Let the community ‘hear’ | Michaela Magro

Like every community service, bell-ringing requires much dedication and patience. It would certainly be a pity if such traditions are abandoned

Michaelo Magro sounding off some tones
Michaelo Magro sounding off some tones

Michaela Magro, Administrator II

In Malta, we have different kinds of traditions all intended to bring together our communities. Every town and village have their own traditions. One tradition not given that much importance is bell-ringing.

The harmony brought about by church bells ringing throughout the day is unique. These sounds occur in practically every Maltese town and village, and are heard most notably during the summer months when every Sunday includes a number of feasts across both Malta and Gozo, and special occasions, namely Christmas, Easter and funerals.

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Given that the sound of a bell represents something unique, each event has its own time signature. For example, in the older times bell-ringers used to wake up the country folk with the sound of the “Pater Noster” at 4am. This sound represented a signal for the villagers to wake up and kick off their day in the fields. The truth is that the older generation used to depend on the sound of the bells.

My first experience and encounter as a bell-ringer happened when I was 14, and I have never looked back. It was my first experience in our locality and the first time in Malta that a female person joined the bell-ringing group. Bell-ringing had previously been traditionally associated with teenage boys, because women were thought to lack the stamina and strength required. Bell-ringing helped me surpass difficult times; for this I thank parish sexton Christopher Bartolo who encouraged me to join the community of bell-ringers.

Like every community service, bell-ringing requires much dedication and patience. In due course I was also involved in leading and teaching a new generation of bell-ringers, and disciplining accordingly in this art. When ringing the church bells, one needs to show interest, precision, gentleness, and punctuality when pulling a rope cord. It is similar to playing an instrument: it is easy to get out of tune if you’re not careful... funnily enough the local community does notice when a mistake is made and the bells are out of tune!

It would certainly be a pity if such traditions are abandoned or taken over by artificial, electronic, forms of bell-ringing instead of the genuine experience of tugging a rope to the rhythm of the particular occasion.