I don’t usually use books or movie titles for my post, but this time I couldn’t help it. It seemed very appropriate. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is one Hemingway’s most famous novels, but this post is not about Ernest Hemingway. Nor is it about his hero, Robert Jordan, the young American soldier in the International Brigades, during the Spanish Civil War. This post is about a question that I hear quite often. A question that you might have asked yourself when visiting Europe: Why do church bells ring at noon?
Those of you traveling through the European countries might have heard carillons ringing in churches at different times of day. Of course, the primary purpose of ringing the church bell is to mark the time for worship services. But did you notice that in Europe the church bells ring every day at noon? If you don’t know why, don’t feel bad. Many Europeans don’t know either.
The Story of the Noon Bell Tolling
For those less acquainted with the history of Europe, I’ll have to bring up the Siege of Belgrade. The military blockade occurred in 1456, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II mobilized his armies trying to crush the Kingdom of Hungary.
The attack was a major issue for the entire Europe, especially after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The fall of the fortress city of Belgrade would have opened the gates of Europe to the Turks and that would have certainly changed the history of the world.
In 1453 Hungary was in a difficult situation, as it had no strong centralized kingship. The Kingdom had been torn by rivalries in the years preceding the battle. The most powerful of these leaders was János Hunyadi, the Voivode of Transylvania, who had fought of many battles against the Ottomans before. Seeing the fall of Constantinople and the imminent invasion of the Turks, Hunyadi quickly tried to make peace with his enemies and united the Hungarians against the aggressor. But none of his rival was willing to assist him in the battle. Thus at Belgrade Hunyadi stood alone against the Ottomans.
During the siege of Belgrade, Pope Callixtus III asked all Catholic kingdoms in Europe to pray for the victory of the defenders. He ordered every church to toll the bells 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. The Turkish advance was stopped for the the next 70 years.
The Significance of Noon Bell Ringing in Europe
The sultan’s defeat was a great victory for Christianity. Prayers of thanksgiving were sung in churches all over Europe and church bells sounded in celebration.
Pope Callixtus III ordered the noon church bell ringing throughout Europe to call believers to pray for 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 was transformed into a commemoration of the victory. Hence, the noon bell is still rung to this day for the memory of Hunyadi’s victory against the Turks.
Although Belgrade eventually fell to the Turks in 1521, the Battle of Belgrade deserves to be remembered. Hungary played a key role in the defense of Europe against the invasion of the Turks in the 15th century.