Here we see the coffin of Edward the Confessor on its way to interment in Westminster Abbey, London. The acolytes are ringing 'spirit bells' (also called 'lych bell') to keep evil spirits from entering the body before it reaches its final resting place in the protection of the holy building of Westminster Abbey.
At the approach of death there was the 'passing bell'.
It was rung in the belief that evil spirits, ever waiting to seize a departing
soul, were driven off in terror at its sound. The ' passing bell ' was rung
for the last earthly hours of a dying person. It is one of the most universal
uses of the church bell.
When death came there was the 'death knell', which was both an aid to the soul after death and an announcement that a soul had left its body.
The 'lych bell' was rung during the funeral procession to the church. This consisted of sounding a handbell close to the bier. The custom of ringing bells near the corpse was to protect it on its way to burial and also to signal for bystanders to kneel as the coffin passed by out of respect for the deceased, and to make the proper signs for the salvation of their own souls in the presence of the mystery of death.
Meanwhile, at the church the 'Funeral Bell' tolled until
the procession entered the building.
As the procession approached the place of burial, the 'Funeral Bell' welcomed the corpse, where it would lie until the Resurrection Day. After the rites over the grave were finished, the 'Funeral Bell' tolled as the coffin was slowly lowered into the grave, and covered.
If later the remains had to be removed, a 'Moving Bell' was rung during the transference. The concern was to protect the body at all times with the sound of the bell.Return to Main Index