Church Steeple, Bells and Ancient Customs!
A steeple is a witness in stone to God, as revealed through Jesus Christ: a witness to this village, a witness to the whole parish, but also a witness to everyone who arrives in Jersey by plane, for on the plane’s final approach, the church is one of the most noticeable structures that everyone sees!
Steeples are so shaped, pointing upwards to the sky, to where in ancient times, people believed that heaven was. In other words, the steeple points to God.
The prophet Isaiah said, ”How wonderful it is, to see a messenger….bringing good news: the news of peace.” (Is 52.7).
The steeple is like that messenger to us all and to the world around! It points to the fact that God in Jesus came to dwell, with His wonderful message of self-giving love in His entering His own created order as the baby Jesus at what we now call Christmas and then to offer Himself on the cross on Good Friday as a sacrificial self-offering for us all, out of love for us. In response, God raised Jesus from the dead to new life on Easter Sunday, to show that His love is greater even than death itself.
We are, in our Christian lives, to point towards God in Jesus, just like the steeple! We are to be messengers and bringers of love.
But we have to go further than that, good as it is: it is what’s in the stunningly beautiful inside of the steeple that reminds us of what this is…I’m speaking of course of the bells! In our Parish Church we are fortunate to have two bells inside the spire called Elizabeth (1649) and Mary (1754), named after St Elizabeth the mother of St John the Baptist and The Blessed Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus (There is an enchanting phrase on the side of Elizabeth which says in Norman French, “I am Elizabeth the cousin of Mary.” (Luke chapter 1 makes clear the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary) . The bells ring out the message of God’s love, across the whole parish, reminding us all, week by week and day by day, of that love. The ancient and unique custom here in St Peter’s, St Mary’s and St Ouen, the ‘western parishes’, of ringing the bells continuously on Christmas Eve and Day, admittedly originally to celebrate a victory over the French in the fifteenth century, now also happily suits the Church’s role too of ‘ringing out the bells’ to celebrate anew the great festival of Christmas, by proclaiming God’s love to us in Jesus through His birth, death and resurrection. Sadly, note due to Corona Virus restrictions, manual bellringing was not possible at Christmas 2020.
May our beautiful steeple, the tallest in Jersey, continue always, to point us and others to God and may the bells ring out the message of God’s love who is Jesus the risen Lord of all life. Let us all as a Parish, continue to play our part in this proclamation, by keeping both steeple and bells in good order too! I close with a quote from a much loved Christmas Carol:
“Ding dong merrily on high, In heaven the bells are ringing,
Ding dong verily the sky is riven with angel singing.
E’en so here below, below, let steeple bells be swungen and io, io, io,
by priest and people sungen: ‘Gloria in excelsis’.”
Addendum: There is also another much later and much smaller bell, situated unusually, on the outside of the tower (the steeple is on the top of the tower), connected to the Church Clock for chiming the time.