Holy Bells

HE who has visited Burmah or Russia will have no doubt about the reverence for bells, and special reverence being paid to special bells. There are fixed bells, and portable bells; the last being held in the highest estimation.

Their special virtue lay in dominion over the powers of darkness. Duly baptized bells, down to latter days, have been endowed with ability to disperse demons. When the Swedes under Charles XII. defeated the Russians at Narva, the courage of the Muscovites was revived by incessant ringing of bells, throughout Holy Russia, to drive devils from the sacred soil. That superstition still prevails with the followers of Siva in India.

Baptized bells possess other powers. St. Teilo brought a celebrated one from Jerusalem, that had such inherent sanctity, as to make known, in some way, its detestation of particular crimes.

Bells could even work miracles by their enchantments. The children of Lir were said by ancient Irish bards to have been changed by a Druidic wand, more powerful than that of a harlequin, into four swans. They had a dreary time of it for a few centuries. At first they dwelt in Loch Derg for three hundred years. Then they flew to the Sea of Moyle, between Erin and Alba. But the poor creatures still inhabited the bodies of swans. Their release, according to bardic tales, was thus effected:—"The bell that rang in the first Mass celebrated on Inis na Gluaise (Isle of Glory) restored them to their human shapes; but they were now emaciated and decrepid, and only waited for baptism to flee away to rest eternal."

Holy bells of Ireland are of distinct Buddhist shape, being of an irregular cylindrical form, as in India, &c., and not round as in Christian lands. Irish bells were often ornamented with crosses, the fleur-de-lis, and the pomegranate. St. Finnian's bell resembles that seen in Jain temples of India.

A number of so-called St. Patrick's bells are still preserved, as in the instructive and interesting Dublin Museum. They are of various sizes, the largest being a foot in height. He is said to have had fifty. The sweetest sounding one is known by the name of Finn Faidheach. Most of his bells were of bronze, often beautifully adorned after an oriental fashion. The Betechan is half iron. The Clogdubh or black bell of the Saint, an alloy of different metals, is about twelve inches high, and five by four otherwise.

The Tripartite Life of the Saint records his flinging a little bell under a dense bush, and in time a birch grew through its handle, revealing it to the eyes of Dieuill.

When he drove the demons into the sea at Croagh Patrick, Mayo, he flung after them his bell. It is not certain whether this was the Bearnan Brighde or the Dubh-duaib-seach. O'Donovan explains the occasion—"According to all the Lives of the Irish apostle, he remained for forty days and forty nights on this lofty mountain, which was then infested by malignant demons, who opposed his progress in preaching the gospel in this dreary region; but whom he drove thence headlong into the sea." This was effectually done by means of his bell.

Another account is that a bell was brought down for St. Patrick by angels from heaven, when a spring gushed forth at the place. He scared the demons away by it, aided by blows, and not by the mere ringing.

The shrines of these cherished bells have always drawn forth much admiration. Miss Stokes, in her beautiful work on Early Christian Art in Ireland, said, "Such covers or shrines for bells seem to be unknown to any other branch of the Christian Church."

Among other Irish bells may be mentioned one with a very handsome border. This was twelve inches high, nine broad, and nine and a half deep. There were the Clog Beannaighthe, the Clogdubh, the Cumaseach MacAntils of the Archbishop of Armagh, the Doumragh of Fenagh, the gapped bell of St Culann, the golden bell of St. Sevan, the bronze one given by St. Patrick to the Bishop of Cloghir, the magnificent bronzed one with gold filagree of exquisite workmanship, and the bells of St. Ruadhan, St. Mura, St. Mogue, or Maidoc, &c., &c.

The Dublin Museum has bells of St. Columba, which had the same virtue as those of St. Patrick in the expulsion of demons, and as the heathen Burmese still relate of their own holy bells. Bells were brought from Rome by St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Mungo or Kentigern, of Glasgow fame. It is singular that in the ruins of Zimbabwe, of Mashona Land, travellers have found some double iron bells. No bell has any charming power until duly consecrated by the priest of some faith.