Bell Ringing Methods in the Leaning Tower of Niles

Watching this video, you probably guessed that a computer communicates the programmed melodies to the external bell clappers, and that it keeps the bell performances on a schedule. And you are correct! And you are also correct that the Clock-O-Matic’s Apollo III bell controller can be accessed and manipulated via an onsite controller, remote, or online. But what mechanism, exactly, moves the clappers against the bells at the Leaning Tower of Niles? That is the power of electromagnets. When a bell is to be rung, an electromagnet in the arm is activated, pulling it back, which in turn pushes the clapper against the bell. The clapper is then pulled back by quick deactivation and spring action, preventing dampening of the bell.

But what are those ropes hanging down from the inside clappers? Those are for the much older, traditional method of manual bell ringing: “clocking.” This is simply pulling the rope to strike the clapper against the inside wall of the bell. The bells in this tower were originally rung in this manner, and what is surely not a coincidence, the bells in the Leaning Tower of Pisa are also rung this way. 

The Barga bell ringers perform a simple descending pattern on the historic Leaning Tower of Pisa bells. Clocking can be tricky–it’s important to not strike the bell too hard, so as to not damage it. The methodical, careful ringing of this group is a testament to their care for the precious objects. At 1:38, you can see some more exciting ringing action, producing a faster (but still careful and controlled) rhythm. 

You can imagine the possibilities with multiple bell clappers attached to ropes. Russian chimers have brought this method to stunning artistic heights, as these ones show at St. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Howell, New Jersey. Notice the clergyman making the sign of the cross? Chiming the zvon is a sacred act in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Once safe gatherings are permissible again, we will be training local Niles residents on clocking. I’m looking forward to it!

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