The Flying Bells of Easter

Discover the unique way France rings in its Easter celebrations

By Google Arts & Culture

Journey of the bells to Rome, allegorical drawing (2017-02-02) by Grandville

If you’re in the USA, on Easter Sunday it’s traditionally the Easter Bunny who brings chocolate eggs and treats to children across the country. In Australia, confectionery arrives courtesy of the Easter Bilby. In France, they’re delivered by someone slightly less fluffy: the flying bells (les cloches volantes).

Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, Northern tower, bells (1949) by Séeberger FrèresCentre des monuments nationaux (CMN)

Throughout the year, church bells are pretty busy in France. Up and down the country they’ll ring several times a day, and are especially raucous on a day of celebration. But on the Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thursday), the bells fall silent. Why? Because according to French Catholic tradition, they’ve sprouted wings and flown to Italy.

Basilica di San Pietro in VaticanoYouth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

The legend goes that in remembrance of the death of Jesus, the bells head to the Vatican carrying with them the grief of anyone who is mourning the crucifixion. Here, they are blessed by the Pope before starting their long journey back.

Chocolate Easter eggs by Sally Anscombe

But the bells don’t come back empty-handed. Along the way, they collect colored eggs and chocolate to distribute to all the well-behaved children in France. The flying bells drop these gifts from the sky on the morning of Easter Sunday so that they scatter around people’s gardens.

Girls searching for Easter eggs by Ariel Skelley

When the lucky children wake up they will run out, basket in hand, and hunt for the treats among the flowers and grass. The bells then return to their churches just in time to jubilantly ring out to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. So while there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to spot the bells swooping through the air, you will be able to hear when they’re back…

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