Great Paul Leads Bell Ringing Tribute at Platinum Jubilee

This weekend, Her Majesty The Queen is marking an extraordinary accomplishment: the first British monarch to celebrate 70 years on the throne with a Platinum Jubilee. Four days of nationwide commemorations, splendor, and pageantry (including an estimated 16,000 street parties across the United Kingdom) will last from Thursday, June 2 to Sunday, June 5, 2022.

It is understood that, given the physical demands of so many activities, the Queen will not attend all official functions, but in her place will stand other generations of the Royal Family, to include the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (on visit from California), and the Princess Royal.

The Queen remains the titular head of the Church of England, a position which is vested in the British monarch, and so a Service of Thanksgiving was organized at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. The who’s who of British royalty were in attendance, minus the Queen, who had experienced “some discomfort” during the previous day’s festivities. 

Bible readings, anthems, prayers, and hymns were selected to express thankfulness for the Queen’s reign, faith, and service. As congregants gathered in the spectacular cathedral, the rich, bellowing tolls of Great Paul resounded overhead.

Bell towers at St. Paul's Cathedral in London

Image: The sun casts a beautiful light over the bell towers at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, United Kingdom, as viewed from the Cathedral's central dome.

Weighing 16.7 tons and with a diameter exceeding 11 feet, Great Paul (the bourdon bell in the southwest tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) is the largest bell ever cast in the British Isles. Within the U.K., Great Paul is surpassed in weight only by the Olympic Bell, cast in the Netherlands for the 2012 London Games, which is currently not hung for ringing.

Largely silent for over four decades after its ringing apparatus broke, Great Paul reverberated back to life in 2021. The Service of Thanksgiving marks the first royal occasion for which it has been rung following this restoration. 

To ring the bell is a two-person job, manually heaving the rope to generate enough swinging momentum to make contact between the massive bronze bell and its clapper. Tolling Great Paul kicked off bell ringing across Britain, as bells and bell towers from coast to coast joined in the festive clamor.

Following the service, even more bells erupted into sound. The St. Paul’s Cathedral Guild of Ringers selected the ‘Stedman Cinques’ method of change ringing for the occasion. The Cathedral’s 12 peal bells were cast in the key of B flat in 1878 and hang in the northwest tower. The tintinnabulation rained down over central London for roughly four hours, creating a merry cacophony in the city below.

Cover image: Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen by Ranald Mackechnie at Windsor Castle, May 25, 2022, with the statue of King Charles II and the Castle’s Round Tower in the distance. Courtesy: The Royal Household.