Cost: Free

Early Ecclesiastical Hand-Bells in Ireland and Britain: Making, Using, Keeping

Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)

Early Ecclesiastical Hand-Bells in Ireland and Britain: Making, Using, Keeping

Lecture by Cormac Bourke FSA

Four-sided hand-bells are emblematic of the early Church (c 500–1100) in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They are made of either sheet iron or cast copper alloy and survive in exceptional numbers; 95 bells are known from Ireland and the totals from Scotland and Wales are 19 and six respectively; outliers include two bells from England, a further four of insular make from Brittany and one example from Bavaria. Several Irish bells are on permanent exhibition in London in the British Museum and Wallace Collection.

The proposed lecture refers to a book to be published in the first half of 2018 by the National Museum of Ireland – a study and catalogue of all 127 extant bells, including the metal shrines in which some bells were eventually contained, as well as 30 other bells that are typologically related. The manufacture of bells is addressed with reference both to archaeology and to recent experience in experimental replication. Consideration is given to antecedents and to overall patterns of dating and distribution.

The material evidence is complemented throughout by the evidence of documents as diverse as medieval saints’ lives, Tudor state papers and (for Ireland) the Ordnance Survey letters of the 1830s and the Schools’ Collection manuscripts of the 1930s. These and other sources allow the bells to be contextualised over a span of some 1400 years; they also allow a catalogue of lost bells to be compiled which will be presented in tandem in the book with the catalogue of extant examples.