The traditional religious festival of the Immaculate Conception, held every year on the eighth of December would not be complete in Barga without the sound of the bells in the Duomo ringing out over the city the night before for one solid hour – the so called “Doppio dell’Immacolata” and tonight was no exception.
From nine o’clock until the stroke of 10 o’clock the three huge bells at the top of the Duomo tower were kept in motion by a team of bell ringers – the Campanari of Barga.
A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century (prior to the Great Schism of 1054). It looked to the West in the eighth century. In the eighth century it became a feast of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the only one of Mary’s feasts that came to the Western Church not by way of Rome, but instead spread from the Byzantine area to Naples, and then to Normandy during their period of dominance over southern Italy. From there it spread into England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.
Prior to Pope Pius IX’s definition of the Immaculate Conception as Church dogma in 1854, most missals referred to it as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The festal texts of this period focused more on the action of her conception than on the theological question of her preservation from original sin. A missal published in England in 1806 indicates the same collect for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was used for this feast as well.
The first move towards describing Mary’s conception as “immaculate” came in the eleventh century. In the fifteenth century Pope Sixtus IV, while promoting the festival, explicitly tolerated those who promoted it as the Immaculate Conception and those who challenged such a description, a position later endorsed by the Council of Trent.
The proper for the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Medieval Sarum Missal, merely addresses the action of her conception.
The collect for the feast reads:
O God, mercifully hear the supplication of thy servants who are assembled together on the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may at her intercession be delivered by Thee from dangers which beset us.
In 1854, Pius IX made the infallible statement Ineffabilis Deus: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” – source
The Gruppo Campanari of Barga – the bell ringers of Barga were in action this evening in the Duomo high above the city for the “doppio dell’immacolata” The three bells are rung for an hour.
The bell ringers did their thing high in the tower. And this wasn’t just ding-dong, ding-dong. Rhythmic patterns rose and fell and weaved around each other. It turns out there’s a “Gruppo Campanari,” a bell-ringers club, in Barga, and it takes skill and practice to earn this duty …. The three bell ringers themselves stood directly under the bells, with their backs to us and their arms stretched above their heads, tapping and knocking the clappers against the bells to make their music. The bell ringers turned to face us, grabbed the thick ropes hanging from the bells and put their backs into it.
Soon enough, the bells were swinging around their axles, up to the nearly vertical, pausing, then flashing down and around again. And yes, it was deafening, but the tones were pure and clean. It makes a difference. I was starting to get a grasp of the bell ringer’s challenge. He may be tugging and sweating to make an impossibly heavy bell do his will, but it’s really a job of finesse.
Pull a little too hard or not hard enough, just one time, and his note will sound early, or late. And there’s a delay – at least, it seemed this way to me – between the moment he pulls on the rope and the moment the clapper strikes the bell.
Oh, and he’s part of a bell combo.
It’s like three guitarists playing a song, but with each playing only every third note.
No wonder the bell-ringers stare into space, lost in concentration. Their ears are working as hard as their muscles.
– text from an article by Dan Montgomery published on the dailypress.com site