US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Bells versus the bailiff

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Oh dear. In the news today is the 10-day suspended sentence of the bishop of Phoenix for ringing the cathedral bells too often and too loudly. Sounding off at the top of the hour from 8 AM to 8 PM, the bells were violating the city's noise ordinance, which permits two minutes of ringing on Sundays and certain religious holidays only--at 60 decibels or less.

Not sure this is really a religious issue--the bells were only chiming the clock hours--but it's too bad if you like bells (which the city fathers and mothers of Phoenix evidently do not).

The controversy called to mind a recent article in The New Yorker about the return of some Russian Orthodox bells from Harvard to Russia. In Orthodoxy bells, like icons, are "windows," aural rather than visual, to the divine. The are not tuned, so each has its own voice and, it is said, personality. When "persecuted"--whether by Peter the Great, who tried to make them into cannons, or the Soviets, who tried to melt them down--they are said to have resisted. One refused to break, five others disappeared, and another group refused to be removed from their perches--then falling off in a huff. One bell was even sent to the gulag by Ivan the Terrible.

Perhaps the Phoenix bells are still trying to figure out what to do.