By Gustavo Monge
Prague, Jul 21 (efe-epa) .- St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague is home to a dying tradition, being one of only four sites in the world where the bells are rung manually by volunteers every Sunday.
Some of the bells at the cathedral in the Czech capital are over 100 years old.
However, with the coming of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown enforced in the central European nation, the bells only rang out four times in several weeks.
“It was strange for the bells to stop ringing then, we could not imagine it since, in the past, the bells chimed even in times of war,” said the chief bell ringer, Tomas Starecky.
Starecky has been ringing bells since 1979, a task he performs “with love, joy and voluntarily.”
He is in charge of a team of twenty-one people who operate the bells an average of 130 times a year.
He considers the halt in Prague’s cathedral’s bell-ringing due to coronavirus “a shame” and “unnecessary” and adds that throughout his life there were “dangerous” moments for the activity, among which he mentions the communist regime (1948-1989), during which religious life was controlled and repressed by the totalitarian government.
Now, after the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic were lifted, the bell ringers are back at it.
They pull on the ropes shirtless, due to the heat and the effort, and wear protective helmets to avoid damage to their eardrums.
Starecky generally traditionally enlisted men for the job, although there are currently two women who are part of the team.
They take turns in groups of eight, the number of people necessary to ring the bells for fifteen minutes each time.
There are seven bells at St. Vitus, all of them in a bronze and zinc alloy and named after saints.
Wenceslaus, the oldest, was installed in the tower in 1542, and Sigmund, the largest, is over two-and-a-half meters centimetres.
Both began to chime during the reign of King of Bohemia Ferdinand I, a Habsburg born in Alcalá de Henares in Spain, and brother of Emperor Charles V.
Now, the bells ring every Sunday shortly before 10 am local time to herald the start of mass, and a second time to mark the beginning of the afternoon.
Only on very special dates do the seven bells chime all at once. Normally, six bells ring in the morning, and four at noon.
All of St. Vitus’ bells have rung together on occasions like the pope’s visit to Prague and during a tribute in “memory of the fallen soldiers in Afghanistan,” Starecky recalls.
Regarding the recruitment of candidates, the main bell ringer says “people sign up alone.”
“I’ve been here since 1979, for an incredible 40 years. Under my leadership, over 150 bell ringers have rung with me.”