Town mouse on a new peal of bells in Fleet Street

Is Christianity on the retreat? Not in Fleet Street. I don’t use the term metonymically, as referring to the press, but mean the place. The church of St Dunstan-in-the-West has a new peal of bells. When consecrating them, the Bishop of London observed that it’s the fourth such ceremony that he’s performed in the past couple of years. The 10 bells will first be heard ringing out a full peal for the Jubilee. The ringing of church bells is associated with St Paulinus, Bishop of Nola in the 4th century.

Nola is in Campania, hence campanology. Change ringing, however, is unique to these shores. The first bell ringers were university types, who delighted in complex mathematical permutations, the equivalent of Sudoku puzzles. Strictly speaking, the result, as Dorothy L.Sayers observed in The Nine Tailors, isn’t musical, being purely systematic, but it’s a joyous sound. The 10th-century St Dunstan was a bell founder, and the new bells are the work of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Nobody in the packed church, whose Romanian congregation spills onto the streets at weekends, could doubt the spiritual vigour of the occasion. In Town Mouse’s opinion, those responsible for filling the vacancy at Canterbury need look no further than the Bishop of London.