The Church Bells of Malta

DSC_0056.NEFFrom our farmhouse, we can hear the bells of three different churches. The closest church, in our village of Gharb, needs to get some work done on their bells–they sound decidedly flat and clanky.

At first they kept me up at night, but I’ve developed a real affection for them. There’s a little symbolic power to something that the whole community hears.

Early on, we noticed that the ringing of the bells didn’t follow the usual nine-bells-for-nine-o’clock model that I was familiar with. It was actually an interesting puzzle, though I don’t think I ever thought particularly seriously about the odd combination of bells.

Eventually I asked someone, and they explained how the bells work. There are two sets of tones. The first set applies to the minutes, and the second set to the hours. The bells toll at fifteen minute intervals, with the minutes bell tolling one to four times, and the hours bell tolling one to six times. Here are a few examples:

1:15 – bing, bong
15:45 – bing, bing, bing, bong, bong, bong
18:00 – bing, bing, bing, bing, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong (the maximum possible notes)

Because the bells work on a six-hour rotation, it’s up to you to determine if it’s 3:45, 9:45, 15:45 or 21:45.

Do other parts of the world use this system? Malta is the only place I’ve heard it.


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