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Keep calm and carillon! Church bells ring out in Belgium in worldwide solidarity for Ukraine

17:53 06/03/2022

Ukrainian melodies filled the air in some 15 Belgian cities this weekend, as local bellringers showed solidarity with the war-torn country in an international peace initiative.

Chiming in unison with tunes like ‘Prayer for Ukraine’, ‘Marigolds’ and the Ukrainian national anthem, were hundreds of churches and cathedrals in 30 countries around the world.

Belgian towns such as Tournai, Mons and Ath joined the action by the World Carillon Federation.

“It’s a change from our usual repertoire,” Ath bellringer Pascaline Flamme told RTBF. “We recognise certain sounds specific to Eastern European countries. These are beautiful pieces of music. And above all, it’s a beautiful message of hope that we want to send to the Ukrainian people and to our colleague from Kiev, the bellringer Iryna Riabchun.”

While bellringers in the Ukraine capital were having to take shelter every time an alarm sounded, they drew comfort from their fellow campanologists’ peals of peace around the world.

Riabchun said to RTBF in a WhatsApp exchange: “This action by the World Carillon Federation does us good. We feel this vibration. We are stronger with this support."

The Carillon for Peace was also supported by Russian bellringers, says the federation. But the bells of Saint Petersburg remained silent this weekend as playing Ukrainian songs risked angering the authorities.

Back in Ath, Flamme was adding his own personal touch to the repertoire with the song Imagine by John Lennon, so that local listeners could “understand that it's an action for peace".

Belgium’s carillon tradition was recognised by Unesco in 2014. The unique musical instrument consisting of chromatically sequenced bronze bells, has rung out from church towers and belfries across the country for more than 500 years.

Photo: Saint-Julien Church, Ath

Written by Sarah Crew