Italians Battle Over Church Bells

The Italian town of Sormano, about an hour from Milan, will soon wake again to the now controversial sound of church bells thanks to the generous donation of a 90-year-old grandmother. Whether the 650 or so inhabitants of Sormano will be grateful for the gift is perhaps another matter.

Maria Mazza, born and raised in the town, will fork over 20,000 euro to fix the bells in the parish church of St. Ambrogio which she feels have too long been silent.
In recent years, irritated citizens from all over Italy have waged wars against noisy church bells.

Although ringing from bell towers once regulated Italian daily life, since locals now rely on alarm clocks, cell phones and the Internet for important information there is much debate about for whom the bell tolls. The question of whether churches have the right to ring bells throughout the day — and sometimes at night — has split even practicing Catholics. While Italians may ‘listen to both bells’ (sentire tutte le campane) to mean giving equal consideration to both sides of an argument, many simply don’t want to hear bells, period.

After years of complaints, parish priest Don Bruno Ginoli was actually put on trial and fined about 150 euro in 2002 for disturbing the peace after ringing church bells ‘too vigorously.’ Part of the problem is that technology has also come to bell towers — they can now be set to ring automatically and with volume controls — so it’s a matter of trial and error before some overzealous priests strike a balance.

Sleepless Italians in numerous cities have called in the national health service to gauge the decibels of church bells — often finding that they are loud enough to be considered ‘noise pollution.’ Concern over the matter lead the Bishop of Bergamo to pen a decree about when and how often the bells can ring out, though he did reinforce the idea that bells would not be silenced because they are part of the traditional way that the church communicates with the parishioners.

Mazza, however is optimistic about her gift, “It’s a special way of thanking God for having reached this age,” said the former nurse. “I wanted to give something back to the town which has given so much to me.”

Whether the people of Sormano will remember her fondly or curse every time they hear the bells is perhaps a different story. 1999-2007

Zoomata is the brainchild of a bilingualjournalist based in Italy who thinks out of the box. This brain is for hire.

Related resources:
A Bell for Adano
How times change — the Pulitzer-prize winning tale of an Italian-American major in World War II who wins the love and admiration of the locals when he searches for a replacement for the 700 year-old town bell that had been melted down for bullets by the fascists…

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2 thoughts on “Italians Battle Over Church Bells

  1. I think the objection to the bells, certainly in Italy, is a long standing tradition, as well as being communicative.
    I often remember my parents saying that you could tell exactly what was happening when they rang.
    In Britain, bells are rarely heard now, and it is very dull without the sound I fondly remember as a child and growing adult, and the ambience certainly suffers without them.
    I am annoyed at the new breed of person who moves to an area with a tradition of church bells, then complains when they ring.
    You would not move to an area with an airport if you did not like the sound of planes.
    Existing people living in a catchment area of bells will have been raised within earshot of this lovely and emotive sound, which has existed for centuries.
    I can only suggest the pathetic moaners move to another location.
    It is not rocket science, the bells have been there for generations, and Italy would not be the same without them, definitely not.
    Do not follow the whims of these pathetic objectors, – let them move if they do not like it.

    Victor Gorni (GB)

  2. I am a Malaysian Indian and I come from a Roman Catholic Family. My readings on the Italian saints and the Italian culture always made me believe that Italians are very cultured, family oriented, as well as religious people. This article certainly surprised me.
    Malaysia is a Muslim country but suprisingly the authorities have never troubled us Catholics about our Church bells. In fact the people here, whether they are Catholics or not admire and appreciate the sound and melody of the church bells.We enjoy hearing the continuous peals during weddings, feastdays and processions.Our faith is strenghtened each time we here them. Their peals are far more beautiful, greater and meaningful than those lousy pop and rock songs which is being blasted through loud speakers everywhere and people call them “music”
    Our bell traditions were brought to us by the Portuguese, and largely by some Italian misionaries a few centuries back. I was not surprised when I heard the similarities of peals in the movie ‘The Godfather’ when Michael goes to hide in Sicily and the ones in my local Parish Church.
    I once asked my parents what they realy missed when they came back from a trip to Italy. They said it was the church bells ringing all over Rome.I hope Italy will keep this tradition forever.

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