Funeral toll

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Photograph of cemetery bell tower.
Bell tower at Forest Home Cemetery in Fifield, Wisconsin. The bell is tolled during funerals.
English style full circle bell with clapper half-muffled. A leather muffle is put over one side only of the clapper ball. This gives a loud strike, then a muffled strike alternately. The bell is shown inverted in the "rest position". Half-muffles are usually used for funerals and occasions of remembrance or mourning.

The Funeral tolling of a bell is the technique of sounding a single bell very slowly, with a significant gap between strikes. It is used to mark the death of a person at the funeral or burial service.

The expression "tolling" is derived from the English tradition of "telling" of the death by signalling with a bell. The term tolling may also be used to signify a single bell being rung slowly, and possibly half-muffled at a commemoration event many years later.


Three bells would be rung around the time of a death. The first was the "Passing bell" to warn of impending death, followed by the Death knell which was the ringing of a bell immediately after the death, and the last was the "Lych bell", or "Corpse bell" which was rung at the funeral as the procession approached the church.[1] This latter is closest to what is known today as the Funeral toll.

Today, customs vary regarding when and for how long the bell tolls at a funeral.

In churches with full-circle English bells, for commemorative services such as funerals, memorial services and Remembrance Sunday, the bells are rung half-muffled instead with a leather pad on one side of the clapper in call changes or method ringing. Very rarely are they rung fully-muffled with pads both sides. This can often be a Quarter peal or Peal - the latter lasting three hours.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walters P 154-160
  • Stahlschmidt J.C.L: The Church Bells of Kent: Their inscriptions, founders, uses and traditions, p126. Elliot Stock, 1887
  • H B Walters, The Church bells of England. published 1912 and republished 1977 by Oxford University Press. .
  • The Church Bells of Kent
  • Bells and Mourning