600 Years Ringing to the People of Dublin – Celebration for St Audoen’s Medieval Bells
Church bells sounded over Dublin’s medieval city on Saturday afternoon (August 26) – the same bells that have tolled from St Audoen’s for six centuries. For more than two hours there was celebratory ringing to mark the 600th anniversary of three of the church’s bells.
St Audoen’s Church in Cornmarket is located just inside Dublin’s old city walls. It is the only medieval parish church remaining in Dublin. Its tower is home to six bells, three of which were provided for the church in 1423. Despite their age, the bells are in sound condition and retain their canons and inscriptions from their original cast.
Ringing ceased at St Audoen’s in 1898 when the tower was in bad repair. For almost a century the bells were silent until, in 1983, the bells and the tower were restored. At that time the 1423 bells were considered sound while the other three later additions had to be replaced. The restored installation was rung for the first time in the 20th century on Saturday August 16 1983.
From the 1980s until May 2023 there was no band of ringers attached to St Audoen’s and the bells were rung each week by ringers from three neighbouring towers: Christ Church Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Church of St Augustine and John (John’s Lane Church).
Last May, in recognition of the 600th anniversary of the three bells, a small group of ringers met at the instigation of Kathleen McEndoo and formed a new St Audoen’s Society of Bellringers. On Sunday May 7, for the first time since 1898, the bells of St Audoen’s were rung by members of a St Audoen’s Society of Bellringers.
Saturday’s celebrations concluded with Evensong led by the Rector, Canon Mark Gardner. The preacher was the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Very Revd William Morton. Also present was the Very Revd Ivan Tonge, PP of Ringsend, who represented the link with Rouen in France where Audoen was Bishop in 641.
Dean Morton said it was fascinating to imagine the changes – both in Dublin and the Church – that had taken place during the 600 years that the bells of St Audoen’s had been ringing.
“We commemorate the 600th anniversary of the three bells. But in a broader context we consider that we are able to listen to the same bells as the people of Dublin listened to 600 years ago. If we think of the age of this Church [which was erected in 1190 to 1250 AD], of St Audoen, of St Patrick and back to the days of Our Lord’s earthly ministry, what we celebrate today is set against the backdrop of a very broad canvas,” he said.
Referring to the reading [1 Kings 8: 22–24, 27–30], the Dean said that the text stood the test of time some 3,000 years later – that place and worship mattered.
“For over 1,000 years people have come here. Many over the last 600 years have come here because of the call of these bells. God’s people have come here to this place for spiritual solace… This is where we come to have a conversation with God in a place set aside from the ordinary. We need a spiritual home where we can feel connected with the Holy Spirit. These bells have called people to church,” he said.
The Dean observed that the bells don’t sound themselves and need ringers. He said that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who work tirelessly and to the art of bellringers. The service, he said, was in thanksgiving for St Audoen’s Church, for those who endowed the bells and for the faithful team of ringers “whose striking reminds us all of God’s love and constancy”.
Ringing master at St Audoen’s, Robert McDonald, thanked the Rector and the Dean, as well as the OPW (who operate the visitor centre at St Audoen’s). He also thanked Kathleen for providing the refreshments to the ringers during their two hours of ringing and thanked all the ringers who came from far and wide for the celebration of the bells.
The service included prayers and a hymn for bellringers.