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Bellringers of Katlijk perform a centuries-old tradition

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

KATLIJK, the Netherlands - For centuries, villagers of the Frisian hamlet of Katlijk - just east of Heerenveen - have kept an old, late December tradition alive. They are still at it every year, and the local ‘St. Thomas Pealing’ means ringing two bells in a small, open bell tower 24 hours a day for ten days in a row.

Keeping up with the tradition this year is a concerted effort by twelve local men - the village only has 575 inhabitants - who have mastered the ‘craft’. Some fifty others, including a few young trainees, participate part-time. The master pealers not only must show endurance, they also need to synchronize the ringing.

Originally, the bell-ringing was meant - as were some other Medieval customs - to drive away evil spirits. The pealing begins on the saint's commemoration day, December 21st, and is continued till the midnight hour of New Year's Eve. Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, is in Roman Catholic tradition still revered for his compassion for the poor and the needy. In Medieval times, the 21st of December also heralded a number of other Mid Winter festivities, one of which is the sounding of large horns (a custom still observed in some Overijssel locations), while Sint Thomas Day in Flanders was a one-day occasion for children to shut out parents and teachers.

The only other Frisian village still under the spell of St. Thomas is Katlijk's neighbour Oudehorne, where bell ringers perform a similar ritual each year.

Bells suspended in a klokkestoel (bell chair) often can be found at cemeteries where they are rung to announce funerals.