Bells of the Reformation - England
Bells in England before the Protestant Reformation had a strong collection to Our Lady.
In 1536, by an injunction of Thomas Cromwell, working as vicar-general of Henry VIII, the Angelus was outlawed. This deeply English-Catholic devotion was banned, not because of any scruple about the Hail Mary (which was prayed three times at 6 am, three times at noon and three times at 6 pm by the English people at the ringing of bells throughout the land) but, as it was expressly declared, 'out of hatred to the Pope'.
Pope Sixtus had granted indulgences at the request of Elizabeth, wife of King Henry VII, to those who prayed three 'Ave Maria's at these traditional times.
A special bell was set apart in the countless Catholic churches throughout England for centuries before King Henry VIII broke with Rome and took the country with him into schism. The special bell was called the Gabriel Bell and was reserved to ring for the morning and evening Ave's.
In almost every peel of bells throughout England, one bell was reserved for Our Lady, to whom England had been consecrated as her Dowry. Prior to the devastating attack upon the Mother of God throughout England at the Protestant Reformation, inscriptions upon church bells were almost always religious.
Church bells were part of the plunder of King Henry VIII, King Edward the VI and Queen Elizabeth I. Almost the entire history of many centuries of honour given to Our Lady through the ringing of bells throughout her Dowry was eradicated, destroyed and purged from the country, and subsequently from the minds of the people and the history of the land.
The naming of bells had been an ancient Catholic custom in England. They were part of the culture and history of the country, as well as a form of devotion given in honour of the Mother of God.
For instance, Abbot Evesham in 1160 had two large bells made called Jesus and Gloria and William Boys, abbot in 1345, made two other great bells called Mary and Egwin.
On the bell named in honour of Our Lady was written:
'Me sonante pia succurre virgo Maria.'
What was truly wonderful about this devotion to Our Lady ever present in England through the glorious peeling of bells was the invocation to Our Lady infused in this devotional act.
One such inscription on a bell read:
"The rose when shaken fragrance around
The bell when struck pours forth melodious sound;
The heart of Mary moved in earnest prayer
Will scatter graces everywhere."
Oftentimes an inscription upon a bell read:
'Mary, let thy blessing fall
Upon those who hear my call.'
These beautiful inscriptions that brought down many graces through the loving hands of Our Lady upon the children of her Dowry were condemned by the Protestant Kings and Queens of England under the devilish 'excuse' that these inscriptions were held as
'being holden to be superstitious,' and thus 'were defaced, erased, washed over, or obliterated'
by the commissioners in the first year of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Catholic Martyrs of the Reformation, priests and recusants alike, were often arrested, imprisoned and fined for honouring the outlawed devotions such as lighting devotional candles, carrying rosary beads and honouring Our Lady in images and even bells.
Perhaps this Christmas, whenever we hear mention of 'bells' in our hymns, readings and even the actual sound of bells at Mass, we might turn our hearts to Our Lady and pray especially for England, her Dowry, that the great devotion to her that was once so deeply established in this country will return.
For films about the English Martyrs and figures of the Reformation in England: