History Of Bells

Bells are used all over the world for everything from musical entertainment to funeral rites.

Bells are regularly used in every country from Russia, to South Africa to China and of course, the United States. Though the use of bells is universal, their significance and symbolism varies drastically from continent to continent and from culture to culture. For example, in America, the Liberty Bell is viewed as a symbol of our freedom and independence, and the school bell symbolizes freedom and independence from stuffy classrooms. However most symbolism related to bells is religious in nature. Churches use bells to call worshipers inside, and the origin of bells in Christian worship can be traced all the way back to the "dinner bells" in the Old Testament. Bells are also used quite abundantly around Christmastime in the USA. In Europe, bells are also associated with Christianity, however in this case they are used to either signal ceremonial events or to simply be enjoyed as musical instruments. It has been said that Saint Patrick hauled a giant bell into Ireland during the 5th century as a means of helping him to perform miracles.

Bells can be made of anything from clay to wood to metal, and are generally classified as percussion instruments. Some bells are also decorative as well as percussive, for example, the small brass "tiger bells" found in the Philippines. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first bell came into being, we do know that they are some of the oldest man-made musical instruments. There are depictions of bells in stone tablets dating all the way back to the 4th century BC. In China, actual bells (which are considered to have spiritual powers) have been discovered dating back to the 5th century BC.

In the 8th century, an English Saint by the name of Bede first introduced the idea of ringing bells at a funeral. By the ninth century, bells had become an integral part of rites and rituals performed in the churches of the Western Roman Empire.

Though bells were readily accepted in the Church in the West, in the Eastern Roman Empire, which is now known as the Byzantine Empire, bells were slow to catch on. Eastern Orthodox Christians were used to listening to the sound of semantrons, which were narrow, hand-held wooden slats that were hit up and down with hammers as a means to pound out a rhythm rather than a tune.

Bells have a long and diverse history throughout the world, and many have wound up as part of museum displays and priceless collections. Whether they are being used as part of a religious rite or merely as decorations in a curio cabinet, one thing is for sure; bells are a huge part of people's lives and cultures.

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