Protection by the manual bell-ringing

Protection by the manual bell-ringing
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Spain) ©Paz Cabello

Protection by the manual bell-ringing

We cannot protect the sound of bells and belfries if we do not protect the craft of the bell-ringer. We should promote research into the complex world of bells in the History of Art and in Music History. There are a few published academic studies but hardly any doctoral theses are under way, only isolated research.

Declaring a bell to be cultural heritage or of cultural value usually leads to it being dismounted and taken to a museum. They are put in inappropriate places: the bell was made to hang on its gable in the fresh air, its weight spreading from its shoulders to the rim; it was not designed to sit in a closed space with all its weight resting on its thinnest part, the rim, which is where the clapper strikes.

Putting a bell in a museum is to take it out of context and kill it, depriving it of its musician, carer and audience. Making a replica and putting the original bell in a museum —as in the cathedrals of Santiago, Murcia o Málaga— means forgetting that bells are instruments which preserve their original sonority, so that we can listen to the sounds of centuries gone by.

Declaring the manual bell-ringing of a place to be cultural heritage can be a protective measure, but the intangible heritage of bells is used, transformed and fungible. On very few occasions should we put a bell in a museum as documentary evidence of a certain kind of bell.