In a recent post, I featured Leonard Cohen’s Anthem. The opening lines of the song call on us to “Ring the bells that still can ring….” I find these words exceedingly poignant because the only “ringing” bells we have left to ring are at St Paul’s ,in the Christchurch suburb of Papanui.
Our city’s main peal of 13 bells used to be in our old Christ Church Cathedral.
In the earthquake of 22nd February 2011, the bells came tumbling down, along with much of the rest of the Cathedral. As far as I know, all 13 of the bells are currently back, where they were cast, at the John Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, Leicestershire, undergoing extensive and expensive repairs.
When they will be heard again, in Christchurch, is anybody’s guess, considering the length of time it takes to rebuild a city, but it is conceivable that I will not hear these bells again in my lifetime. Fortunately, there are sensible people who thought to record the Cathedral Bells when they were still ours to hear. But, sadly, even a recording is not quite the same as the real deal.
At St Paul’s there is a peal of 8 bells and there is a history of bell ringing at this church that dates to 1880. These bells, and the wooden structure of St Paul’s, came through the earthquakes relatively unscathed, but some earthquake repairs were required and the church was closed for a while as a result.
All the work has been completed now and St Paul’s is looking fresh and revitalised.
And the bells continue to ring out, strong and true, on Wednesdays and Sundays. It’s a good feeling, knowing that this church building, that has been on this site since 1877, has life and strength in it to last for many years to come; thanks to careful workmanship and the beauty and resilience of the kauri wood from which it was built.
For some of our citizens, who were anti-campanology, in a NIMBY sort of way, the lack of bells in the city must be a blessed relief. But, for me, an erstwhile British subject and child of the Colonies, reared on the sounds of London’s bells, as formulated in that old nursery rhyme, “Oranges and Lemons”, a city is incomplete without the ringing of bells.
Some of my readers may remember the silence of the bells in the United Kingdom for the duration of the Second World War; they may remember that such silence leaves a hollow, a void in our sensory space, that is, somehow, deafening.
So, here I sit, trying to ‘ring the bells that still can ring’
Early Churches in and around Christchurch by Derek and Judith Hamilton http://www.whitcoulls.co.nz/book/early-churches-in-and-around-christchurch/2741647/
The Mother Goose Treasury by Raymond Briggs http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Goose-Treasury-Raymond-Briggs/dp/0241908000
The Children’s Bells by Eleanor Farjeon http://www.amazon.com/The-Childrens-Bells-Selection-Eleanor/dp/B000I0PP70