By Samantha Carolus
It’s the pealing one hears, every Sunday and occasionally during the week. With every ring of the bell and strike of the clapper, the Cathedral bells echo with history and pride as they ring for Christ, drawing people towards the church.
Included in the Spiritfest programme for 2019 is an interactive bell-ringing demonstration in the Cathedral tower. We first venture up the narrow spiral staircase made from cold, sturdy stone. At the top, we step over the threshold into the cosy ringing chamber. Once inside we marvel at the ten ropes which hang from the ceiling. In this room the ropes are the VIPs, as they even have their own names and numbers as well as an accompanying carpet on which they are laid to rest when not in use.
The tour includes a demonstration of ringing led by Catherine Letcher. How they work is explained with the aid of a well-crafted display, featuring a wooden model of the bell and paintings of the bell ringers.
Throughout the demonstration the steeple keeper and ringing master will explain how the position of the bell changes as you pull on the ropes.
Then the fun begins! The visitors are invited to pull on the rope of the lightest bell, weighing a mere 233 kg, and then they are able to compare that the heaviest bell, weighing in at a whopping 1.3 tons. After comparing weights, the group is then given a chance to ring small hand-bells in the same rhythm and manner in which the real bells are rung, so not only are they able to hear a melody, but they are able to create their very own melody too.
With every stroke of the clapper, history echoes. The eight bells originally made in 1879 in England, were recast and rehung in 1994 with help and support from Rhodes University, and in 1997 a further two were added. The Cathedral bell tower is one of six in South Africa and one of two in Grahamstown.
Ringing the bells is no easy task as it takes a minimum of six lessons before one is allowed to ring a bell alone. Fiona Semple, a retired bell ringer notes “I had always thought you simply just pull on a rope, but after learning how it is done, there is much more to it than meets the eye, or should I rather say, ear. It is both a challenging and fascinating task to undertake”.
The bell ringing tour is sure to be very interesting both to the ear and mind as you soak in its history and enjoy its melodies.
15 people maximum per tour. Tours are free, but donations are encouraged. Tickets will be given at the base of the tower. Come along on 29 June 1pm–1.30pm, 5 or 6 July 1.30pm–2pm and marvel at the magnificent bells.
For more about Spiritfest see http://www.grahamstowncathedral.org/spiritfest