Tolling bells

Wherever you go on Lesvos, whether over the main roads or along the quiet dirt paths, into towns, villages or hamlets, on mountaintops or deep into the woods, there are always churches standing guard. They vary from the miniature churches at the roadsides, to the small churches that are spread flowerlike throughout the landscape and to the large churches with sturdy bell towers.

Different churches

The miniature churches (kandylakia) mark a place where someone was killed or injured through an accident. It is the family that places the little memorial church and then ensures that a candle always burns inside. 

Small churches or chapels are built in honour of a saint, giving thanks, or asking for protection. At least once a year, on the nameday of the saint, a priest comes to celebrate; thereafter the little church returns to its own musings. However, few of those churches risk suffering neglect, for people regularly come to clean or to burn a candle, no matter in what backwater they lay.   

Greece has 9.792 officially registered churches, monasteries included, that are run by priests, most of them in villages and towns, with bell towers in many sizes and shapes, often standing apart from the church building. Even a tree can be used as a bell tower. Tolling the bells is a regular event, following rules that are occasion-specific. For example: if at seven in the morning you wake to church bell noises –nit’s a big chance it will be for a memorial mass. When the bells sound an hour later it might be because of a birthday party of a saint. For even more happy events bells are tolled in the afternoon, as for weddings or baptisms. 

Other uses

They are also sound ‘alarm’. In case of wild fires they sound loudly and wildly to warn the populace and ask them to come and help with fighting the fire. Or they can be used to make a statement. On July 24, in 2020 the bells in the whole of Greece played a song of mourning.— to let Turkey know that they mourned because Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the ex – Christian Eastern-Orthodox cathedral had, that day, officially become a mosque. The patriarchs even use bell tolling when they do not agree with national politics, For instance a few years ago they had the bells rung to protest against the government’s proposal to allow gender change (a law that has since been successfully installed). 

Easter Bells

Non-believers may sometimes consider chimes as terror. In the Netherlands there are some court cases against tolling bells. Those protesters have probably never have been in a Greek village where bellringers are crazily enthusiastic. This ‘terror’ is at its worst in the days leading up to Easter, when it’s not only the loud ‘bim bam bong’ that forces you to cover your ears, but also the priests‘ singsong to the masses, broadcast all over the village through a rickety loud-speaker system. This can happen many times a day, because Easter is an important Orthodox event with many traditions like processions, decorated churches, the midnight mass, fireworks and endless sermons.

The wind will spread the bell tolling and the loud bangs and smoke of fireworks all over the island. But the smaller churches will keep quiet during the days of Easter. Especially on the islands, like Lesvos, there are many of these quiet little churches looking out over the sea. They have to watch over all the fishermen and other seafarers that go out on the sea (in the past many more than today). Most of those churches therefore are in honor of Saint Nicolas, patron saint of seafarers. Also churches dedicated to Maria are in great number: for the women that stay behind.

The chiming of a bell in the small churches, most of them having only one bell, some even none, is heard just occasionally. But when their bells speak, they deliver a message far away over the fields. So you should not allow yourself to be seduced by the rope of a bell, no matter how remote the church maybe,