and still is in many cases) the person in charge of taking care of and winding antique clocks in the bell towers of the churches. The term can also be used to indicate those working in general with bells, both the bell founder and the maintenance keeper.

Since Italy is characterized by sound systems and installations that vary depending on the region, several companies and associations of bell ringers have been organised in the various regions of Italy to safeguard and promote this ancient art. In Italy, since 1960, an annual national meeting of bell ringers is held to show the main techniques of sound in different regions. In Italy and in the world the bell ringers have created these associations in order to promote and preserve their ancient art.

Italian bell ringers concerts and the different regional customs and traditions

When referring to a "concert" of bells one starts from a minimum number of two or three elements. Currently, the following classification is had:

  • Churches are usually equipped with one or two bells either in the oratories, chapels, convents or monasteries
  • Most Italian churches are equipped with three or more bells

Each region in Italy has different rules, customs and traditions for their bell sounds.

During the three culminating days of Holy Week the Catholic and Anglican Christian churches do not ring the bells. (In the Ambrosian ritual the bells ring just until the announcement of the death of Our Lord on Good Friday). Instead of the bells playing, the sounds are replaced by so-called instrumenta tenebrorum , deriving from Semantron, ie wood planks still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern-ritual Catholic churches. They are sometimes also called lignum sacrum. These tablets have iron handles which create a thud each time they are shook. They are also known by the dialect names of "battuelle" in the Liguria region, "toccaredi" in villages in the province of Catanzaro, "battole" in Veneto, "battistàngole" in the Marche region or "trocculi" in Sicily. In Spain, a similar instrument is called matraca and is installed directly in the bell tower.

Classification of bells

Bells can be classified according to the way they are installed:

  • fixed bells, meaning that they are connected to beams or supports
  • “Swinging bells” or "flying clapper bells"
  • Offset bells or "falling clapper bell

Even though to the ears of the profane the sound of bells may seem all the same, in Italy there are several sound systems for swinging bells, namely for fixed bells or still bells and for the combination of these two types. In Italy, in fact, every region has its own sound arrangement.

Fixed bells

Are devoid of strain, meaning that the counterweight does not have to bear the strain of swinging bells of any kind. They are anchored to joints or beams and are played by the percussion of the clapper inside (if played by the bell ringer) or by external hammers (called "hammers " if played by an electro-automatic system). In Italy fixed bells are almost always of a small size and are positioned inside the bell tower, especially if they are part of a complex of large bells. In carillons, which are widespread in northern Europe you can reach a number of 60 or more bells in a single bell tower.

“Flying clapper” bells "or "freely swung bells"

These are bells that have a lightweight yoke, very slightly counterweighted, in view of the fact that it must accomplish quick swinging movements producing a series of close chimes from one another.

In the "classic" type systems, in order to produce sound, the bells must reach at least a 60 ° of inclination (even though there are systems which have a double joint clapper which can play even with a more reduced movement). This bell sound system has the clapper hooked under the pivot pins making it free to swing upwards and to strike against the bell; it has been said that the clapper, which is usually heavier than other mounted systems, "caresses the bell."

In this system, the clapper is released immediately after the bell strike and therefore does not reduce the harmonic leaving the vibrations free as opposed to the counterweighted system. This is why the flying clapper bells are able to maintain very prolonged vibrations. This system is typical in Europe (eg: English "change ringing"), the Bolognese system used in central and southern Italy and in the Tyrol region and some parts of the Triveneto area

"Offset" bells or "Falling clapper" bells

These are bells that are equipped with a heavy yoke , ie very counterweighted. Owing to this fact they can perform more or less slow swings thereby producing series of longer interval bell chimes. Being so well counterweighted they can easily reach the "upright bell position - glass" which means that they can easily reach a 180° rotation after just a few oscillations. They produce sound as soon as they are tilted as in this type of bells the clapper is hooked either higher or to a higher level than the height of the rotation pivots and then goes on to strike the bell always towards the down oscillation.

To summarise:

  • the clapper hooked higher than the pins of rotation make the bell swing very slow therefore creating much longer interval chimes between one another (system used in ambrosian-Lombard region)
  • the clapper hooked under the pivot pins making it free to swing upwards and to strike against the bell. It accomplishes quick swinging movements producing a series of close chimes from one another. This system is typical in Europe (eg: English "change ringing"), the Bolognese system used in central and southern Italy and in the Tyrol region and some parts of the Triveneto area

Upright bell position-glass

The “upright bell position-glass” of the bells is used to create different sounds such as: bolognese, Lucchese, Umbrian, Ambrosian, and Veronese sounds. The bolognese, Lucchese and the Umbrian sounds are made with falling clapper type bells whereas the Ambrosian and Veronese type with flying clapper bells. Umbrian type bell sounds, called " rinterzo", and are those whereby the bell is positioned above the main bell, and through repeated increasingly significant oscillations, the bell stops in a 180° position like a "glass" type position . The bell clapper then strikes the minors (two or more bells remain stationary) thus creating a rhythmic sound played at intervals which the large bell produces whilst it makes a full rotation. A bell sound system relative to the Ambrosian ritual, but which is also widespread in many parts of northern Italy owing to the strong influence put forth by the traditions of the diocese of Milan, depends principally on the type of structure on which the bells are mounted, the so-called "inceppatura" (type of yoke (framework)). This kind of framework (inceppatura) is typical in Lombardy, Liguria, most of Piedmont, Veneto and a part of the Emilia-Romagna regions in Italy.

Once the bells start to swing they can play peals (without a sequence) to create simple limited degrees of oscillations compared to their axis or “a concert” (following a precise number of “sganci” chimes). On appropriate supports of the '"frame structure" of the bells where each bell is placed you can find a spring which has the function to withhold the bell from making a complete turnover but to hold it in the upright position “glass type position” and then send it back down through the control rope of the bell ringer. When the rope is released, the bell in a slightly tilted position, will come down. The halting and bringing the bell to a standing position is obtained by a small bracket placed on the wheel which clashes with the cross piece. To perform a solemn concert the bells must be placed in a tilted position at 180° from the standing position. Once the bell has reached this standing position called “a bicchiere” (“glass” type position” - mouth at the top and a counterweight at the bottom), the bells are released one at a time or in pairs (making a musical chord ). They are then overturned (at this point at approximately 360 °) emitting a toll every time in which the clapper falls on one of the two edges of the bell, while the bell is turning. So, each time the bell turns over you will have two strokes, one when the bell is released (sgancio) and one when it returns to the main position. Depending on the time that each bell takes to make this rotation it is possible to compose a certain number of sequences of sounds with the ability to achieve special concerts used mainly in the dioceses of Lombardy as a sign of solemn liturgical functions.

The largest concert using the Ambrosian system sound of bells, is located in the Diocese of Bergamo and has 17 bells fully manually activated using the ropes. It can be found in the bell tower of a church in Albino (BG).

Dati Aziendali

Sede legale: Aeris elettronica Srl
Via Antonio De Nino n°22 (zona Ind.le Vallecupa) - 64010 - COLONNELLA (TE) - ITALY
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