Monday, 30 December 2013

Campanology - That Word Rings a Bell

Campanology, Bell ringing,


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[modern Latin campanologia, formed as CAMPANA: see -OLOGY.]

The subject of bells, their founding, ringing, etc.

Anyone that's ever lived within earshot of a bell tower knows how their sound becomes part of the locale, part of the personality and spirit of the place. Campanology, while it might sound like the study of all things affectedly marvelous and theatrical, is actually a broad subject covering virtually all things bell-related, from the science of their design and the materials used in their construction, to their history, culture and traditions. And, of course, the art of bell ringing. To accommodate the revered place bells have in human culture (the earliest bells ever discovered have been dated to 3000 BC), English has a variety of campan- words, originating from Late Latin campana, meaning 'bell'. These include:

Noun. E17
1 A bell; a bell-shaped flower. Now rare or obsolete. E17
2 A bell-shaped vase. E19

Adjective. M18

Noun. L19
A person versed in the subject of bells; a campanologist.

Noun. M19
An expert in campanology, a student of bells.

Adjective. M17.
Chiefly BOTANY & ZOOLOGY.  Bell shaped.

Some of the world's most famous bells include Big Ben in Elizabeth Tower, London, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and the Tsar Bell in Moscow which, while currently the heaviest bell in the world at 180 tonnes, is actually a campanalogical virgin as it's never been rung. In terms of sheer size, however, all of these are dwarfed by the mighty Great Bell of Dhammazedi from Hanthawaddy Pagu (modern day Myanmar). Cast in 1484 for the Schwedagon Padoga, it weighs about 300 tonnes and is 6.3m high. In 1608, however, Portuguese mercenary and professional git Filipe de Brito stole it and had it rolled down a hill and loaded onto a raft to be towed by his flagship along the Yangon River. The raft, however, was clearly not up to the task of tugging a 300 tonne bell and quickly sank, taking the bell and de Brito's ship with it. Despite numerous attempts to salvage it, the Great Bell of Dhammazedi remains there to this day, under 8m of mud. De Brito, for his troubles, was later executed by impalement, the punishment reserved for those that defile Buddhist temples. 

These are jingle bells, which are also kind of famous
(photo by Richard Wheeler)
Are you a campanologist?

Do you live within the sound of ringing bells?

What rings yours?

Do please hammer out your most campaniform comments below.


  1. Just what, exactly, was Mr. De Brito planning to do with the bell once he got it?

    Just imagine the .gifs, memes, and YouTube parodies we would see if he tried that stunt today...

    1. Well, get this: apparently Mr Filipe "Don't Mind If I Help Myself" de Brito was planning on melting the bell down for metal to make more cannons, no doubt for use in more gittery and bedevilment.

      (I only read that on Wikipedia, and couldn't find a second source so I didn't include it in the article).

      Like I said - what a git!

  2. What about the bells from the NĂ´tre Dame? I think they're quite famous as well, Victor Hugo and Walt Disney Studios made sure of that. Not sure if they're a proper campanile though. Maybe they're just bells in general.

    Brr, execution by impalement. That's horrible. How long would one continue to live with a stake drilled all the way through them?

    1. Oh there are just so many variables, Bibi - are we talking transversal impalement, or longitudinal, or ... well this is all rather nasty. I'd rather death by chocolate. Or fish and chips.

    2. I wonder why no one has tried to salvage it today. We have the technology.

  3. I have a small collection of tiny bells from the 1900's...does that count? lol Happy New Year ring the bells of the earth! (It's really early, so you can see I'm a bit off my rocker.)

    1. Oh yes of course! Come ye, big bell and small, into the fold of the campanologist's thrall ...

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