Monday, November 17, 2008

Monastic Lexicon #6

Bells.

Common phrases you're apt to hear around the Mount.
"I'm on bells tomorrow."
"She has to leave for bells."
"Bells end at 9:00 now."
"Can you switch bells with me?"

Back when the motherhouse was downtown there was an elaborate coding system for calling each sister that involved a kind of Morse Code of ringing a bell. It was hung in a central hall where the sound echoed throughout the convent. Each sister had a code--ie: 23 meant two rings, pause, three rings. When a sister was needed that bell code was rung and she knew to come to the front hall.

Today the process of sitting at the front desk, handling the incoming phone calls at the switchboard, offering hospitality to all who come to the front door and even overseeing the portable phone throughout the night is still referred to as "bells"--even though there are no real bells involved at all.

We do, however, still hear the sound of bells as our electronic carillon and the bell tones it produces to call the community to prayer and other functions are a lovely ringing of bells.

When you are "on bells" these days this is one of the views you get in the front foyer: an antique sedilia from the original motherhouse.