The bell towers and the bells are one of the first things people
notice at Saint Meinrad. The towers lead people into Saint Meinrad
and the bells call the monastic community to prayer.
"Our bells call me and all my brother monks five times a day to
assemble in the church to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to
celebrate the Eucharist," says Fr. Barnabas Gillespie, OSB. "After
living many years in the monastery, I must admit to sometimes not
hearing the bells, unless I make a conscious effort to do so. But
whether I hear them or not, I know they are ringing. They have rung
out over the hills and valleys that surround us for most of our
According to the History of St. Meinrad Archabbey, by
Fr. Albert Kleber, OSB, Fr. Ulrich Christen, OSB, purchased and
blessed a set of three bells in 1859. Bells are named during their
blessing and "St. Benedict" hung in a tower over the monastery,
"St. Michael" hung over the choir and "St. Henry" hung on a willow
tree with another bell that had been purchased in 1854. This
purchase was controversial because Fr. Ulrich didn't have even 30
cents to mail a letter to Einsiedeln announcing the purchase.
The bells are mentioned again in the book during the 1887 fire.
A seminarian was in the bell tower ringing the bells to alert
everyone of the fire and, one by one, the bells came crashing to
After the fire, the metal from the bells was sent to the
Stuckstede Bell foundry in St. Louis and cast into a set of six
bells. A benefactor donated a wooden clock tower for the bells
until the church towers were built. The clock from that tower is
now in the Archabbey Church's bell tower.
Today, Saint Meinrad has two bell towers. One tower has four
bells and the other has two. Bells five and six are often described
to be as big as Volkswagens, so big that they lift the ringer off
the ground when it's time to stop them.
Seven different ringing patterns are used, depending on the
liturgical calendar. For a regular day in ordinary time, only two
bells are rung for vigils and lauds and vespers. On a big solemnity
or feast day like Easter, Christmas or St. Benedict, all six bells
"The tone of the bells works its way into your soul," says
Archabbot Justin DuVall, OSB. "I can tell how much time I have left
until Office [Liturgy of the Hours]begins depending on where the
ring is, having rung them myself as a novice, but also over the
years growing used to the pattern."
As part of monastic formation, the novices are responsible for
ringing the bells. It helps them learn the rhythm of life in the
monastery and teaches them to rely on the other monks. One person
can ring bells one through three alone, but they need an extra
person to ring four bells. Bells five and six take one person each
to ring them because of their weight.
The novice who is bell ringer for the week is responsible for
finding other monks to help with the ringing.
Bells are rung for other special occasions, such as the death or
election of a pope, the election of an archabbot, and the eve and
day of solemn profession and ordination.
When a monk dies, a death toll is rung for the number of years
the monk is professed with a minimum of 15 tolls. Bell five is used
for the death toll and it has a separate rope that causes a hammer
to strike the bell once. Two monks are usually in the bell tower to
ring the death toll. One keeps count for tolls and the other keeps
time. There are 15 seconds between each toll.
"My aging ears perk up when I hear the great bell begin the toll
for a monk who has just departed this life," says Fr. Barnabas. "A
sad moment indeed, but even then joy is not overlooked as the toll
is replaced by the pealing of all the bells to, we pray, announce
his entrance into heavenly glory."
Every monk has experienced ringing the bells. Many have stories;
some have nightmares about bell ringing. They are a part of the
life here at Saint Meinrad.
"For over 160 years, a Benedictine monastery has stood and
flourished on this hill," says Fr. Barnabas. "For almost that long,
a lone bell or several bells have rung out, not only to invite
everyone to prayer, but also to express the joy we monks feel in
having been chosen by the Lord to live out our lives in this