7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Holding a Sacred Bell by Marc Calhoun

With the days turning dark and rushing toward the sacred holidays, I'm so pleased to offer this guest post by author/explorer Marc Calhoun who has spent twenty years exploring the Hebrides and written two books about them published by The Islands Book Trust. (And he is my big brother!)

It is amazing the impact a good author can have on a reader: for me, one of those authors was Alasdair Alpin Macgregor (1899-1970). He wrote lovingly about Scotland and instilled in me that same love. One of the first books of his I read was a collection of folk-tales called The Peat Fire Flame (1937); a book that kindled an interest in the history of Scotland and its early Celtic Christian Church.

A chapter in The Peat Fire Flame titled Bell Lore, describes some of the handbells used by theearly Celtic missionary saints in Scotland.

A saint’s bell was his prized possession; used to call the faithful to church and rung at certain times during Mass. I learned that one of these ancient handbells is still to be found in situ, standing on the altar of a church founded by St Finnan in the 7th Century.

It took two attempts over a period of five years to visit the church of St Finnan’s Bell; 
for it lies on a small, uninhabited island in a remote Scottish loch. It was a cold spring morning when my wife and I finally set foot on Eilean Fhionain, the island of St Finnan. We climbed to the top of the island to the ruin of St Finnan’s church. And there atop the altar, coated with a fine green patina, stood a small bronze bell.

I gently picked it up, hoping to make it ring. As I did, the clapper fell out. The bell looked fragile, so after re-attaching the clapper I slowly set the bell back on the altar. Although I did not hear it ring, I did not need to. Just holding it in my hands let me hear its message; one it has been sending throughout the centuries, a message that had brought us to a very special place.

There are a few other saint’s bells still in existence. Inscribed on one is a message that proclaims the power a sacred bell-ring can have:

Funerals I toll,
Lightnings I break,
Sabbaths I proclaim,
the Slothful I rouse,
the Winds I scatter,
the Cruel I appease.

Holding an ancient holy bell on a remote Scottish island was a memorable experience, one I owe to an author who wrote something 80 years ago; and whose work, like a sacred bell, still rings down through the years.

Marc Calhoun, a retired systems engineer, lives in Seattle with his wife Shawna. After developing an obsession for the islands of Scotland in 1989, he has visited them nearly every year. His two books describe those journeys of discovery: Exploring the Isles of the West – Firth of Clyde to the Small Isles, and Exploring the Isles of the West – Skye & Tiree to the Outer Isles (published by the Islands Book Trust, 2012). He also blogs about the Scottish islands at For several years, Marc Calhoun also wrote a regular column for the Robinson Newspapers about growing up in West Seattle, and his next project is a book of those columns.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 11 for a guest post with author Martha Brockenbrough.