Funeral toll

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Church bells are sometimes rung slowly (tolled) when a person dies or at funeral services.

Photograph of cemetery bell tower.
Bell tower at Forest Home Cemetery in Fifield, Wisconsin. The bell is tolled during funerals.

Church bells are rung in three basic ways: normal (peal) ringing, chiming, or tolling. Normal ringing refers to the ringing of a bell or bells at a rate of about one ring per second or more, often in pairs reflecting the traditional "ding-dong" sound of a bell which is rotated back and forth, ringing once in each direction. "Chiming" a bell refers to a single ring, used to mark the naming of a person when they are baptized, confirmed, or at other times. Many Lutheran churches chime the bell three times as the congregation recites the Lord's Prayer: once at the beginning, once near the middle, and once at the "Amen".

"Tolling" a bell refers to the slow ringing of a bell, about once every four to ten seconds. It is this type of ringing that is most often associated with a death, the slow pace broadcasting a feeling of sadness as opposed to the jubilance and liveliness of quicker ringing.

Customs vary regarding when and for how long the bell tolls at a funeral. One custom observed in some liturgical churches is to toll the bell once for each year of the life of the deceased. Another way to tell the age of the deceased is by tolling the bell in a pattern. For example if the deceased was 75 years old, the bell is tolled seven times for seventy, and then after a pause it is tolled five more times to show the five.

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