Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums General `Bell Stuff` Significance Of Number Of Bell Rings

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    • #11894

      I am trying to find information on the number of times a bell is rung for different things. Somewhere I once read about it but, all I can remember is 7 rings is the end or perhaps end of life. 8 rings is the beginning or maybe a new beginning. Does this ring a bell with anyone? Some of you may know of David Hall a man from the Fort Worth Texas area who traveled thousands of miles with his full sized replica of the Liberty Bell which he rang at funerals of Veterans and active servicemen. His website was and still is ( I think) ProclaimLiberty.us There are many pictures of the huge bell and trailer on the site. At the funerals he rang the bell 7 times and he told me it meant “The End Of Life On Earth” David passed away and I have started doing the same thing on a much smaller ( 18″ Bronze ) scale. Many people have asked me why 7 rings and I just tell them what David told me. I would like to find some information on it so I can give a better answer.

    • #16623

      An interesting question! And very hard to answer, because there simply was no set standard code! (Now remember we are talking about the ‘outside’ bells, not the hand bells used inside the churches!)

      My understanding is that the church bell was initially usually the only bell available in a community, back in the 17/1800’s to early 1900’s. They were used in a variety of ways, so it is a bit difficult to precisely ‘codify’ the rings. Often it was very specific to the area. As clocks and other time keeping instruments were not in common use back then (really Clocks did not come into wide spread use until the railways rather forced the issue), the church bell was the primary form of time communication too. There apparently is a bit of a myth that the specific ringing of the church bell was mandatory but my research so far seems to indicate that the church steeple bell ringing (except for a couple of specific religious dates – including a period when NO bell ringing was permitted!) was entirely optional and left up to each parish/group. Often they were simply rung to alert parishioners that it was time for devotionals (morning/noon/evening “angelus bells”).

      This site has a nice summary:

      Besides that, they were rung to announce births, deaths (as you noted), community and civic leaders meetings, as fire alarms for the fire brigade, to help guide lost folks in the woods home (remember this is before GPS’s!), and a variety of such other uses.

      The site MYSENDOFF.COM points out another such ‘death’ example, besides your 7 rings:
      “The number of times a bell tolls varies by customs, but one custom is to ring once for each decade of the life of the deceased, pausing, and then ringing for the years in any unfinished decades. Sometimes the sex of the deceased was also rung out in bells, 3 chimes for male and 2 for female.”

      So you can see there is no ‘hard rule’ set involved!

      Towards the late 1800’s, as family clocks were usually out of reach of most, they also marked a specific time in the morning, noon, and evening to let folks know when to go to work etc. But again the exact code rung depended on the parish. Later they switched to just the noon bell.

      Here is an article showing the basic code for the Holy Trinity in San Francisco for example:

      As more bells were added, the rings became musical in nature – to the point that there are some very grand ring tunes now in many areas. In fact, a whole group of individuals called “Carilloners” or “bell ringers” developed from ringing bells in musical patterns! Many civic parliamentary buildings use them too – ours has an organ keyboard attached that is played by a pianist! I had the pleasure of listening to the bells in Lunenburg Nova Scotia last summer, they use real bells and they play actual tunes that way too! I highly recommend the visit!

      Here is a neat site on this type of ringing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_ringing

      The pattern of the rings is also important, typically they are “ringing” – the standard ding-dong sound, Chiming – a single ding at a time, and Tolling – the beats spread out at about 4 to 6 seconds apart.

      The forms of the bells also became important, both in size and in metal content, to give them different ‘voices’.

      I’ve probably rattled on enough about it, but I think I may have provided some additional food for thought on the subject. And I haven’t even touched upon some of the other patterns such as: they were used to communicate between towns, and there were war measure rings that were also developed during various wars (American Civil war, WWII etc.).

      Good luck with your research on this, perhaps other members will have further insights from their histories and memories! It will be interesting to see what turns up!

      So how about it out there? Do you remember the ring codes for bells in your life? ‘Sounds’ like a useful piece of data to ‘ring’ forward (puns intended!) before this history is lost, to me!


    • #16624

      A most interesting post. You have gone into great detail and opened up an area that I was only dimly aware of. Many thanks. Teddy.

    • #16625


      Thanks for your reply and the information. I will read through all of it. Here is the exact information I was given by David Hall. Again, I do not know where he obtained it but, he used it for a long time and he was almost a work of art in his use of it.

      1. The Separation Bell is the toll of one. It can denote a beginning or ending period of time or of an event, a separation of events or names of individuals being honored in succession.
      2. The Double Bell signifies the arrival of the burial party to the gravesite. This is a first alert that the funeral party is arriving at the cemetery. Each of the burial detail is to prepare to receive them.
      3. The Two Second Bell sounds every time the American Flag or casket is in motion. Honor is given at every movement until that movement has ceased. Veterans and those in uniform are to salute, and others place their hand over their heart.
      4. “The Toll of Ancients”. Three single bells denote the death of a child, three sets of two bells is the death of a woman, three sets of three bells is the death of a man. This is the first part of the “Toll of the Ancients.” It is followed by the one ring for each year of the life lived. The ring of the ancients or the “Death Toll” for a 25 year old male Soldier consist of three sets of three rings followed by 25 individual rings of approximately 3-5 seconds apart depending on the Belladier’s decision.
      5. The “Toll of Seven” is the final toll of the bell at a funeral. At the concluding of the Military portion of the ceremony, after the officer has presented the Flag, the bell will toll seven times signifying a “Life given for ones Country”— seven being number of completion—life is complete –the 7 rings are five seconds apart.
      6. One hour before the Funeral service begins the Bell is tolled in the same fashion as the Liberty Bell was rung for President George Washington at his passing. In honor of the Thirteen Colonies the Bell is tolled on every thirteenth swing or about once every 26 seconds. At the gravesite during the assembling period the Bell is tolled in the same manner. The Bell never tolls during the service.
      7. “The Belladier” is the keeper of the Bell.

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