2 min read
Posted on 10.30.14
  • 2 min read
  • Posted on 10.30.14

Sabbatha pango, funerea plango, fulgura frango. (I determine the Sabbath, I lament funerals, I break lightning.)

Excito lentos, domo cruentos, dissipo ventos. (I rouse the lazy, I tame the cruel, I disperse the winds.)

So reads the inscription on the 13th century bell at the Franciscan church at Assisi. It fairly describes what may be the greatest daily communal experience in a city like ours.

St. Louis is a home to churches. And to church bells. There isn't a neighborhood in which a tolling bell can't be heard.

We hear them daily at City Hall. We know the voices of a dozen different bells, led by the state's largest bell, which hangs in a tower of Christ Church Cathedral. Sometimes, the bells strike boldly; other times, they carry faintly, almost imperceptibly, from distant carillons.

A deep and ancient liturgical scholarship surrounds bells. They call the faithful to observance, to celebration, and - even - to conflict.

But to modern ecumenicals, a rich secular meaning can attach to the signal and "idealized image" of "the tolling bell in the bell-tower of the parish church, situated socially and spiritually at the heart of local community."

A city's bells' sounding connects us in our daily lives "not merely 'marking' the existence of a community," two historians observed, "but rather, one might say, appealing to their audience to respond to the communal call-rousing, summoning and hailing them in a discursive as well as a practical fashion," as "the nature of the community thus summoned by each stroke of the clapper can be social, spiritual and political." A bell's tolling, we know from experience, also may serve as a personal summons to peace, and a means to solace and contemplation.

Listen for the everyday bells of St. Louis in the days and weeks ahead. May they ring in peace, not alarm. May they appeal to our sense of justice for all in our community. May they bring solace to, and summon good will among, all its people. 

(Photo: Stereograph of Liberty Bell when housed in the Pennsylvania State Building at the 1904 World's Fair at St. Louis)