The Virgin's Chimes

RingingMatters at a... RingingMatters at a...
Fri Jul 4 13:54:11 BST 2003

Having read, with interest, all that has been posted about the Tellers, 
Passing Bells and Curfew Bells, I wonder if anyone can help me to discover more 
about The Virgin’s Chimes? These have been rung at Kirkby Malham, according to 
published records, for centuries. If this is so, is it possible that the 
tradition/custom has spread to, or from, other churches?

John W Morkill, a noted local historian wrote, in November 1933, in his large 
volume entitled "The Parish of Kirkby Malhamdale":
"An interesting survival of bygone times is the midnight chime, on Christmas 
Eve, in honour of the Virgin. Ascending to the bell-chamber, the ringers on 
this occasion manipulate the tongues of the bells with their hands. The 
strokes follow a prescribed order - two strokes on the small bell, one on the middle 
bell, two on the great bell and, again, one on the middle bell. The order is 
repeated until the first note of midnight and is resumed for a few minutes 
after the hour has struck. If, as seems probable, the chime had its originin 
pre-reformation days, it may perhaps be inferred that the tower possessed bells 
from the time of its erection"
(The tower dates from 1495.)

>From the late 1980’s, when the custom was restarted, after decades of silence 
in the tower, the "ringers" sat on the floor and clasped the flight of the 
clapper with both hands. They then pulled the clappers towards them in the 
order given above. Since augmentation they stand under the bells to ring the 
Virgin’s Chimes but still ring only the old trio of bells (6th, 7th, and 8th of 
the new eight).

What I would like to know is:
1. Can anyone explain the origins of this custom?
2. What is the significance, if any, of the order of striking?
3. Is an identical custom practised elsewhere?
4. Is a similar custom practised elsewhere?
5. What other unusual/special ring is practised on certain days in other 
And, finally:
6. As there were so many three bell towers (before the Victorians melted 
them down and recast them as lighter rings of six or more), what is the 
significance of this number of bells? Was it to do with the Holy Trinity?

Malcolm Bland
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