The Great Bells of Bow

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St Mary-Le-Bow, London

London’s Bow Bells are among the most famous in the world. These are the legendary bells that called Dick Whittington back into London to become Lord Mayor in 1392. People born within the sound of Bow Bells are considered true Londoners of Cockneys. And in the famous nursery rhyme, “Oranges and Lemons,” it is the great bell of Bow that says, “I do not know.”

This week, whilst walking to a meeting, I found myself outside the church of St Mary- Le- Bow and as a bell ringer, couldn’t resist a look inside. St Mary-le-Bow was damaged in an air raid in 1941 so the building today has been restored. This includes some striking stained glass windows designed by John Hayward. The windows are the first thing that captures attention in this church. Hayward’s design of Christ in Majesty has seven stars emanating from Christ’s right hand which represent the seven angels of the seven churches from Revelation. The seven flames are said to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. . The window of St Paul represents the Diocese of the City of London. In the other window is the Blessed Virgin Mary, representing the Patron saint of the parish. Above the windows was a smaller, more abstract window. This represents the Eye of God along with stars and the moon.

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St Mary-Le-Bow, London with the Eye of God above the main window

I did not hear the great bell of Bow on my visit but was fascinated to learn that there are a total of 12 bells in the tower which were cast in 1956 in Whitechapel Foundry. Each bell has an inscription from the psalms. The heaviest or tenor bell weighs 2135 kg and the smallest 285kg. Each bell also has an initial, spelling out D.WHITTINGTON. Bells are rung for church services and special occasions. During World War Two a recording of Bow Bells was played by the BBC World Service to give hope to the people of Europe. I really enjoyed that small escape from the busy streets of London to learn about this church, the bells, and the history.

Thinking of Visiting?

St Mary- le- Bow is on Cheapside in London. Admission is free but donations are welcome. And, there’s a great little cafe in the crypt called Cafe Below open on weekdays. The nearest underground stations are St Pauls or Bank.

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