Bells as carriers of peace

Since time immemorial, there has been an association between bells and peace. In Antiquity, the sound of bells was used to chase evil forces. This apotropaïc aspect of bells was taken over in the Christian tradition, where bells became sacred objects. They were also believed to appease winds, to repel bad dreams, to chase demons, and to keep away weapons and bombs. The magic powers of bells were inscribed in their bronze: daemones fugo [I chase the demons] and fulgura frango [I break thunder and lightning]. Already in the 13th century, many bells bore the inscription O Rex gloriae, veni cum pace [O glorious Lord, come with peace]. In his famous poem Das Lied der Glocke from 1799, Friedrich Schiller wrote: Friede sei ihr erst Gelaute [Let your first sound be peace]. After the First World War, many peace bells were created, such as the Bell of the Fallen in Rovereto, named Maria Dolens, which was cast in 1925 to commemorate the victims of all wars, to name just one of them.

The association between bells and peace was revitalized after the Second World War, when Japanese Chiyoij Nakagawa founded the World Peace Bell Association. This organization aims at creating Japanese peace bells in different countries in the world, cast with the material of coins from all countries. At present there are 21 World Peace Bells in 17 countries. One of them is the peace bell at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Since 2002, it has rung every year on September 21, the International Day of Peace of the United Nations.

But there are many more peace bells in the world. Some of the most notable ones are the World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky, that rang to start a new millennium of peace in 2000, and the Bell of Hope, which was given by the city of London to the city of New York after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

On regular occasions, collective bell-ringing is organized to unite people around the idea of peace and reconciliation. One of the most memorable moments in this respect was the sound of bells at the moment of the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Carillons as carriers of peace

The association between carillons and peace started in the First World War. From 1914 on, many bells were silenced by the terrors of war, and as a result, poets in Belgium, England, France and the USA dreamt that they would sound again when peace would return to the world.

More particularly the destruction of a number of Belgian carillons made a strong impression in the Western world and was profiled as the brutal annihilation of a unique democratic music instrument, created by a brave people. After the war, the idea of war memorial and peace carillons emerged: a public music instrument was considered to be a suitable type of memorial, since its music is capable of continually revising the memory to those who had fallen. Moreover, the fact that many soldiers from Anglo-Saxon countries were buried in Flemish soil created a natural association between the remembrance of the war and the carillon. Although the total number of war memorial carillons was not very high, they were located in iconic settings, such as the Peace Tower of the National Parliament Building in Ottawa, the National War Memorial in Wellington, the city hall of Cape Town, and the universities of Toronto, Sydney and Leuven.

After the Second World War, new war memorial carillons were erected, among them the instrument at the University of Kansas. And it didn’t stop at that point. In later years, a number of other peace carillons were created, and new instruments are in preparation. An overview of those instruments is presented on this website.

Let us hope that the owners and players of the war memorial and peace carillons of the world will continue to mobilize their instruments for the sake of remembrance, peace and reconciliation. We believe that public bell music can create a climate of harmony in local communities and serve as an antidote to terror, fear and extremism.