Bell tower

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A bell tower is a tower that contains one or more bells, or that is designed to hold bells, even if it has none. In the European tradition, such a tower most commonly serves as part of a church and contains church bells. In such cases the bell tower is located at the western end of the church.[1] Modern bell towers often contain carillons.

The Italian term campanile (/ˌkæmpəˈnl/; Italian pronunciation: [kampaˈniːle]), deriving from the word 'campana' meaning bell, is synonymous with 'bell tower'; in English it tends to be used to refer to freestanding bell towers.

A bell tower may also be called a belfry, though this term may also refer to the substructure that houses the bells rather than the tower as a whole.

Old bell towers may be kept for their historic or iconic value, though in countries with a strong campanological tradition they often continue to serve their original purposes as well.

Bell towers are common in China and neighbouring countries, where they may appear both as part of a temple complex and as an independent civic building. The tallest free-standing bell tower in the world, approximately 110 m, is the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, located at the University of Birmingham, UK.[2][3]


The Santo Tomás parish church in Haro, La Rioja has an exconjuratory in its bell tower

The bell is rung to signify the time; to call people to worship, or for special events such as weddings and funerals; or (historically) to sound a civil defense or fire alarm.

Bell towers may also contain carillons or chimes, musical instruments traditionally composed of large bells, which are sounded by cables, chains, or cords connected to a keyboard. These can be found in many churches in Europe and America and at some college and university campuses.[4] In modern constructions that do not qualify as carillons, rather than using heavy bells the sound may be produced by the striking of small metal rods whose vibrations are amplified electronically and sounded through loudspeakers. Simulated carillon systems have also used recordings or samplings of bells onto vinyl record, tape, compact disc, or memory chips.[5]

Some churches have an exconjuratory in the bell tower, a space where ceremonies were conducted to ward off weather-related calamities, like storms and excessive rain. The main bell tower of the Cathedral of Murcia has four.

In Christianity, many Anglican, Catholic, and Lutheran churches ring their church bells from belltowers three times a day, at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m., summoning the Christian faithful to recite the Lord’s Prayer,[6][7][8] or the Angelus, a prayer recited in honour of the Incarnation of God.[9][10] In addition, most Christian denominations ring church bells to call the faithful to worship, signalling the start of a mass or service of worship.[11] In many historic Christian churches, church bells are also rung during the processions of Candlemas and Palm Sunday;[12] traditionally, church bells are silent from Maundy Thursday through the Easter Vigil.[13] The Christian tradition of the ringing of church bells from a belltower is analogous to Islamic tradition of the adhan from a minaret.[14][15]


In AD 400, Paulinus of Nola introduced church bells into the Christian Church.[16][17] By the 11th century, bells housed in belltowers became commonplace.[17]


Historic bell towers exist throughout Europe. The Irish round towers are thought to have functioned in part as bell towers. Famous medieval European examples include Bruges (Belfry of Bruges), Ypres (Cloth Hall, Ypres), Ghent (Belfry of Ghent). Perhaps the most famous European free-standing bell tower, however, is the so-called "Leaning Tower of Pisa", which is the campanile of the Duomo di Pisa in Pisa, Italy. In 1999 thirty-two Belgian belfries were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. In 2005 this list was extended with one Belgian and twenty-three French belfries and is since known as Belfries of Belgium and France. Most of these were attached to civil buildings, mainly city halls, as symbols of the greater power the cities in the region got in the Middle Ages; a small number of buildings not connected with a belfry, such as bell towers of—or with their—churches, also occur on this same list (details). In the Middle Ages, cities sometimes kept their important documents in belfries. Not all are on a large scale; the "bell" tower of Katúň, in Slovakia, is typical of the many more modest structures that were once common in country areas. Archaic wooden bell towers survive adjoining churches in Lithuania and as well as in some parts of Poland.

In Orthodox Eastern Europe bell ringing also had a strong cultural significance (Russian Orthodox bell ringing), and churches were constructed with bell towers (see also List of tall Orthodox Bell towers).

Bell towers (Chinese: Zhonglou, Japanese: Shōrō) are common in China and the countries of related cultures. They may appear both as part of a temple complex and as an independent civic building, often paired with a drum tower, as well as in local church buildings. Among the best known examples are the Bell Tower (Zhonglou) of Beijing and the Bell Tower of Xi'an.

In the modern period bell towers have been built throughout the western world as follies, memorials and as decorative–iconic monuments, and are common on university campuses and other civic institutions.

Bell towers by date
Old Belfry of Todaiji, Japan (752, rebuilt 1200) 
An Irish round tower, bell tower, at Glendalough, Ireland, c. 900 AD 
Primitive bell tower at Katúň, Slovakia (~12th century) 
Campanile of Duomo di Pisa, Italy (1173-1372) 
Separate bell tower at Feock Church, Cornwall (13th century) 
Inside the belfry of St Medard & St Gildard's, England (13th century) 
Beijing Bell Tower (1272, reconstructed 1420, 1800) 
Belfry of Aalst, Belgium (1460) 
Ivan The Great Bell Tower, Moscow, Russia (1508) 
The belfry of Surb Zoravor church in Yerevan, Armenia (1693) 
Belfry of Bruges, Belgium (1240) (modified 1480s, 1820) 
Sather Tower, Berkeley, CA (1914) 
Belfry of Lille, France (1921) 
Campanile at the University of Northern Iowa (1927) 
The Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, FL (1929) 
The Campanile at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS (1950) 
The bell tower at University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA (1960s) 
The Addleshaw Tower of Chester Cathedral, England (1973–74) 

See also


  1. Diderot, Denis. "L'Encyclopedie: Bell Tower". Retrieved 1 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "25 tallest clock towers/government structures/palaces" (PDF). Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. January 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Campus tour booklet" (PDF). University of Birmingham. Retrieved 2008-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The World Carillon Federation (WCF)". Retrieved 2012-02-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Millennium Digital Electronic Bell Carillons by Chime Master". 2012-02-03. Retrieved 2012-02-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. George Herbert Dryer (1897). History of the Christian Church. Curts & Jennings. …every church-bell in Christendom to be tolled three times a day, and all Christians to repeat Pater Nosters (The Lord's Prayer) |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Joan Huyser-Honig (2006). "Uncovering the Blessing of Fixed-Hour Prayer". Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Early Christians prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. Medieval church bells called people to common prayer. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Matthew: A Shorter Commentary. Continuum International Publishing Group. 2005. Retrieved 2012-08-16. Moreover, the central portion of the Eighteen Benedictions, just like the Lord's Prayer, falls into two distinct parts (in the first half the petitions are for the individuals, in the second half for the nation); and early Christian tradition instructs believers to say the Lord's Prayer three times a day (Did. 8.3) while standing (Apost. const. 7.24), which precisely parallels what the rabbis demanded for the Eighteen Benedictions.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Joyce's Finnegans Wake: The Curse of Kabbalah, Volume 2. Universal Publishers. 2009. Retrieved 2012-08-16. The Angelus is a Christian devotion in memory of the Incarnation. Its name is derived from the opening words, Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ. It consists of three Biblical verses describing the mystery, recited as versicle and response, alternating with the salutation "Hail Mary!" and traditionally is recited in Catholic churches, convents and monasteries three times daily, 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m., accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell. Some High Church Anglican and Lutheran churches also use the devotion.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. The Anglican Service Book: A Traditional Language Adaptation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Together with the Psalter Or Psalms of David and Additional Devotions. Good Shepherd Press. 9 January 1991. Retrieved 2012-08-16. The Angelus: In many churches the bell is run morning, noon, and evening in memory of the Incarnation of God, and the faithful say the following prayers, except during Eastertide, when the Regina coeli is said.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Church Words: Origins and Meanings. Forward Movement. 8 January 1996. Retrieved 2012-08-16. It became customary to ring the church bells to call the faithful to worship and on other important occasions, such as the death of a parishioner.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Church Words: Origins and Meanings. Forward Movement. 8 January 1996. Retrieved 2012-08-16. It is also traditional that the church bells ring during the processions of Candlemas (the Feast of the Purification) and Palm Sunday.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Church Words: Origins and Meanings. Forward Movement. 8 January 1996. Retrieved 2012-08-16. It is traditional that no bells be rung from the last service on Maundy Thursday until the Great Vigil of Easter.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Church Words: Origins and Meanings. Psychology Press. 8 January 1996. Retrieved 2012-08-16. But even for Muslims who pray infrequently, the adhan marks the passage of time through the day (in much the same way as church bells do in many Christian communities) and serves as a constant reminder that they are living in a Muslim community.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Islamic Beliefs, Practices, and Cultures. Marshal Cavendish. 1 September 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2012. Muslims living in predominantly Islamic lands, however, have the benefit of the call to prayer (adhan). In the same way that much of the Christian world traditionally used bells to summon the faithful to church services, so the early Muslim community developed its own method of informing the entire community that the time for prayer had arrived.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Kathy Luty, David Philippart (1997). Clip Notes for Church Bulletins - Volume 1. The first known use of bells in churches was by a bishop named Paulinus in the year 400.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 Roger J. Smith (1997). "Church Bells". Sacred Heart Catholic Church and St. Yves Mission. Bells came into use in our churches as early as the year 400, and their introduction is ascribed to Paulinus, bishop of Nola, a town of Campania, in Italy. Their use spread rapidly, as in those unsettled times the church-bell was useful not only for summoning the faithful to religious services, but also for giving an alarm when danger threatened. Their use was sanctioned in 604 by Pope Sabinian, and a ceremony for blessing them was established a little later. Very large bells, for church towers, were probably not in common use until the eleventh century.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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