Venture inside St John’s mediaeval bell tower

20151010_122630 (2)Boom. Light and air is vacuumed out as the heavyset wooden door seals behind you. Fittingly solid for the Gothic Revival edifice. Up and up the mediaeval spiral sandstone stairway. A respite of roof tiles, then further in through ducking rafters where the world is thick with heat, humidity and dust. At the end is another primitive thickset termination. Behind it is nirvana. An oasis of light and fresh vibrant air, the very opposite of before. And Ropes. Bells. Lots of bells. This is the vaunted Bell Tower of St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane that took over a century to build.

Ian the Tower Captain is passionate about this place. Fervently sharing his life’s work. A parent lovingly describing each of his 12 cast iron children. Most born back in 1876 when the cathedral was barely conceived. He says it’s a weird hobby, passed through the generations. His uncle was a bell ringer before him. Always looking to recruit more bell ringers, he says to me more than once.

The bells here are played in the English style, swung the full circle that allows the ringers to control the timing of the note. The result is a magical orchestral combination that seemingly could go on for ever. A full peel with the 12 bells is rarely played. Its intricate sound pattern exhaustingly taking over three hours to complete. This was last done for the consecration in 2009.

Recruits are trained for perhaps three months before being let loose. The complicated musical arrangements take years to perfect. The reward is entry to a feudal community of worldwide bell ringers. It’s possible to ring your way around the world, welcomed with open arms and an available rope. A visiting bell ringer was received here today. He was provided a place in the ancient circle and he rang away.

Each bell has a name. Ian asked for ‘Cecil’ to be rung up as a demonstration. The 387 kilogram number eight. Ready to perform in a mathematical pattern more beautiful than you could imagine. He leads a three minute celebration of change ringing. Always looking to recruit more I recall. This mediaeval craft just might be the go.

Click here to see the video of what happens after Ian asks ‘Can someone swing bell number 8 please?’

Click here to see and hear beautiful change ringing


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