For Whom the Bells Toll? A Lesson in History

    For Whom the Bells Toll? A Lesson in History

    For Whom the Bells Toll is one Hemingway’s most famous novels. But this post is not about Ernest Hemingway, or about his hero, Robert Jordan, the young American soldier in the International Brigades. And it does have anything to do with the Spanish Civil War either. It is however a lesson in history. I don’t like using book or movie titles for my blog posts, but this time I couldn’t resist it. It just seemed to perfectly describe the subject I was going to write about.

    Those of you traveling through Christian countries might have heard carillons ringing in churches at different times of day. Of course, the primary purpose of ringing church bells in modern times is to mark the time for worshippers to gather for the church service. But do you ever ask yourself why do the church bells in Europe toll every day at noon? If you don’t know don’t feel bad. Many Europeans don’t know either.

    Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 9.23.46 AMFor those of you less acquainted with the European history, I’ll have to bring up the Siege of Belgrade in 1456, when Sultan Mehmed II mobilized his armies in order to crush the Kingdom of Hungary. This was a major issue that came up shortly after the fall of Constantinople (1453). The fall of the fortress city of Belgrade would have opened the gates of Europe to the Turks and that would certainly have changed the history of the world. János Hunyadi, the Voivode of Transylvania, who had fought many battles against the Turks in the previous years, prepared to defend the fortress. During the battle, Pope Callixtus III asked all Catholic kingdoms to pray for the victory of the defenders of Belgrade. He ordered the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon, as a reminder for the prayers. The siege turned into a major battle, during which Hunyadi led a sudden attack that overran the Ottoman camp. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror was wounded during that battle and forced to retreat, thus lifting the siege.

    The sultan’s defeat was a great and glorious victory for Christianity. Prayers of thanksgiving were sung in churches and church bells sounded in celebration.

    “The practice of the noon bell ringing in Europe was initially the Pope Callixtus III’s call for believers to pray for the victory of the defenders of Belgrade. However, since in many countries the news of the victory arrived before the Pope’s order, the ringing of the church bells at noon was thus transformed into a commemoration of the victory.”

    Few people really know that Hungary was the defender of Christian Europe against the invasion of the Turks and the Tartars, in the 15th and 16th centuries.